Dr Jennifer Gall, National Film and Sound Archive, 17 July 2015
Listening to the past: Music in Canberra’s historic places
CATRINA VIGNANDO: Good morning everybody and welcome on this wonderful chilly winter Canberra morning. It’s so lovely to see so many of you here this morning. It’s an absolute treat this morning. Our Landmark Women talks are always wonderful, but it’s a particularly special presentation we have today with Dr Jennifer Gall who will be speaking. I will introduce her shortly. While we were getting ready, Jennifer was tuning her fiddle so we are in for a little bit of performance as well. It should be a great morning.
The talk this morning will go for about 40 minutes and then we will open up to question and answer. Then you are all welcome to come down to the Friends Lounge and join us for morning tea and continue any conversations you might want to have with Dr Gall. We do have another group coming in at 11 so unfortunately we have a squeeze this morning which is unusual for us. We usually have a bit more of a leisurely time here in the theatre. I wanted to give you a bit of rundown of that.
My name is Catrina Vignando. I’m the acting manager in the development unit here at the National Museum of Australia. You would normally be dealing with Carisse Flanagan who heads up our Friends program, but she is not able to join us today.
It is my great pleasure to introduce Dr Jennifer Gall, who is our speaker today. I will give you a bit of an overview of her background so that you understand her context of her presentation for us today. Jennifer Gall is the assistant curator of documents and artefacts at the National Film and Sound Archive. She completed her doctorate at the ANU School of Music where she is currently a visiting fellow. She researches the relationship between music and popular culture with a focus on Australian traditional music and music of hidden women musicians. She writes about music for the Canberra Times, so you may have read some of her articles. She has written several books for the National Library of Australia, the most recent of these books is about Rose Paterson, Banjo Paterson’s Mum. I look forward to that one. They say behind every great man is a wonderful woman - in this case it’s a wonderful mother. It should be a great book to look out for. It will be released in 2016.
In today’s talk Jennifer will describe her current research project which is called ‘Listening to the past: music in Canberra’s historic museums.’ The project is funded by an ACT Heritage Grant. Some of the outcomes of this project will include three recorded sound works for each of the historic houses, which are Mugga Mugga Homestead, Lanyon Homestead and Calthorpe’s House. Jennifer will be using musical instruments that belonged to each of those particular homes and she will be working with sheet music from their collections, oral histories and archival documentation. That has formed the basis of her research which will culminate in a number of lectures and recitals in each of those house museums, so something to look forward to and Jennifer will give us more details about those. Lecture recitals at Lanyon Homestead and Mugga Mugga Homestead are also scheduled for this year so keep an eye out for those. I am sure they will be very interesting. Having given you a brief overview, it is now my great pleasure to introduce Jennifer. [applause]
Dr JENNIFER GALL: Thank you for that very warm welcome, Catriona, and also Jo for making me welcome. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I would also formally like to thank the National Museum of Australia very much for inviting me here. I am here because of other landmark women as all of us are, but in this case Frances Baldwin is the contact to make this talk happen. There are quite a few other women who will be acknowledged in the course of this talk.
A little bit about my background before I talk about the project. My family moved from Melbourne to northern New South Wales when I was very young, and I grew up in Lismore, a country town with a rich musical history. I studied piano, violin and viola, performed with the youth orchestra, town orchestra and vocal ensembles, along my tutors and teachers from the Queensland Conservatorium and the University of New England. So it was a very communal sort of music beginning for me.
I discovered that there was a long tradition of fine musicians learning music in the town and making stellar careers for themselves overseas, like the Chisholm sisters who you will see in this slide [image shown]. I first came across these girls in a newspaper article in 1974. So they have been a research interest for me for many years, and just recently I gave a talk in Lismore to the Richmond River Historical Society. The mayor attended and, in true mayoral fashion, she had wonderful connections and I have found some missing links. That’s just a little bit about where I have come from. Since that time I have been interested in the connections between musicians and the outside world - bush musicians really and how they have gone out around connected with the larger world.
