31 July 2015

Bored with bullying

I've had a bee in my bonnet for some time over intellectual honesty, especially in the context of climate change. I can imagine no way anyone could deny climate change if they opened their minds to the messages of science and alternatively the sources of the denial messages. People may not spend the time to investigate, but citizens should, for this most important of topics, and pollies are obliged to. So bullsh like Maurice Newman's comments on the science even to the conspiratorial "new world order under the control of the UN" really require intellectual honesty on his part. In this context, I attended a talk by our local Labor member, Gai Brodtmann, for the Australia Institute and Politics in the Pub, where she spoke of Uncivil discourse. It's related. All this bluster and emotions is a denial of the chance of testing your own ideas and ultimately improving them. It's a responsibility for rational people, but what's the status in politics today? Sadly, missing in (political) action. Gai described an early doorstop that went poorly leading to shock jocks, talkbackers and tweeters having a field day of malevolence, sexism and loathing. We saw it with Ditch the Bitch and the chaff bag and Ju-liar and the rest. We see some degree in both parties, perhaps, but the current government and supporters have made a profession of it. She talked of the Dark Period (so called in the Press Gallery, it seems) of slogans and bile and the resultant Mysogyny speech; of "filthy prejudices given permission"; of politicians setting possibilities/tone; of the rise of fear from outsiders (terrorism, refugees), and through insiders from the 2014 budget. Little has changed since those dark ages. She mentioned recent Lowey polls (recently in the papers) about societal perceptions of democracy: worryingly only 49% of youth saw democracy as best and 26% thought our style of government was of no matter. And another survey about women and their desire for a political career. And a mention of a recent meeting with constituents in Kingston (Megan and I were at this one) where attendees were "fed up" with the political discourse, and this theme as common in various other encounters. Australians are increasingly disengaged and disenfranchised despite the Net which should promote connectedness. Gai argued we are all responsible to display respect and rationality; that the gene pool of Parliament must be broadened (I had heard of Fed Labor's vote for 50% women by 2025 but not of 5% Indigenous by then) and this should include older people; that the combative culture of Parliament must change. She spoke of friends who vote Lib and how they can discuss and agree to disagree because (I found this interesting) politics is a battle of ideas and people will have different ideas. In this context, she expects to talk with Sharman Stone about her recent comments on Parliamentary culture. She noted that she hasn't been ejected from Parliament despite some Labor prompting. (Bronwyn Bishop is a political infighter and this is totally inappropriate in the role of Speaker but it seems Labor is also doing some goading to achieve that ~400/8 of Parliamentary ejections). She argued for a more family-friendly Parliament; for a more restrained media (she respects the work of the Press Gallery who she considers go about their tasks professionally, but is concerned with the shock jocks and commentators and dabblers); for a more considered social media conversation. She quoted Viktor Frankl ("Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way ") and the dictionary definition of civil (polite, obliging, not rude, relating to citizens). There were questions about the partisanship of Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker; about the current commotion over the Upper House in UK (Gai argued that the individual must have a "strong moral compass"); a question on the TPP was rejected as out of field; of Question time (Gai was concerned with QT but more broadly argued that the role of a politician is "wonderful ... nothing better" and approximately quoted Gough Whitlam as saying it's the only way to shape and influence public policy). Other questions covered sacrificing self to work within a party; the effectiveness of uncivil actions (sadly, they often work); the press, esp. Murdoch; Australia as a culture of media lemmings (Gai denied this); abuse of women in politics; the quality of question times outside Australia (comparisons were not too well known, although Australia's are recognised as "brutal"); bipartisanship and the conflict of ideas; later-life political careers; what is means to be a citizen and group think and social media; politics as bloodsport and who drives the crowd, crossing over to Adam Goodes. We had to leave then, so missed just a few questions and the wrap-up. Gai's presentation was surprisingly well prepared and it's an obvious concern of hers (she's not alone) and her response to the problem of uncivility is a satisfyingly ethical civility. Let's hope it works. I hope it can't get worse. But then, the future is harder to predict than the past, and we've seen some very nasty oputcomes from uncivility in history.

