03 November 2015

ANAM: Adam McMillan and Laurence Matheson

South Melbourne Town Hall
Monday 1 November 2015

RAVEL, Gaspard de la nuit
Adam McMillan

“A great musician is a great gastronome”, some bloke may have said about Rossini. The evidence included Rossini’s great corporation. There are exceptions. Adam McMcMillan, evidently, is an exceptional musician.

Ravel wrote some incredibly difficult music. Whether or not a pianist gets it technically is pretty obvious.
Adam did.

Much more subtly, whether or not a pianist gets it musically is a matter of emotional judgement.
Adam did.

Gaspard de la nuit of 1908 is instantly recognisable as Ravel and the first of the three poèmes, Ondine is set in constantly rippling water, writing that suggests Ravel understood chaos theory.

To play Gaspard – particularly to an educated, experienced audience (about 100 retirees and fellow students) – suggests supreme confidence, high-order foolishness or technical and musical competence of an extraordinary order. At about the one-minute mark, I’d opted for the technical bit. At about the three-minute mark I’d firmly decided on the musical bit too because Adam had answered my fundamental question about this piece, Was he finding the images and painting them for me?

Like the ripples in Ondine’s water that are nothing but the location of water molecules in three dimensions, Ravel’s – and Adam’s – music are nothing more than soundwaves in time. Neither the ripples nor the music exist until I stand back and see (or hear) it in perspective. The magic of Adam’s performance was that underneath the chaos of the ripples he found the melodic line (Ondine?). Fiendish stuff to play. Even more difficult to make work.

Gaspard de la Nuit, Ondine last page. Note the ppp

But as is the way of consummate musicians, apart from the cascades of notes that encompassed the entire range of the Steinway, Adam never let it sound like hard work.

The B-flat octave ostinato tolls aggravatingly throughout Le Gibet – admittedly much more aggravatingly to the poor blighter swaying in the breeze from the gallows. The rich backdrop of Ravel’s minor chords, often exhilarating in his work, only make the tolling worse. More technical brilliance; more superb musicianship.

Gaspard de la Nuit, Le Gibet

The dwarf, Scarbo, emerged, laughed, taunted, threatened. On a wickedness scale of one to ten, he represented a score of 13. Adam found his malevolence in bucket loads in Ravel’s wonderful highly chromatic score.

Gaspard de la Nuit, Scarbo

Has an ANAM end-of-year recital ever generated a standing ovation? This got pretty damn close.

RACHMANINOV, Suite no. 2 for two pianos in C minor op. 17
Adam McMillan
Laurence Matheson

If Ravel is an impressionist – even though he rejected the description – this piece is pure Rachmaninov-romanticism. There are hints of the two great piano concertos – Two and Three – every few minutes. It has “soaring melodies building to a dramatic climax” (Adam) that brand this music as gut-grabbing Rachmaninov. And the notes, the number of notes. The two pianists had 20 cm fingers and six or seven on each hand.

But it wasn’t difficult; It wasn’t hard work – or it didn’t seem so. It was cascades of gorgeous music that left a gent in front of me grinning with delight as he applauded.

Critical to the success of this performance – apart from the technical wizardry – was the synergy of two pianists controlling the rubatos (rubati?) by gut; clearly they couldn’t see each other’s hands.

Two superb pianists, one superlative composition; one splendid recital. Bravo, gentlemen!

03 October 2015

Victorian Opera: Simon and The Suit

The Grumpiest Boy in the World
Victorian Opera
Coopers Malthouse
3 October 2015

Jacob Lawrence was on stage for the entire time today. Most of that was shared with a dog. When it wasn’t with a dog it was with a lion. When it wasn’t a dog or a lion it was with children – even if the oldest of them was 25.

Given the adage about stages, children and animals, poor Jacob/Zachary Riddling (by no  means middling) shouldn’t have stood a chance. But he did.

Two weeks ago I sat in on the first voice run-through of The Grumpiest Boy in the World. Jacob was on top of his part then. Four days ago I sat in on the sitzprobe. Then, the score lay open at his feet – just a security thing.

Today he gave a sizzling performance; note perfect, witty and beautifully articulated . He was on top of the dog too – literally in one scene where the hapless dog, having been dispatched to the back yard, doubled as a horse.

Jacob Lawrence, dog and fantasy chorus incl. a squirrel monkey on a scooter (as you'd expect)
Source: https://www.facebook.com/victorianopera/photos/a.417759429218.192233.127956549218/10153378160534219/?type=3&theater

It was the chorus, though, that gave Jacob/Zachary a run for his money in sharing the lime-light. They were superb.

This opera is a Victorian Opera commission. It had a young cast, some drawn from Victorian Youth Opera Chorus Ensemble (VOYCE). And it was the first totally solo, it’s-all-down-to-me opera conducting-in-a-suit job of Simon Bruckard.

The chorus was a dream group. They’d rolled up to the first singing run-through two weeks ago with most of them having learned their part. On stage today in the second performance they were energetic, perfectly drilled and chorally thrilling. The little buggers (some of whom were really big buggers) could sing! – superbly.