In 2007, I completed my doctorate at ANU, and my dissertation examined the history of Australian women’s domestic music making. In the course of my research I investigated the role of music in the life of Georgiana McCrae, who some of you may know of. She was a writer - her journals have been published - but she was also a very fine musician. She lived in this little house on the Mornington Peninsula. She left behind four very large volumes of handwritten music that she copied from her father’s music library at Gordon Castle. This house museum has a fascinating history of the actual music books, her journals which are linked to the music and her piano which still resides at the homestead. I thought, though, at the time it was a great shame the piano is not in a playable condition. That’s been another thread through my investigations.
In 2014, I was awarded funding under the auspices of the ACT Heritage Grants Program to recreate, perform and record a sampler of music that would have animated the three historic house museums in Canberra using the sheet music belonging to the houses, oral history recordings and instruments belonging to each home. Examples - where possible played on the instruments belonging to each house - will illustrate the cultural taste of the different classes and personalities of people who inhabited each property.
In collaboration from ACT Museums and Historic Places, the piano at Mugga Mugga and the piano at Lanyon have been restored to a condition that renders the instruments playable while retaining the audible evidence of the age of the instruments. The Calthorpes’ pianola is in wonderful condition – so that is quite happy. The violin at Mugga Mugga has already been restored for an earlier talk I gave, so that instrument is quite playable and has quite a lot of rustic character, I might say.
The project has provided the catalyst to prioritise cataloguing the music collections and the repair of musical instruments in the houses safeguarding these fragile objects for future generations. I’m hoping to secure future funding to curate a series of house concerts using the restored instruments and household music collections and to commission new compositions in the next step of the project to demonstrate that music of the past is just as relevant today and has a particular power.
Motivation for the project came from personal experience of visiting many house museums in Australia and Europe, as I am sure you have all done. These are usually silent, devoid of musical sound, even though many of these places preserve the musical instruments that were an integral part of family life. Musical choices tell us a lot about the people who lived in a home, the kind of music they chose to buy, the instruments they played, what they aspired to and who they connected with. My talk will look at these connections between the lives of early ACT residents and oral histories, historical documentation and published music collections at each of the properties.
I think I’m right in saying I have spotted a member of the Calthorpe’s family in the audience. Would that be correct? I am relying on Dawn to say in a very loud voice if I get anything wrong, and I am sure you will support her.
Calthorpe’s House is the newest of the house museums built in 1927 and occupied by Harry Calthorpe, auctioneer and stock judge; his wife Della; their two small daughters Del and Dawn – and they did grow up - and their maid Agnes who moved to their new house in Red Hill from Queanbeyan. The family lived together in the house until World War II when Del and Dawn married. In 1950, Harry, a World War I veteran, died at the age of 59. Mrs Calthorpe lived in the house until just before her death in 1979.
In 1984, the family arranged with the ACT government to acquire the house to be preserved as a house museum for future generations. The significance of the museum is that it remains intact with the household objects and furnishing much as they were left in 1979 after continuous occupation by the family. The house represents fashionable style and taste of the 1920s, and the design of the house with its passageways and hallways reflects the architect’s intention to create separate physical and social areas - and music, of course, who have inhabited these regions in certain ways.
Part of my investigation has been to experiment with how musical sound was generated in different precincts of the house and to investigate how sound and music would travel between zones. For example, testing how much might be heard in the living room and bedrooms if the maid was going about her duties humming her music, or what might drift down the hall if someone was playing the pianola or the piano. I have been interested to try to record the sounds of household appliances that would have accompanied singing during household tasks and cooking. These recordings create a sense of how musical sounds would cross the physical household boundaries and their accompanying social distinctions so that musically interested listeners could absorb material from both sides of the class system. I must say it’s a very simple class system here.
The music makers at Calthorpe’s House would have been the four family members. Both daughters played the piano, as did Della. The maid Agnes was also a musician in her way and after her Mary McDonald. And the various tradesmen who visited the house regularly: butcher, baker, postman, iceman, tinkers, hawkers, greengrocer and grocer. Music was heard on the radio and the gramophone and played on the pianola.