Gai Brodtmann spoke on Uncivil discourse for the Australia Institute at Politics in the Pub.

29 July 2015

Mozart in Mannheim

Well, not just Mannheim; Paris too. This is the second of a trio of concerts featuring Erin Helyard and Skye McIntosh playing music of Mozart at ANU University House, in the Great Hall, under the Leonard French's massive and roughly colourful mural, Regeneration. Erin was playing a regenerated replica of a piano, or hammered keyboard, of the period, Joseph Stein. Mozart himself had written to his father about a piano by this maker, apparently excited like someone lusting for the latest iPhone. At least the movies make out Mozart to be like that. I've read since that Stein would leave out his pianos in all weather to crack so he could repair them as more durable. Amusing. Erin spoke of how he found the period instruments fitted well together for these duets. Skye was also playing a 250yo period instrument (Joseph Panormo? ) with gut strings and baroque bow and period bridge. They played two Mozart Sonatas for keyboard and violin (G major K301 and A major K305) sandwiching a work of Mozart's from Paris, 12 variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman", or, better known to us, Twinkle twinkle little star (K265). The keyboard was earthy (described by Erin as woodwind-like, bassoon in bass and flute in treble). The whole is softer than a modern pairing, more coarse but also more natural, less perfect and precise. Skye could dig into the gut strings and Erin could approach the limit of the hammered strings. I noticed the tuning going off with his attacks, but these instruments are less stable. That's the art in this game. I'll miss the third of this series, Mozart in Vienna, but it's been a pleasure. Free is nice, but mostly I'll miss it for the committed and nicely connected performances. Great stuff.

Erin Helyard (fortepiano) and Skye McIntosh (violin) performed middle Mozart in the Great Hall of University House.

28 July 2015

Neatly energetic

A friend later told me that Herd Trio was the best jazz concert he'd ever heard. That's high praise indeed and to some degree a matter of personal preference. But I liked this one too. Euro/Scandi jazz has its own path, primarily, in my book, more cerebral and less corporeal. Herd is a vibes trio: vibraphone, bass and drums, and there was considerable control and distillation in this gig. Maybe some was from the band playing fully acoustic, so no bass amp and drums played at a restrained volume. It's hard work playing a bass acoustic in this context, and any such playing will be stronger and less busy. Either way, the bass was firm and consistent and the drums were gentle and detailed. Both very nice, and I very much liked the solos they laid out, similarly careful and discrete. The bass solo was particularly nice: quite daring in its chromaticism. Very nice. On the other side of all this was the vibes. Panu was nothing like as restrained as his fellows, I guess partly because the volume of the vibes suited the acoustic performance and partly because he looks to me to be just like that. He started with the most delicate of finger-tapped vibes and this was lovely, but soon enough the energy raised and the sheer enjoyment was evident. Great. The music was mostly written by the band and all members provided tunes. Bassist Miko's was an intriguingly sparse open thing bringing mystical thought, or just snowy cold, to my mind. Panu whistled the melody and even a solo in one tune and, although he's a better vibraphonist than whistler, it was a nicely lyrical touch. Polyester bobby (?) was the most up tune of the night, by drummer Tuomas, and I particularly noticed the oddly timed ostinato he'd given to bass. They also played a few tunes from the era of Finnish tango by Toivo Kärki (?). This was a seriously nice concert with energy and life but also with neatness and control. It's not surprising: they often go together.

Herd Trio played at the Finnish Embassy. Herd Trio comprise Panu Savolainen (vibes), Mikko Pallinen (bass) and Tuomas Timonen (drums).