My opinion of Grumpy today is really not relevant, though. The big test was the response of the target audience: the kids. My test subjects, a dozen or so boys and girls aged 6 to 10 in my field of view (a 4 metre radius) were totally absorbed for the entire time. A 10 year old right index finger didn’t leave it’s default position – in the right nostril – for the full 50 minutes.

The kids were there for Zachary and the terrific fantasy scenes they created. I was there for Simon Bruckard, the conductor.

I had first interviewed him in late July for Behind the Curtain, Victorian Opera’s blog. We spoke again in mid September when he had only just seen the full score of Grumpy.Over the past couple of months BtC published three of my pieces following Simon working on the score. 

Now, I wanted so see how he managed that score with a real, live cast – and pit ensemble – in front of him and a real live audience including those most uncompromising of critics – children –  behind him.

 In a word, like a pro (that’s three words). The confidence I’d seen at the sitzprobe was there again today. The absolute control of the young chorus and note by note support of the principals was there as well. The only crack in his control was him not being terribly sure what to do with the applause that was justly his. And that was nice. The quiet, unassuming but clearly competent young musician who had talked to me about his life and music during the year was there again today.

Opinion in our house is that Grumpy, the canine lion (or leonine canid) and Simon B should be reprised.

29 September 2015

To them let us garlands bring

Nathan Lay and friends
Lieder Society of Victoria
30 September 2015
Richmond Uniting Church

It had to be a winner, did this recital.

Four musicians hand-picked from a pool of 70 contenders for the Victorian Opera-Melbourne Con. Master of Music degree and an expertly ‘curated’ (sorry, but that’s what it really was) program of English, Italian and German songs. Add to that mix two years of hard yakka: coaching and teaching, language and stagecraft and we had a concert where everyone knew their stuff and got on with it.

It was a relaxed and joyous affair, crowned – wait for it – by a standing ovation. The audience was a hard one: lieder groupies, people who knew the text by heart, who had firmly-held opinions on interpretation and dynamics. And into this den strode the four friends.

Nathan Lay and Simon Bruckard began with that luscious cycle of Gerald Finzi. Very English, with text from Shakespeare plays. Everyone in the church had the Bryn recording of course, but after a few seconds he’d been replaced by Nathan and Simon. That in itself is an indication of the musicianship of the two young men.

Nathan now has a rich baritone voice now expertly placed in his head to produce a sound that gently but firmly filled the space without any stress. It was a hard space to sing in and his opera-house power could easily have bullied us. He found the gentle soliloquies in Finzi’s songs and Simon walked beside him all the way. This was not opera. This was art song – crisp and clean and totally beautiful.

Michael ‘The Rabbit’ Petruccelli drew a complete change of pace: the randy Italian under the window with his guitar (I’ve never heard it called that before) but with Papa’s blunderbuss not far away.

He’d chosen songs that sat right in the middle of his range and he didn’t even think about his Italian-tenor-wobble-and-sob software. His pianissimo was beautifully controlled. His Torna a Surriento was an example masterful resistance – musicianship over histrionics. This was not just voice. It was brain and voice. And again, Simon provided the bedrock that the singer built on.

Was Matthew nervous? Recovering from a cold? There was no doubting his control of the difficult Strauss songs. I assume his German was faultless; Simon would have seen to that. But his voice didn’t have the richness I’d heard from him only a few weeks before.

Matthew has a voice that’s developed superbly in the two years of Vic Opera’s MoM program. He can handle Rossini on one hand and Strauss on the other. In spite of his voice difficulty, though ,we got the magic of these beautiful songs.

Everyone in the church had, no doubt, one song that grabbed them; that took them back to a wonderful place.

Once, when I knew nothing about RVW’s songs, I accompanied Lois for her A Mus A exam. Silent Noon was on her list. In spite of my ignorance loved it then. I do now and more so. Would Nathan find the summer heat, the dragon-fly hanging like a blue thread … from the sky?


But he didn’t have the quandary I had. Lois was prepared to marry me ‘if I would have her’.

Accompany? yes. Marry? no! So … moving right along …

The best was last.

‘Litanei’, Schubert. A rich, powerful, emotional song where baritone and piano need to be welded, totally integrated; smooth vocal lines on equal footing with carefully controlled pedalling. It was there. It was all there. Real grab-you-in-the-gut stuff.

I loved it.
Who is going to fund these blokes to do a Salon recital?

Seraphim Trio: Wind Farm Music Dedicated to Tony Abbott – a quodlibet for piano trio by Lyle Chan

Seraphim Trio
19 August 2015
45 Downstairs

Politically motivated music has been around forever - almost. Haydn’s Symphony # 45 (The Farewell, subtitled, ‘last one please blow out the candle’) is an early example; Patrick Ascione’s Guernica (1978) is much later. Some of it is seriously political, some of it is acerbic, some is comical and witty such as Haydn’s Symphony # 47 (The Palindrome). It’s just that the black-tie, po-faced milieu that is the norm for classical music today has, with one or two exceptions, killed the possibility of hearing ‘classical’ music with non-serious intent. Sometimes, though, a piece comes along that defies the respectful-attention expectation. Wind Farm Music Dedicated to Tony Abbott is a very contemporary example.