There are copious documents and interviews with Dawn, so reconstruction of the musical life of the house as far as the family is concerned is relatively straightforward. The house repertoire comprises musical tuition books used by the girls and a large collection of popular songs as well as a substantial collection of pianola rolls which were a favourite part of the household music making. Dawn describes how she and her sister gave a concert soon after moving into the new house using the sitting room as a stage and the dining room doors as the curtain between the stage and the audience seated in the dining room. The program includes piano solos, recitations, juggling, harmony singing, acrobats and fairy dancing. Neighbours and relatives formed the cast and the audience. This is from Dawn’s recollection:
Del sees to it that we have music of one sort or another: piano, gramophone or pianola. Mother loves Moonlight Sonata or a Chopin waltz. I love Knee deep in daisies … Our theme song is Always. Pop gives renditions of songs he performed in his youth, excerpts from ‘Our Miss Gibbs’, ‘Chu Chin Chow’, the ‘Cobblers’, ‘Prisoners’ Veterans’ Song’. His voice is strong and rich. Pop says a song is a blessing and should be exercised with the same zest as magpies do. We all love the pianola rolls and can sing the entire ‘Rose Marie’ pianola roll without looking. We swoon on ‘Shine on Harvest Moon’. Del plays ‘Trees’ and we try to harmonise the last bars. Pop and mother show us how they vamp on the piano or dance to the Destiny Waltz. Mother is featherlight on her feet. She can reverse like a top and tries to teach us how. Del finishes the day by playing and singing ‘Bird song at Eventide’. These are the serene Sundays we enjoy in the sitting room in the days before the wireless …
That is from her memoir Chortles, chores and chilblains. The Calthorpe’s House sheet music collection substantiates these recollections, and many pieces of the music have the name of the person who played it written on the cover. I will play you a little bit of the sounds that we’ve recorded. We did a mock-up singalong with the piano being played by Sandy France and a group of willing volunteers so that it has a nice spontaneous feeling.
JENNIFER GALL: In the interests of moving these things on, I will have to shorten that one. [Image shown] There you see the pianola in action.
In contrast to the richly documented musical life of Calthorpe’s House, documentation for Lanyon Homestead is based on oral history recordings and limited historical written documentation. John Lanyon and James Wright chose the location of Lanyon as the home station of their pastoral enterprise in 1835. John Lanyon returned to England in 1836 never to return, and William Wright joined his brother in that year. The pair benefited from the allocation of assigned convicts, and from 1836 to 1842 had an average of about 35 labourers and a nursemaid to look after the eight children who arrived after he married Mary Davis in 1838. They lived in a slab hut, and floods destroyed all evidence of these early structures.
It was the Cunningham family who in 1848 took advantage of the foreclosure on the Wrights’ land to step in and buy Lanyon. The Cunninghams achieved the prosperity denied the Wrights, and the 1860 house completed at Lanyon was a dignified home built of mainly local materials sharing a common wall with the original cottage. The furniture is described as being mainly up to date but not high fashion. The Cunninghams had 60,000 sheep and, in keeping with this prosperity, they possessed a piano but no butler at Lanyon.
Up to 50 people worked at Lanyon in the last years of the nineteenth century living in a self-contained community with workers’ homes doubling as school rooms and post offices. Until 1905, when AJ Cunningham aged 58 married the musically gifted 24-year-old Louisa Leman, there had been no toilets or bathrooms at Lanyon. Meals were cooked in the outside kitchen and transported across the court yard. At this time the new wing was built comprising a new kitchen pantry, staff sitting room, master bedroom, dressing room, bathroom, lavatory with septic tank, and an acetylene household gas system. In 1926, the Cunningham family sold Lanyon to Harry Osborne for his newly married son. And then in 1930 the property was sold to Sydney businessman TA Field and resumed by the Commonwealth in 1974.
Like Calthorpe’s, Lanyon also preserved class distinctions in the architectural design of the house, although a much more elaborate system, and in the behaviour of family members towards the farm workers and their families. As it turns out, some of the best evidence about the musical life of Lanyon is preserved in the interviews conducted by Susan Mary Withycomb with Helen Flint and Lily Brown, née Cregan, in 1988. Lily remembered the grand piano bought in 1905 for Louisa as a wedding present by Andrew Cunningham, and the gift of an organ she made to the new church, St Edmund’s Church of England at Tharwa, as well as her own family memories. Here is Lily to talk about her view of music:
He used to put the records on the old phonograph and he’d love to walk out and lean on the fence and listen to it. Then he’d stroll back in and put another one on and listen to that. That was … He enjoyed that.