27 July 2015

Not just at Christmas

Handel's Messiah is a piece for all seasons. Why just Christmas? An expanded Coro with chamber orchestra performed it over the weekend and it was a thing of wonder. These are great voices with some of the best musicians around town. Performed with just two rehearsals and a full day workshop. And that's for a performance extending to 3 hours (including an interval). Reading this? I was overwhelmed by some of Kyle's quiet but certain bass playing, although he admitted some struggle in playing and just seeing it without a light during the darkening afternoon performance. It's not easy; it's not at all short or repetitive. What a reading job it was! And not just for Kyle, of course. The singers all had their charts and read the semi-quaver lines (a chorister mate in the audience commented on Coro's renown as sight singers), as did other strings and Calvin on harpsichord. The trumpets and timpani mostly sat, but when they let go, the roof lifted with life and the heavenly tone of baroque trumpet. Just not so often. Messiah is has over 50 numbers in three parts. There are choral segments and solos, recitatives and airs from sopranos and alto, male and female, and tenors and basses, telling the story of Christ, of birth then death then resurrection. So this is not just a thing for Christmas. These are more secular days (even if we still stood for the Hallelujah Chorus) but the work remains a thing of immense satisfaction and Coro did an immensely satisfying job on it. Not the huge 300-voice thing it often is, but a chamber take (1742 Dublin version). Just occasionally I missed the immensity but there was plenty of capability. The strings were strong; I strained to hear Calvin's harpsichord; the trumpets and timp were infrequent. There were various soloists, often from within Coro. I particularly enjoyed Emma Griffiths (soprano) and Andrew Fysh (bass) from the two ends of the pitch spectrum, and Paul McMahon (tenor) in between. The whole was led with plenty of energy by Joseph Nolan, visiting from St George's Cathedral, Perth. I can just wait in anticipation for Christmas when someone else will be taking it on again. I met a follower of Wagner Ring cycles (she's attended a dozen or so around the world) and one of the choristers had sung in 15 Messiahs. I could see myself attending a few more of these.

Coro presented Handel Messiah in the 1742 Dublin version at St Paul's Church, Manuka. Principals were Joseph Nolan (conductor), Barbara Jane Gilby (violin, orchestra leader), Calvin Bowman (harpsichord continuo), Greta Claringbould (soprano), Emma Griffiths (soprano), Rebecca Alexander (alto), Veronica Thwaites-Brown (alto), David Yardley (counter-tenor), Paul McMahon (tenor), Andrew Fysh (bass), Peter Tregear (bass) and Tobias Cole (choirmaster). Too much to list all the others, but for my bass comprehensiveness, Kyle Daniel (bass).

26 July 2015


I'm not really up to poetry and Dylan Thomas after a long day of two orchestral rehearsals. Nonetheless, I enjoy the imagination that combines recounted actors with unconventional actions and the alliteration and word play. It's pretty and playful. And the down-to-earth ordinariness of the characters as they go about their tasks and talk together. There's humanity in this ordinariness in this mid-C20th Welsh society that we a losing with all our efficiency and modernity and the rest. He's from Swansea and there's talk of that place, a seaside town with castle and cobblestones. We can visit from a distance now, with Street view, but it's pedestrian that way, with the blurred faces that are again, nothing like DT and his explorations. There's recited poetry and apparently text from a DT visit on a US lecture tour. We all recognise "Do not go gentle into that good night / Old age should burn and rave at close of day / Rage, rage against the dying of the light" and it's a transparently great but I particularly liked the images of people, the crossing of paths, social levels encountering over a pint. Bob Kingston presented this one-person one-act show that's travelled the world and passed through Street One. I guess he's close to the original, being from nearby Cardiff, in look and voice. Close enough for two DTs, perhaps, with stories of notorious drinking and disputes and accidents. It must have been close enough; someone over my right shoulder kept confirming it with a frequent "yes" to some statement or other. Amusing. Colourful language and colourful character presented with the most defined and refined of voices. I enjoyed the clarity of final letters, -t on night or light and even a trailing pair of -f-t on lift. We are slovenly in that aspect. It's just another factor that had me thinking this is out of time. Our greatness isn't so humane, being more a matter of law and logic than blood and babble. Listen to DT1 from DT2 and bask in the extraordinary depth of the commonplace spoken with colour, while we, more rationally, pursue free trade agreements and tax avoidance and comprehensive surveillance with bloodless bureaucratese.

Bob Kingdom (actor) channelled the poet in Dylan Thomas : Return journey at the Street Theatre.

