Monday, June 29, 2009

The Day the Piano Came

We're getting to know lots of people here, some acquaintances, and a closer connection to others. We ran into a couple and their two boys on Saturday night, June 20, in Belgrave, after we'd all walked in an evening Solstice lantern parade. Other than the news that a local wine bar had just opened, and a chat about how gorgeous the many lanterns were as we walked down the main street which had been closed to traffic, she was aglow with the news that their new grand piano was arriving on Tuesday. Tuesday has come and gone, and the piano is there, in its own room. Ready for the many fingers that are waiting for it. The house is reasonably chaotic she said, but the piano room is all organized. The other, older, piano is now in the bedroom of one of their sons. Both teach music in a local TAFE (like our community colleges), and he is in a band.

As I'm writing this the news of Michael Jackson's death has hit the airwaves. On Friday morning in school everyone was wondering if it was real or a hoax. And everyone had their memory about music which they shared with others -- where they were when they heard about the death of Elvis. How the little boy of the Jackson 5 thrilled them with his soaring voice. My kids only really know about the clownish or media side of the man -- not the beautiful, clear voice that appealed to so many.

Most of us resonate to/with music. A while ago Gerald emailed me and suggested I could write about what I'm learning here about Australian music, so here's my attempt. What I do know, right from the first, is how much Canadian music I was hearing everywhere. I don't listen much to the commercial music stations, but when I do, there's lots of the same generic music you will hear anywhere. Pink is hot right now because she's on a big tour in Aus. AC/DC are coming next year, so there was a lot of talk about who got tickets and how quickly they sold out. And there's a big fight between the AC/DC concert promoters and the Footy clubs who have booked the same stadium for their pre-season shows next summer/fall. Footy is god at so many levels here. Discussions are now ongoing! There's a universality to a lot of the music we're hearing about here -- the airwaves, the Internet -- everything is everywhere. But there's great local stuff as well.

We missed Leonard Cohen and Neil Young earlier in the year, but several music lovers talked about them when they heard our Canadian accents. One woman mentioned how her husband and friends managed to get to 2 Neil Young concerts -- one here in Melbourne, the second an 8 hour drive away in Sydney. One of the teachers at FCPS was impressed that our kids knew about Leonard Cohen when he mentioned his attendance at the concert. And tickets to last week's Simon and Garfunkel shows didn't sell as quickly as hoped -- tickets priced in the mid $200 range are pricey. A woman stopped me at a local shopping centre after hearing the Canadian accent to talk about her love for the music of Canada's east coast, particulary Rita MacNeil. I finally had to drag myself away from her -- a very avid fan who was going to email Rita that night to tell her she had just met a Canadian in the shopping centre.

The love of music, commercial or not, is intrinsic to our being. I heard our kids setting new words to the "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" the other day. And tapdancing to the tune throughout the house. They now know the Australian anthem, but still burst out into "O Canada". We have discussed how "our" anthem differs so much from the other... much national pride. Ferny Creek Primary School has its own school song, all about being high in the clouds, and about the gorgeous trees that surround us. I am constantly amazed at all the bird song in the hills, hearing the birds calling to each other. Apparently bird pairs who stay together have a purpose or intent to their song -- a specific and vital form of communication that allows the bond to stay strong. The magpies are usually seen in pairs or family groups, as are the kookaburras. The kookaburras also use their voice to warn others from their territory. By the way, the sounds for the first Tarzan shows/movies were taped in the bush in Queensland. So that iconic jungle sound is straight from Aus. (This from another local parent/musician.)

While it's hard to take it all in, we have been picking up music knowledge here and there. There is one independent radio station (3RRR at ) that I listen to that plays some great (long-winded sometimes!) interviews, and I'm always hoping they'll just play some more of the music they're talking about. I've also heard of some local radio networks, based in one or two little towns/suburbs in the area, that have an avid folk music following. We met 2 men at the Kallista market, who host folk music evenings once a week on a station that only has limited range.

And I know the Winnipeg Folk Fest is now gearing up for action in the coming week. We have heard about a few well known folk festivals in the region -- in April, when we were in Canberra, the Canberra Folk Festival was starting as we were leaving. And there are folk festivals along the Great Ocean Road, one in Port Fairy and one in Apollo Bay, both hosting Australian and international performers. The Apollo Bay festival made news recently because festival organizers are fighting in the courts with each other about one group paying themselves too much money.

As I'm often listening to ABC National, I don't focus as much on individual music channels, but almost every ABC program showcases an Australian performer, while a few focus specifically on music. What I'm going to do is provide some links to the shows that focus on music, and then keep adding performer's names to the sidebars of the blog. That way you can click on a person and check out their music. You will likely know about or remember bands like Midnight Oil. Peter Garrett, their big stage presence, is now the Labour Member for Kingsford Smith, and is Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts, elected in 2004. He is often in the news because of his political role, but Midnight Oil regrouped and performed at the Bush Fire Relief concerts in March, and by all accounts performed admirably. You will also know of some of the other "big" names -- Nick Cave is often talked about. Someone mentioned Neil Finn to me, and when I questioned the citizenship, they admitted he was originally a Kiwi (NZer), but they like to claim him as one of their own.

Rebecca, the owner of the new piano. mentioned her sister Angie Hart to me. I was talking about different music and thinking about ideas and she casually mentioned Angie to me. Angie fronted the band Frente for years, with international success. She's back in Melbourne now, and her new solo album is called Grounded Bird. Read more about this talented singer at
  • Another great music show you might want to check out on the Internet, via streaming audio, or podcasts (when available is MusicDeli. There are some excellent links and info on the page which is found at
  • Lucky Oceans hosts a show called The Daily Planet.
  • The Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) awards honour the country's top songwriters, with awards voted by 30,000 musicians and industry professionals. A name you will recognize from the days of Yothu Yindi is Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, who won the award for Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year. His debut album, Gurrumul, has sold 140,000 copies on an independent label, with little commercial radio support. Even Peter Garrett gets in on the accolades!
  • Last week the kids and I attended an amazing amateur musical evening called "The Gang Show", created and performed by Scouts and Guide groups from the Melbourne area. The performances were impressive given that it's developed, written (music and lyrics), and designed (costumes and stage set) beginning in February. The first half was about Marco Polo and the 2nd had an environmental focus on animals in the Australian bush.

It's hard to keep up... and I haven't even started on the classical scene... I'll save it for another day.

Thanks Gerald for this idea!

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