Singing and Other Music
In earlier Chapters I have mentioned the musical heritage of both the Hunt and Pegler families. This was augmented by my marrying into the Jackson family in which Jean shared in the musical inheritance of her Methodist parents, both with above average singing abilities. Jean also brought to our marriage a talent for the piano that was a great source of pleasure and help when we were both very involved in Sunday School music and choir work. One of the first things we bought when we were able to afford a luxury or two was a piano which, as already mentioned, is still in the family-in the home of Ann and Renzo. Many a new tune for a Sunday School Anniversary or a new arrangement of a familiar tune for choir use were worked out around that piano. It was a great boon to me that Jean could play the piano so well as all my efforts and the sacrifices of my parents to pay for piano lessons were without avail, although the lessons did teach me to read music and understand some of the theory of that art form.
These abilities, and a moderately good ear for music and a baritone voice of sorts, enabled me to enjoy singing in the Church Choir in my late teens at a time when Dad was Choirmaster. The main choir sang at the evening service and on special occasions presented Cantatas, for example at Christmas and Easter time. There was also a Junior Choir that was much less ambitious but nonetheless enjoyable to sing in. It sang at the morning service, usually a song from Alexander's No 3 Hymn Book as used by the Christian Endeavour Societies. In fact it was the members of the Junior and Intermediate C.E. Societies that made up the morning choir. Everyone was included, whether or not gifted with any musical ability!
At the time that Jack Chegwidden joined the Methodist Ministry I inherited from him the leadership of the Junior Choir and was able to develop conducting skills sufficient for me to be asked to conduct the Parramatta District Christian Endeavour Choir which sang at Quarterly District Rallies and on certain other occasions. It was quite a fine choir and I derived great satisfaction in training this choir and conducting it for a couple of years. When I retired as Conductor they presented me with a rather attractive silver-mounted baton which I am still proud to have.
Another musical task that I inherited from Jack Chegwidden, and my Father before him, was to train the Sunday School for the Anniversary Services which were held in early November each year. These were really great occasions and I do believe that the musical standard of the Granville Sunday School was far above average, and had been so for many years under a distinguished procession of conductors and Superintendents. The Church was always packed to the doors for the six services on two consecutive Sundays by pupils of a previous era and the parents and friends of the pupils of the day. We tried out lots of different types of Gospel music, with original arrangements and local interpretations. Some of those who officiated on the piano and organ, which were always re-tuned for the occasion, were Jean, Eunice Rowlands, Dorothy Jenkin and brother Neil. Opportunity was also given to young people with decent voices, and there were some really gifted ones, to sing solos or in duets, quartets, etc. Some singers of later years had their first performing opportunity at the Anniversary. Being held at the beginning of summer, it usually being very hot in Granville by early November, the Anniversary was also an occasion to wear new summer frocks or, in the case of the boys, a new suit. Coupled with the Sunday School Picnic which was usually held the third Saturday in November, it was an exciting time of the year. It was a great grounding in choral work, particularly as we endeavoured to teach four-part singing wherever possible.
About this time I became rather fascinated by organ music. This started, I think, when I was at High School and I became enthralled with the possibilities of the “Christie” organ at the Roxy Theatre in Parramatta. There were several radio programmes in those days devoted to organ music, one of which I recall featured the “Wurlitzer” or “Christie” organs at the Prince Edward and State Theatres in Sydney. These were before the days of the electronic organ, although it would not be long before the “Hammond” organ made its appearance and with which many Churches replaced their old American Reed organs and, in some cases, the pipe organs of previous eras. My interest in organs and enjoyment of the wide range of music they were able to produce was enlivened by David McLaren who was my Senior in the Office and was soon to become my boss. He was quite a remarkable man, a good engineer, a charmer of both men and women-you couldn't help liking him-and a consummate organist. He spent a great deal of his spare time during the 1930s and 1940s helping out as a relieving organist at theatres and in churches when the regular organist was away for one reason or another. When he discovered my interest in music he showered me with advice and literature. I still have a couple of books he either gave me or lent to me. If the latter I apologise for having failed to return them! Several times I went to suburban churches to hear him play and was enthralled. The tragedy is that, near genius though he was, he also had some unhappy aspects of his character, including a weakness for alcohol, tobacco, and various forms of intrigue involving women, the handling of truth and betrayal of friends. These broke up his marriage, lost him his job-in fact a series of jobs-and eventually his death from lung cancer. But all who knew him remember him, I am sure, with affection.