  • Thanks to Wikicommons for the portrait of Dylan Thomas (1935) by Jessica Dismorr
  • 22 July 2015


    It's cold and wet in Canberra. Hippo is warm and enveloping but the numbers are down a bit. Pensive Phish were playing. It's Miro and James and Mark Webber with laptop and loops and the grooves are all Miles and Bitches Brew and the like. I caught one set and enjoyed it immensely. I imagine it's fully improvised, just a key and a groove and whatever effects appeal. Kay was sitting in on drums and this was determined and sometimes ornery with a few bar of suspended syncopations or the groove moving with new but sustained accents on snare or other. I loved hearing James with his firm grooves and deep octaves and various other effects, and Miro's trumpet, sometimes clear, sometimes speaking back from something happening on Mark's laptop. I didn't always hear Mark's laptop, but I guess the vibes fatten with it and certainly the few tunes (they only played two extended grooves for the first set) ended with fading loops and quotes from Miro and others. There was percussion there, too. I guess Miro, as he is wont to add, but also repeated by Mark, I also guess. Lachlan was the choppy, almost bluesy with, what, mutating minor third patterns (?), that give the slower grooves some scintillation. The beauty is in the insistence of the groove and the conversations of the variations of all the parts. But it must also be the tonal colours of instruments, the swirling sounds that repeat from the originals being formed right there in front of you. Electronics are key. It may use laptops, but it harks back to Miles in the late-60s. I just want to get out what meagre effects I have and toy with them. But then, it's not quite so easy, of course.

    Pensive Phish were Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Lachlan Coventry (guitar), James Luke (bass), Mark Webber (laptop) and Kay Chinnery (drums) and they played at Hippo.

    18 July 2015

    At Grad

    It's all very exciting as son no. 1 Julian and girlfriend Deb graduate from ANU (Arts/Law Hons) but CJ must find an arty angle for a post. There was music inside. Rachael Thoms (soprano) and Calvin Bowman (organ) did the national anthem (dirge that it is) and Calvin played some other accompaniment. Sorry, no pics. Anthony Smith (piano) and Helena Popovic (violin) played Tchaikovsky Meditation. It was played nicely enough although I felt it was overly long and intrusive in this context. A trio provided post-ceremony jazz to accompany bubblies and beer. Our trio was Andrej Thomson (tenor), Brendan Keller-Tuborg (bass) and Alec Brinsmead (drums). I mostly caught solos from Brendan and they were impressive. He's a nice player. But otherwise, I was thinking of other things. A big day to mark years of work and a source of great pride for parent and visiting nanna. Excuse the indulgence of some family pics.  Congrats to Jules; Richard next.

    Performers at the ANU College of Law graduation ceremony were Rachael Thoms (soprano), Calvin Bowman (organ), Anthony Smith (piano), Helena Popovic (vioiln), Andrej Thomson (tenor), Brendan Keller-Tuborg (bass) and Alec Brinsmead (drums).

    13 July 2015

    Jef on home turf

    Pics and text by Neal Gowen, CJ’s foreign correspondent in Belgium

    Yes we are in Belgium again and catching some more music. Two weeks ago we went to see a free concert by Jef Neve. It was in the Gent suburb of Sint-Martens-Latem and was part of a celebration for the official opening of the refurbished riverbank area of the Leie River, which runs through Gent. The event was organised by the local Sint Martens-Latem Flemmish equivalent of the town council. Free beer, food and music. The Belgians know how to organise a do! Jef only played a short 45 minute set consisting of compositions such as Kundalini and Solitude from his new CD. The PA was great and a top quality sound for the reasonably large crowd. I caught up with him and his manager Pieter for a quick chat afterwards. Sint-Martens-Latem is quite a wealthy suburb and home to many artists, sculptors and musicians. Jef’s practice studio is actually the white building in the second photo, nice location right next to the river. The sculptures are typical of what is dotted around the suburb. / Neal Gowen