[Song sung by Nellie Melba]
They used to come and sing it. It wouldn’t matter who they were. Dad would welcome them. He loved music and they would sing. Without any piano or anything to accompany them they would stand up and sing. We didn’t sing though. Wasn’t game I think, too shy.
Dr JENNIFER GALL: Gramophone records were a very important source of music as well. They were often the trigger for people to learn music. People were very gifted in playing by ear, they didn’t necessarily need to have the written music. Those records that Lily referred to were very important as a source for stimulating the music making.
This little sound clip is from Helen Flint. She recalled the weekly dances in the new hall at Tharwa. The music was provided by local musicians on a fiddle, two accordions and a piano played by Mrs Una West.
Helen Flint: We used to walk over to Tharwa to the dances. Did they happen often? Oh yes, they did. And they were beautiful dancers. They had of course the real bush music. And we would walk over to the dance and then walk back around about 2 o’clock in the morning. It was fantastic.
Dr JENNIFER GALL: I thought I would play you a little snippet of a dance tune of the time. Things that were very popular were dances like Varsovianas, Schottisches and the lancers in quite a complicated set. I will just play a little piece of a varsoviana that was collected from a man called Charlie Bachelor, who is a bit of a folk hero. There was no amplification. People had to not talk while the dancing was in process. It’s quite interesting: playing at a woolshed dance here in Canberra at one stage the PA system failed so it was an education for all of us. People were used to making a lot of noise while they were dancing and talking. They found that if they wanted to hear the music there was none of that.
[Violin melody played by Dr Jennifer Gall]
Dr JENNIFER GALL: What was important was to keep the rhythm clear. Embellishments were not a priority. It was important to keep a beat - I hope I did.
While it is not easy to find a definitive record of the actual music played in the Lanyon Homestead, there are good clues about the musical life of those who lived on the property.
The next property I am going to move to is Mugga Mugga. It’s a property which has been the focus of my research to date. Originally much of what is now Canberra was the estate of the Campbell family of Duntroon. They imported a Gaelic speaking community of shepherds recruited from Scotland to work the estate. All the families who lived at Mugga Mugga were originally employees of the Duntroon Estate. Music that would have wafted out from the shepherds’ cottages would have come from the Scottish Highlands.
The origins of music for the Curley family at Mugga Mugga began in Roscommon in Ireland in 1817 where Miss Curley’s grandfather, Patrick Curley, was born. His wife Mary Fahey came from Ballinasloe, County Galway. With their five-year-old son Thomas, they sailed from Liverpool on September 28, 1841, arriving on January 18, and sometime in 1842 they arrived at Duntroon.
One of the shepherds was Mr Sinclair who would wander around the slopes of Mount Pleasant playing his bagpipes with a small boy of six years, Patrick Curley, following him, enjoying his strange sounds. In 1866, Patrick Curley, aged 13, was employed as a junior shepherd at Mugga Mugga, the first outstation at Duntroon, and he lived in a stone cottage built by Robert Campbell for his shepherd Ewan McPherson. It was about this time that he received his first violin and when he was 17, so the story goes, acquired the violin that is in the museum now. Self-taught, he would play for hours after work for private home dances and parties. Patrick would ride for miles to play for dances around the district. They danced the waltz, the Quadrilles, the lancers, the Valse Cotillion, the Mazurka, the Polka, the Schottische and the Varsoviana.
This cottage built in the 1830s was inhabited by a series of families who would have made music in the course of their daily lives: work songs, lullabies, songs for entertainment and to share with friends. Patrick married Annie Elizabeth in 1893, who was living in the Duntroon Estate as well and working there, and they inhabited Mugga Mugga from 1913 to 1995. They had three daughters - Ada, Sylvia and Evelyn –and the musical life of the house recalibrated around the family. There were lullabies, songs to sew to and a piano to learn on were the new regime with the family in the house.