It was David McLaren who first introduced me to the world of Opera, Ballet and Orchestral music. During the war years from 1939 to 1945 and for a few years after the war there was little time or opportunity for Opera, etc., but when things started to get back to normal David, who was in touch with the world of art in several areas, arranged for theatre parties to attend the post-war efforts. The first of these that I attended was in a season of the Krips-DeVries Opera Company where we were treated to a performance of “Faust”. I think it was at the old Tivoli in Sydney or perhaps at the Conservatorium of Music. There was also a season of Gilbert & Sullivan, which David enjoyed equally with more classical music, and in which Ivan Menzies was the star. I think it was at the Empire Theatre that the G & S took place and it was also there that we saw some ballet, the first of which for me was Scherezade -quite an experience! These, I think, would have been in the years from 1946 to 1948 and Jean and I would have arranged for her Mother to baby-sit with Judith for us. But life was to get rather more busy for us with more children arriving, my studies and greater responsibilities in most areas of life and my interest in such things languished somewhat for want of opportunity.
It would have been about twelve or thirteen years later when I was working in the City that I was again influenced to take a greater interest in these musical art forms. In the late 50s or early 60s we all became aware of people like Joan Sutherland, of the formation of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, of the expanded work of the A.B.C. in its Orchestral and Recital Subscription Concerts. And I became “hooked”. For some time Jean and I had been enjoying the occasional visit to a stage production of one of the latest “Musicals” like “Oklahoma” and “South Pacific”, mainly as a treat to celebrate one of our birthdays or our wedding anniversary. But the more classical music we had not followed up. As I worked in Town, I occasionally went to the free Organ Recitals in the Town Hall and continued to enjoy the wonders of that medium, but operas, ballet and symphonic music were passing us by.
At this time, in fact on 1st July 1958, I was promoted at work from a Sales Engineer to Senior Sales Engineer, which meant I was in charge of the day to day running of the Sales Department and it also meant that I had greater responsibilities in the area of entertaining customers and potential customers, particularly those from out of town. I also had a growing friendship with Eric Hardy who was Queensland Manager of the Company and who liked to be taken to an opera or ballet performance if there was one on in town during his fairly frequent visits. These opportunities to entertain meant, to me, not only dinner at the grand old Australia Hotel, the Royal Automobile Club or one of the better restaurants but also a chance to enjoy a night out at a top performance at no expense to myself. Sometimes Jean accompanied me, especially after we moved to Queensland where I regularly took out four subscriptions to both the Opera and Ballet Seasons, two for us and two for guests of the Company, usually top people in the Electricity Authority or the like and by which time the children were old enough to do without a “sitter”. But in Sydney from about 1958 to 1962 it was frequently difficult for Jean to join in these activities. Our family nights out, other than an occasional trip to the City to see a musical like Sound of Music or My Fair Lady, were mainly taken at the local “Drive-in”. We didn't get a TV set until 1962.
In the late 1950s another event brought me into the enthralling world of the A.B.C. Orchestral Concerts which were at that time held in the Sydney Town Hall. Shirley Hollander had been my Secretary from about 1956 and in 1959 her Mother died. Shirley and her Mother (and several other relatives) had been subscribers to the A.B.C. Red Series of Concerts for many years and, after Mrs Hollander died, Shirley offered me on several occasions the use of her late Mother's ticket. They had marvellous seats in the body of the Town Hall about a quarter of the way back. Not only that, Shirley and several of her friends and relatives who also had seats nearby were seasoned concert-goers and soon enthused me with their knowledge of this kind of music. Their comments at interval time and after the performance were more valid to me than the programme notes and the newspaper critics! I well remember the first concert performance I attended which included a Beethoven Piano Concerto the solo part of which was played by Claudio Arrau. Such playing I had never dreamed of, ranging from the most delicate and rapid fingering to veritable thunder from the grand piano. When I remarked on the strength of his arms someone in the party rejoined “Oh yes he's a thumper all right!”
When subscriptions opened for the next season I applied for two tickets and Jean and I have been subscribers ever since to either the Sydney or Brisbane Red Series, which is the series featuring mainly classical orchestral music.
In the late 1950s long playing records became available, too, and I joined the World Record Club. I had a very simple Garrard 3-speed turntable which was plugged into the back of our Goblin radio or the amplifier of the AWA portable tape recorder. When we moved to Brisbane in 1963 we bought an STC stereogram and, our collection of classical 33 rpm records grew quickly, alongside the equally rapidly growing collection of 45 rpm records of our teenage children. What a revolution there has been in recorded music with records, tapes and cassettes of which we now have literally hundreds. With the added attraction of the classical FM radio broadcasts one can, these days, be surrounded by marvellous music night and day. But, as the A.B.C. advertising says “There is nothing like being there.” So Jean and I continue to visit the Opera House for the red series subscription concerts and I have a ticket for the Australian Opera season as part of a group booking still organised by my long time friend and onetime secretary, Shirley Hollander. What a dull life this would be, for me anyway, without the joys of music, the more classical and traditional the better (for me anyway). I can be, and frequently am, moved to tears by a heavenly aria from an opera, a tender piano piece, a subtle change of key in an orchestral work, a singing tune like a glorious bird-song from a violin, an air by Bach on a pipe organ or a hymn sung with feeling in our morning Church service.