    12 July 2015

    One that didn't get away

    I often miss exhibitions that are on display for months but not events at specific times. I missed the display of Anne Frank memorabilia that was in Canberra early this year. That was careless, given we visited but missed out on the AF museum in Amsterdam because it was (and apparently always is) ridiculously busy. We did manage to catch the display of the Rothschild Prayer Book at the National Library. It's a book of hours once owned by that famously wealthy family, an illuminated manuscript of great beauty, now owned by Kerry Stokes, wealthy Australian collector and once Chairman of the Board of the NLA (his son Ryan is now on the Board). The Prayer book was apparently lost for 350 years, looted by the Nazis, returned to the family and won quietly at auction by KS. It's gloriously beautiful. We saw only facing folios, of course, at least with our one visit. This was St Helena. The full description is: St Helena and Suffrage to St Helena fols 233v-234r in Rothschild Prayer Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome) Southern Netherlands, Ghent and Bruges, c.15-5-1501, tempera and gold on parchment (Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth). [Forgive me, I was trained as a librarian]. Otherwise, it's gloriously pretty and brightly coloured, St Helena has the most gorgeous, lifelike face and there are surrounding flowers and a horse carrying two little black boys (mmm...) and a blowfly and more. And the text, of course. Otherwise, the exhibition featured a few manuscripts and incunabula, including some early music and a sheet of the Gutenberg Bible. The other two pics are sheets from the Gutenberg Bible c.1455 and from a manuscript choirbook possibly belonging to King Henry VI of England c.1429. Just a little exhibition, in the Treasures Gallery. The NLA exhibition ends 9 August.

    10 July 2015

    No doubt

    It's exciting to watch a musician develop, through training and subsequent experience. I've watched Hannah James but it's some time since I've heard her play. She has family here in Canberra, but she hasn't played too often in recent years, at least not at gigs I could get to. In fact, it's 2 CDs since I've heard her play live, especially with her HJ Trio. It was a wonderfully mature performance. Jamie Cameron was drumming for this gig with just 2 practices under his belt and he did a nicely capable and committed job. The compositions were mostly Hannah's, just one from Casey and another cover from No Doubt / Gwen Stafani (that's something I didn't know: a common favourite for Hannah and me) and one favourite standard. The writing was pensive at times, often so on intros; there were some twisty melodies and Hannah, on bass, didn't excuse herself the unison line; there were stories to tell. Annie's revenge spoke of Blackbeard's pirate ship called the Queen Anne with a oddly delayed 5/4 groove. For Geoff was a dedication and commission for Geoff Page that could be swung or syncopated. They mostly swung it here. Number one had a Dave Holland Conference of the birds chordal feel. Richie Beirach's Elm was the standard but it was no obvious cycling Cole-Porter-esque piece. The other one didn't make it to either of the CDs but I liked the Corea-cum-Stanley Clarke feels. Effigy made it to both CDs in significantly different interpretations. Casey is a masterful pianist who I always enjoy. Listen to the recent HJT CD recorded for SIMA and be converted. Jamie was playing after just two rehearsals but was convincing. Obviously checking the charts and concentrating, but unleashing some highly delayed and unexpected solo syncopations on two snares. And Hannah was playing her best: intriguing, exploratory thumb position solos, steady accompaniment, mobile accompanying grooves with open and responsive sycopations. I love this style, less centred and precarious than swing but open and exploratory. It's what jazzers do now, now that swing is the stuff of, at most, tune for the night. It's exhilarating. Hannah and her trio are doing it with searching honesty and gentle panache.

    Hannah James (Bass) led a trio with Casey Golden (piano) and Jamie Cameron (drums) at the Gods.

    09 July 2015

    Our small Smalls

    I just dropped through on the way to Hannah at the Gods so I could only stay a short time but Wayne and Ben and Mark are welcoming and this was the monthly jam session night. Wayne's trio started with a ripper. Ross and I thought it was familiar. It turned out to be an original by Ben, a major take on Coltrane's minor Grand Central. Steady and quick and driving. Then I was up with Mark, Jim Fuller and Ross Buchanan for a blues and Stella. Then I rushed to Hannah. Thanks to all. Great fun and cosy on these cold nights. Get along and support this. Our small local Smalls. An open, welcoming local jazz community.