The radio and the gramophone were new additions to the music-making devices. Patrick taught himself the popular songs of the day and tunes to dance to by ear. His daughters remembered him fondly seated on a stool in the kitchen playing Scottish and Irish tunes on the violin. By the 1920s, only Evelyn remained at home with her parents to manage the farm for them. Ada became a teacher and Sylvia took up a nursing career. Patrick died in 1936 and his wife in 1948. Really in practical terms, from 1932 to 1995, Mugga Mugga was effectively managed by women. Late in life, Sylvia succeeded in preserving Mugga Mugga for Canberrans as a fine example of our pioneering past.
You will see some photos of the Lanyon piano too here [image shown]. The Broadwood is just about to be returned to Lanyon, so it’s very exciting. This is Chris Leslie [image shown] who I have been working with on the restoration process. He is the most extraordinarily patient man. He has had to rebuild parts for these old pianos by cannibalising wrecked pianos. I can’t sing his praises highly enough. He is so sensitive to a very tight budget and also to understanding the importance of the sound. He has a connection with the Lanyon piano. This piano wasn’t the actual one in the house originally, but it is exactly the same model and year as the one that was there. But, coincidentally, it came from a property in Sydney named Lanyon, and Chris’s mother lived in that region - interesting connections.
This is a little treat, a secret inside the piano [image shown]. It is one of the craftsmen’s name written in pencil on the sound board inside the Broadwood. These are the hidden delights that you find when you are pulling apart pianos. That’s its nameplate [image shown] - very grand.
Here we are at Mugga Mugga [image shown]. That’s the piano in situ in a very beautiful little living room, a tiny room restored with sort of 1920s décor - wallpaper that has been repaired where possible and matched where the damage from the years was too much. That’s an up close portrait of the piano [image shown]. It was a budget piano. The keys are actually a very early form of plastic, which is really interesting. It’s just as well they were, because the piano has remained in situ for a lot of the renovation work that has taken place in the house. It hasn’t been moved. One might think that was not ideal, but in fact I think it has been the saving of that piano. It hasn’t been moved so no major structural damage has occurred. It was always covered up and kept out of the bulk of the dust. But those plastic keys, even though they were kind of the discount version, are much more robust than ivory.
[image shown] That’s the beginning of the restoration process, pulling off the panelling to construct a conservation clean. You can see in that photograph the silhouette of the fingers of the person who was working on that key. That is one of the keys pulled out of the piano and, in the process of dipping plastic or pulling key out of the plasticating process, that ghostly imprint of his or her hands - I think it would have been a male at that time - is there.
I will play you a little bit of what the piano sounds like now. This is from a performance I did at Mugga Mugga for the National Trust Heritage Fair.
Dr JENNIFER GALL: The dampers are a very interesting construction and also the touch is quite different to playing my piano at home. I’m sure a lot of you have pianos that have a deeper touch when you press the keys down. This one is kind of a restricted sound but probably manufactured that way for use in small spaces. This is certainly a small space, the living room of Mugga Mugga.
[image shown] This is just a photograph of that little recital and I will play you Sylvia Curley. The thing I love about this quote is that she leaves instructions about what she wants to happen to the piano.
[Recording of Sylvia Curley played]
Sylvia Curley: … came to Canberra many years ago. And my mother purchased - I think it was a politician, Mr Beale, who was selling his goods and chattels and she purchased his set. It was run by a car battery, off a car battery, and the table and everything was all there linked up. So father would listen to the music on 2CA and all the tunes. And this is in his retirement years. Then to come across to play, and Mother would hear him. She’d be up there cooking. He’d play and in no time he’d be playing that tune. He was a musician. His violin is with me down there and it’s going to come out here. It’s a beautiful old violin. He used to be asked about playing all the dances at the places. In the very early days, the governess at Duntroon would send for Patrick Curley to come along and play music for the Miss Campbells and Mr Campbells - the boys and girls - to learn to dance. That’s the early Campbells.Interviewer: When he was playing, what sort of music would he play – Kingston reel or?Sylvia Curley: Old-fashioned the quadrilles and the lancers, something that you wouldn’t dance to. You wouldn’t know to how to dance quadrilles and lances now. All those old tunes. [plays the piano] It still has a tune. I know and I’d like to get it cleaned out.