    Wayne Kelly (piano) trio with Ben O'Loghlin (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) perform each Tuesday 6.30-8.30 pm. Free entry; food and drinks on tap. First Tuesday each month is jam session. Tonight's jammers included Jim Fuller (tenor) and Ross Buchanan (piano).

    08 July 2015

    Of gene pools and the "real world"

    You can easily despair over the gene pool of politicians. I am not the only one doing it. It's a common concern and there was a seminar on just this topic the other day. The speakers were two Johns, Colvin and Uhr. It amused everyone when JU was referred to as John II. It was appropriate: he was much more interesting. The session was organised by U3A and COTA: for the young of heart. It was obvious there was considerable knowledge and experience when the questions came around. JII was just one indicator.

    John Colvin spoke first. He's a company director and AFR writer and obviously well educated (he told us, Oxford Masters, no less. BTW, did you know that Oxford automatically upgrades some bachelor degrees to Masters "seven years after matriculation, without further examination, upon the payment of a nominal fee" from Degrees of the University of Oxford, in Wikipedia) and experienced in discussions with pollies and the like. He suggested some sensible approaches to ensuring better business practice and awareness in Parliament. Ensuring us of the excellence and experience endowed by 10 years on a Board or in a Senior Exec position in business. Recounting how he'd guided a young chap with academic quals but little experience and the obvious value of his input. Lots of stats of how pollies are from the political class or unions (good, some evidence!). The problems of gotcha journalism, the decreasing appeal for entering politics, career and location issues. How no current APS secretaries have 10+ years senior business experience (ie, Boards or Snr Exec). How the new Treasury head comes with high level banking experience [trust your banker, I thought, musing on this morning's SMH front page: "IOOF hid suspicions" in SMH, 8 July 2015, p.1, with subheading "Allegations of misconduct went unreported" and a string of recent Australian and international bank improprieties]. Fixes included better education for parliamentarians (some science education, perhaps?), selection criteria, transparency of selection (good!), even a change of the constitution (s.64) to allow external appointments somehow. Wow, constitutional change! Now, that's thinking big. Like granting peerages to experts in the UK Lords. It's just our democracy that gets in the way of this. But I jest. He has something here. I, too, fear for decision making amongst out pollies. Just look at our response to climate change!

    Then John II, John Uhr. Here was academic clarity in spades. He presented a list of possible actions that would improve the gene pool issue, although none of itself would fix it. 1/ Senate can act like the Lords, eg, when Bob Carr was brought is an Foreign Minister (long shot here, I thought); 2/ Recognise partners (congrats to Abbott for the meeting that very day with Indigenous reps and utilising different arrangements); 3/ Political parties are funded by the public so conditions and responsibilities to the public are appropriate; 4/ Parliament could sit more often (UK sits 2x Canada; Canada sits 2x Australia) and could use its time better, eg, question time with all ministers on a business program and no patsy questions from the Government side; 5/ Speakers could attempt maximum independence (it has been done more successfully!!!); 6/ Introduce a Parliamentary code of conduct (Howard had one for ministers and heads rolled until it was removed/changed, I don't remember which); 7/ It's a "crying shame" that there's no ethics commissioner in Federal Parliament; 8/ Expand Parliament, pollies are too busy or too close to ministership so wary of upsetting power; 9/ Despite rag-tag parties, the Senate offers more ideas and options, "I'd rather have more Xenophons than fewer"; 9/ Yes to exchanges with the private sector but there's "something in APS professionalism to be protected"; 10/ Media can be too cosy with Parliament, need to get diversity of examination and input from "outside the tent"; 11/ Checks and balances! Introduce a Federal ICAC.

    Questions were on increased politicisation of the APS; doctrines of responsiveness to Government and non-supporters seen as obstacles to be pushed out of the way. Independence of Parliamentary speakers; Slipper as one of the best speakers (perhaps a surprise, but a common observation); Labor speakers before and after Slipper "went to great effort" to be independent, but now... Appointments of experts to the Lords; slower more deliberate decision-making; appointments as good or self-serving. Growing presidentialism as "public grandeur" and an international trend, even as the precursor, the US President, displays little power before Congress. Who protects individual freedoms in Australia? You could imagine there were different views here! Someone suggested Gillian Triggs; John Colvin suggested a role for the AG (in this case, George Brandis). The unicameral NZ Parliament, although John Uhr identified some off-ignored aspects (incl. NZ not a Federation, proportional representation by single members and top-up lists, indigenous seats). So many lawyers and no scientists in Parliament as a defect (noting Thatcher had studied Chemisty). And finally short parliamentary terms.

    All interesting. I've got a position and I don't deny it, but I'll vote for the informed and broadminded musings of academia before the "real world" (=corporate friendly) view. The supposed "real world" just seemed so self-referential and blinkered and unaware of it.

    07 July 2015

    Lazy Sunday afternoon

    Sunday afternoon was just a quick outing to two interesting musical events: 77 trombones (or thereabouts) at the High Court and a visit to the Blues scene. Firstly, the Canberra Wind Symphony. I'd heard about this a few days before from a trombonist who wasn't playing (how many trombonists are there in Canberra?). I think he'd said there were to be 77 trombones, but I counted about 40 and a rhythm section. It's still impressive. The sounds were confident and billowing and fitted the environment to a tee. There's a love of the High Court acoustics amongst brass and choirs. It's vibrant and edgy and I thought I heard a distinct returning echo from where I sat. It made the strongly spoken introductions unintelligible (again from where I sat) but made the brass sound a treat: big and rich and fat. Lovely. Add a very decent rhythm section and this was a treat. I caught the end of the first concert of the day: a few standards, mostly played by changing trombone quartets (the bass trombone sounded outstanding) and they ended with an all-in that rose the roof. All well charted. Great fun. I then moved off to the Blues scene, to hear two jamming bands at the Pro-Blues and Roots session at Harmonie German Club. This is all 12 bars and guitars in a darkened environment and varied beers on tap. The greying hair was evidence of the period that influenced this audience when the Yardbirds and the Stones and Cream and the like taught us of their Southern predecessors. There's a certain sameness in the blues, of course, but also a commitment and attractive emotion to it all. It was a jam and we'd heard all the tunes before but you can easily say the same of much Real Book jazz. I liked this, the beer was economical and entry was free (it's a club so needing a sign-in) and there's a slightly rough and careless honesty in it all. I just wished I was up there on bass as I have been in the past, but maybe another time. Peter and John did great.

    Blues sessions are held first and third Sunday 2-5pm each month at Harmonie German Club. For the full palooza, 11 bands are playing on 2 stages for the International Blues Music day at Harmonie German, 2-11.30pm Sat 1 Aug, $20/15. With Hot rods and the rest.

    05 July 2015

    Wondering on one history

    Casanova is a legend, of course, a challenge for men and a dream for women. I guess. We went to see Canberra Rep's take on Casanova last night and it was a frolic (labelled "fast, fun, unforgettable") but even touching. They did a great job, busy, interesting, convincing, entertaining, great costumes and stage set and lots of that blast from the past, the rotating stage. It all worked. I'm not so much one for laughing at all this, but I admired it and it got me musing over Giacomo Casanova and the story. The show is presented as the old Casanova recounting his story to a chambermaid. There's even a seduction by the old man but it's more education than flirtation. I was taken by the young and old Casanovas and I could imagine they were one character. I even thought I could see similar facial structures (Megan doesn't agree). The young Casanova was attractive, energetic, playful and surprisingly respectful. It's not a picture we have. Core to the plot was a love story for Henriette who also rose from poverty and was locked into high marriage and duty. Marrying for love is a modern, post-romantic obsession of wealth and I wonder if this twisted the history we are presented with. A number of modern obsessions appear in the performance, even gay marriage, although the castrato who GC falls for turns out to be woman in disguise and amusingly GC had guessed that at the start. There's a duel with Henriette's wealthy, powerful, high-born husband and several scenes of debauchery and a coronary-inducing confession and a prison scene. But there's attractive honour and dignity in Casanova's love for Henriette and his advice to an illegitimate son (who he'd influenced without conscious guidance) and even a certain decency in his sexual conquests. This is the attractive side of GC and it was offered here. There's a scene where he is saying men don't talk with an implication of his awareness of, and attractiveness to, women. This attractiveness is intriguing and central. So, despite his notoriety, he's presented here as not just the raw and disrespectful seducer. I'm wary of believing history when portrayed in film and the like so I downloaded his memoirs (free online) but they are lengthy and I know I will never do other than skim some pages. But in the search, I learnt that "Casanova" (also Don Juan) as an adjective dates to Victorian days and I expect that's the source of our image of GC. The warning at the start of my downloaded "Rare unabridged London edition of 1894" typifies it: "Transcriber's Note: These memoires were not written for children, they may outrage readers also offended by Chaucer, La Fontaine, Rabelais and The Old Testament D.W." So, Casanova continues to appeal and to fascinate and the Canberra Rep performance did an excellent job in continuing that fascination in this town.