Dr JENNIFER GALL: And we have cleaned it out.
What value does listening to the past or performing the past have for people living now? Here I draw on support from a nice new book that I’ve just come across called Sounds of Modern History [http://www.berghahnbooks.com/title.php?rowtag=MoratSounds]. It’s very convenient when someone comes up for a theoretical basis for what one feels in one’s heart is the right thing to do. This is Mark Smith writing in an article ‘Futures of hearing pasts’:
To their credit, museum curators and curators of historical homes are, increasingly it seems, turning to historians of the senses for advice about how best to incorporate the senses onto their spaces [and into their spaces]. The most thoughtful curators are anxious to historicize the senses so that visitors get a sense not only of the sound of the late nineteenth century … but what they meant to people at the time. …Rather than simply feeding sounds to ears, we need to help visitors understand the context in which those sounds were produced, and how their reproduction can tell us not only about the nature of the past, but about our own intellectual preferences and prejudices.
I believe that music has the power to unlock important truths about life in the past by connecting with our thoughts and emotions in the present. By engaging with historical instruments in their home environments, we activate a powerful creative energy that helps us make sense of the world. If we keep the historic house museum instruments playing with old and newly composed music, we better connect with others and feel more alive ourselves.
I would like to leave you with an Irish air. It’s-called ‘An aisling air’, which is a very old tune. It’s often played at funerals but it looks to the next world, a kind of an ideal realm. I think it was a very important tune for people who came here, who carried a sense of home. I will play you that on my violin. It was given to me by an elderly woman who lived in Queanbeyan, so my violin has done a bit of around of the world and come back home. It’s called Taímse Im’ Chodhladh.
Dr JENNIFER GALL: I believe we have time for questions.
CATRINA VIGNANDO: That was fabulous. Thank you so much, Jennifer. What a treat. How fabulous was that. [applause] Now, as Jennifer said, we do have some time for questions. If you would like to put up your hand, we’ll come to you with a mike.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jennifer, for your lovely talk and your sensitivity of how you speak about the beautiful homesteads around us. I very much enjoyed the sensitivity with which you played the violin. The mood and the personality of a violin, it’s almost as if part of your personality was in the instrument. I just wondered what age you were when you started to play your violin.
Dr JENNIFER GALL: I came to the violin reasonably late, I suppose. I started with the piano. I played the piano from the age of about eight. There wasn’t a violin in the home, although I discovered that my grandmother was a violinist. She was a governess on the Coorong and she came from Ireland but she was classically trained with piano and violin. But that only came out after I took up the violin and my father remembered and said, ‘Oh yes, my mother used to play.’
I was 14. I started playing the viola first of all, which is the larger instrument, because growing up in the country what they needed in the orchestras were violas not violins. They had enough violins. My teacher, Sister Pauline, said, ‘You’ll get lots more work playing and lots more experience.’ So I started with the viola. Our school had instruments that you could borrow, which was a good system because they’re expensive to buy. If a child gives up, that’s not such a great outcome. I did love the viola. Then I was given that violin by an elderly lady who was a photographer in Queanbeyan and she’d moved up to the north coast. She herself was a very interesting person, but that’s probably another story.
Thank you very much for those kind words, too. The sort of music I play is more that kind of way. I was classically trained but I do play lots more traditional music and when I’ve travelled I’ve met people, so that’s the kind of music I play now.
QUESTION: With both Calthorpe’s and Mugga Mugga, the radio was an integral part of life there, have you incorporated music from that into the work that you’re doing on the project?
Dr JENNIFER GALL: The outcomes of the report are to combine - each home will have a ‘sound world’, as I am calling it, which is a collection of the music. It will be quite a small one so it can be used online or in the house. But also there will be a written report which does make specific reference to the importance of the radio and the gramophone because, yes, you can’t underestimate the influence of those forces.
This book I was talking about, Sounds of Modern History, is absolutely fascinating and I highly recommend it. Although it’s scholarly it is very accessible. It talks about the revolution of technology from 1850 to 1950 where sound devices really changed the way people listened. It began a very gradual, but relentless, process of people more consuming music perhaps than performing, and there were some deliberate political agendas behind that which are very interesting.