    Casanova was directed Jarrad West for the Canberra Repertory Society. The play was adapted by Mark Kilmurry from the screenplay by Russell T Davies. The performers were Ben Russell (Casanova), Tony Turner (Older Casanova), Amy Dunham (Henriette), Riley Bell (Rocco), Steph Roberts (Edith), Bojana Kos (Bellino), Chris Zuber (Grimani) with an ensemble comprising Kate Blackhurst, Geoffrey Borny, Liz Bradley, Kayla Ciceran, Alice Ferguson, Sam Hannan-Morrow, Bradley McDowell, Emily Ridge, Teig Sadhana.

    03 July 2015

    Warmer inside

    It was cold weather, perhaps not so strange. Strange Weather Gospel Choir were performing for a mid-winter gig at Wesley Music Centre. Last time I heard them it was much warmer, during a Moruya Jazz Festival. There were smiles and one clearly beaming face, but the cold was insistent for this gig. But there's always joy in this music, and this was no different. They started with a few varied gospel songs with finger snaps and hand claps. Piano accompanied for most of the gig; some following African tunes added African drums and one was just accompanied by drums. Then a song that I particularly enjoyed: simple but from the Torres Straight, so not a thing of common international awareness. This and some others were open as singalongs. Then a more complex and layed tune, Irish blessing, and a finale with Weevily wheat, lively and amusing in 2. Just a gentle battle of the sexes, if I gathered it right, but it's obscure with lines like "I don’t want your weevily wheat, / Neither do I want your barley" even if they seem to want the fine young man, Charlie. There are serious themes here, too, but in our secular days they are easily missed (this is a gospel choir, after all). It's fun music. You can feel nothing but a desire to move and sing with the choir. Some didn't quite move with easy abandon but others did well and one face of especially beaming joy enlightened it all for me. Great fun, nicely staged and very infectious. They have their 20th anniversary on 15 November.

    Strange Weather Gospel Choir performed at Wesley Music Centre for family and friends. Kimberley Steele (musical director) conducted and Lucas Allerton (piano) accompanied.

    01 July 2015


    I'm a sucker for an open masterclass. Today's was a for the classical guitar, with guests from the NZ Guitar Quartet, in the Band Room at the ANU School of Music. Not many in attendance; I guess just some local guitarists and students. It's not even my favourite instrument. I just caught two players. One was playing, what, José (? - born 1902, executed in the Spanish Civil War 1936). I didn't catch the performer, but he was a later year ANU student and serious and capable. The second was a much younger performer, only Year 12, but no slouch, playing a tune we had all heard, Albeniz Cordoba. The discussions covered approach and interpretation and technique and body matters (body ills are common for musos, not least guitarists). Both performers played from memory (impressive) and had been working on the pieces for several months (Dec 2014 and Feb 2015). Some themes are: identifying segments, developing shape and larger movements; highlighting high points and using of staccato; interruptions to the beat from tremolo and arpeggios; accenting the top line (the melody); digging in (any string player will warm to this description), and an interesting matter of approach on guitar: "guitar is not like piano with sustain: you've got to keep it moving". And, of course, the common theme from any teacher: "Again, slow practice".

    The New Zealand Guitar Quartet gave a masterclass at the ANU School of Music.