In the research I have done and the people I have worked with, the radio was a really positive thing. People learned things by ear. What was most important of all was the fact that they learnt what was current and what was popular and relevant to their community. In a way, the radio has a very firm place in folk music, if you like, and certainly popular culture. People with musical abilities would pick up tunes very easily. I certainly am making reference to that. Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you make any mention at all of adjunct types of musical instruments that were really popular perhaps more in the bush, things like playing spoons, the old big drums with the bottle tops and things like that? Do they come into this project at all?
Dr JENNIFER GALL: They do. I have a long history with bush music and playing in wool sheds and that kind of thing. They were very important, and yes indeed. What I will draw on is the interviews I did for the doctoral research and interviews I have done over a long period of time with people who played in those bands. You would be surprised how far the piano went, and I would class it absolutely as a bush instrument.
There are some very interesting records of Mary Braidwood Mowle who took her piano out in the Brindabellas on a dray. It was totally bashed around and suffered from the damp, but she determinedly had it unpacked, sat down and played it regardless of the fact it would’ve sounded very much like that piano of Sylvia Curley’s at the time. For women, it was so important to have that piano because it was kind of a talisman of culture. The physicality of playing a piano is very comforting, I think. I dream about pianos. Does anybody dream about pianos?
QUESTION: You mentioned someone who was self-taught. It seems incredible to me that someone could teach themselves to play something like a violin. Was that very common?
Dr JENNIFER GALL: I think it was. And when you think about it, people had an awful lot of time. If you were a shepherd and you were out sitting watching sheep, and also it’s very interesting trying to gain a sense of that community that the Duntroon homestead fostered. Originally the first generation of shepherds were all Gaelic speaking. It must have been an extraordinary sound walking around to hear nothing but Gaelic spoken. Presumably those shepherds were imported because they were people that the laird Campbell thought he could trust. He understood their culture and they understood a system of hierarchy which would work.
So when we say self-taught, he would have learned by example. He would have observed people but he wouldn’t have gone to a formal class as we would learn music now. I think he would’ve had very eagle eyes and watched whoever he could come in contact with. There would have been fiddle players around the district. So building on that visual knowledge and, being a bush handyman, I think he applied all those skills. He must have had a very good musical ear and just worked it out. I am sure his style would have been quite unique and perhaps not in a classical sense, but who knows. He would have worked out what was comfortable and what enabled him to play that strong rhythm that you needed for dance music.
QUESTION: This is not a question so much but you said: does anybody dream of pianos? I have just been to visit my 96-year-old sister. She dreams of pianos. She loved the piano; she also wanted to touch a piano if she saw one. Now in this nursing home she reads sheet music. She has very complicated music and very simple music but she says, ‘I can hear it in my brain.’ This is her reading matter, the entire time. Our house was full of music, and she was the one who really provided it.
Dr JENNIFER GALL: Thank you very much. It’s a really lovely reminder that music exists in just so many ways. We hold it so deeply in our memories and in our physical being. It’s funny the little things that will trigger a musical recollection which will then connect you to a memory that’s often a very powerful memory and usually positive. To be able to read music in that way is such a gift to be able to draw out the essence.
CATRINA VIGNANDO: We are running out of time. I’d urge you to continue your questions of Jennifer down in the Friends Lounge. Jennifer, thank you so much. That was such a wonderful presentation. I can see so many applications to how music like that can really bring to life story and history. We have a range of apps now at the Museum that people use as they look at objects. I can see that music of the kind of work that you’re doing would really bring stories to life in a major way. Can you please join me again in thanking Dr Jennifer Gall. [applause]
Events with Dr Jennifer Gall
2 August 2015 – Celebrating 150 years of WB Yeats, National Library of Australia – reading poems and playing the violin http://www.nla.gov.au/event/celebrating-150-years-of-wb-yeats
29 August 2015, 11am – 1pm – lecture/recital at Mugga Mugga Homestead http://www.museumsandgalleries.act.gov.au/mugga/public.html
28 November 2015 – talk/recital celebrating the homecoming of the restored 1849 Broadwood to Lanyon Homestead
Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007–22. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.
Date published: 01 January 2018