It was commissioned by Julian Burnside from Lyle Chan only a few months ago. Lyle’s piece is both political and witty. Its subtitle ‘a quodlibet for piano trio’ – from the Latin, ‘what pleases’ – describes the piece as a pastiche of quotes stitched together and sometimes in counterpoint (which makes those bits simultaneous quodlibets). It’s the quotes that give WFMDtTA its edge.

The piece is analogous to a political cartoon: brief, pithy, witty and multilayered. And like the best political cartoons it’s funny – laugh-out-loud funny.(Lyle told me it was ok to laugh.) As well, it has something serious to say. Picture a wheat famer ploughing. Snatches of ABCFM escape the cab of his tractor and head at the speed of sound (340.29m/s) into the atmosphere. Bits of music hit the blades of a wind turbine. They’re reflected in all directions from the blades. (It’s quite safe. It’s well above the frequency of infrasound.) It is these reflected quotes – there are 17 – that form Lyle’s quodlibet.

Seraphim found all of that: the quotes, the wit, the edge. We’ve come to expect all of that from a sharpish lot who are not afraid of something that’s new or breaks tradition.

Like artworks built from found objects, most musical pastiches don’t work. You can see the lines of Tarzan’s Grip, yellowing with age. This piece is a major exception. It’s seamless.

Something fishy about this quote

I have a theory – triggered by a Burnside comment about Beethoven IX at the first performance – that Lyle’s piece is subtly about freedom. The text in the choral movement is freude – joy. It can, Burnside suggested, be reasonably be rendered freiheit – freedom. Likewise, some of the other quotes from William Tell, The Marriage of Figaro, The Trout … And like all good conspiracy theories this one depends on selected evidence and is completely untestable.

Seraphim Trio seems to be doing more than any other Melbourne chamber group to get ‘classical’ (whatever that may be) music to a broad audience. That day (19 August 2015) the Trio staged three pop-up concerts/performances/recitals/events/launches (delete several at will) in a little theatre, a Melbourne library and a city museum then took off for Adelaide to stage a Beethoven Festival in the SA State Library.

This launch was at 45 (halfway) Downstairs. The little gallery – the performance space – had pieces of framed art on the wall. All were handwritten musings about climate change. Wind farms; climate change; now ex-PM Abbott; political music; perhaps there is hope for humans yet.

Later in the day Seraphim played Lyle's quodlibet at the State Library of Victoria but this time with a real - as opposed to a plastic - piano.

and here's Lyle's program note about the piece:


The ABC might record it - as a piece of Australian political history ... perhaps ... one day.

Fairfax certainly has it on record:


And it worked.
Lyle 'received numerous gleeful messages' to that effect on execution day. It was, it is, a piece for it's time.

06 August 2015

Hiroshima and The American Bomb

In time of war Japan, like many other nations, has pressed its children into service of some kind. And they were put to work in Hiroshima in 1945 too.

Hiroshima was where I stood in the bright Spring sunshine beside the river – part of the rich delta on which the city of Hiroshima has stood for centuries. It is the capital of the Prefecture now and had been the seat of government from time to time as the power shifted across the past seven hundred years or so: feudal lords, shoguns and their samurai, and emperors.

I stood in the Peace Memorial Park, the site of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It is on a narrow strip of land between the Honkawa and Motoyasu Rivers which make up part of the delta of Hiroshima. The Aioi bridge spans the rivers where they join and from it I had seen the iconic anti-nuclear weapon monument, the skeletal A-bomb Dome.

The Peace Park had a beautifully simple memorial to the dead. It was in two sections. The dominant piece was a stone coffin-like chest that holds the names of those who died from the bomb. Mounted over it, forming a shelter was an inverted parabola. The shelter was a shape recognisable to Japanese as a 6th century house roof – a metaphor for protection of extended family. It was aligned so that, looking through it from one end, I could see the Dome. An inscription carried a message to the dead, 'Sleep peacefully here. We shall not repeat the evil'.

'Sleep peacefully here. We shall not repeat the evil'  
© DJackel 2015

This was where I stood. In the warm sun, just across the river in sight of the location of the school, in sight of the dead skeleton of the Dome. As a statement about war it was pure genius. It said nothing. It said exactly what I let it say. What is said to me was unbearable.

At 8 am on the 6th of August in 1945 the spot of my standing was mostly traditional Japanese wooden houses: wood frames, timber floors and mats, tiled rooves with chains of upside down bells to direct the rain water to the ground. The houses stood in neat rows, their low rooves visible from the air and recorded by the cameras of the US Air Force who took the images as part of its 'before and after' program to record the nature and extent of the damage caused by an atomic explosion. They had done so over Nagasaki as well. The photos are in the Museum.

Yoshito Matsushige; Minutes after the American bomb

An 'after' photo shows an unploughed field with the occasional stark black tree trunk standing more or less erect. Every hundred metres or so a single ferro-concrete building shell remained. The contents of all of them, human and non-human, had been blown out and pulverised, vaporised or instantly burned. A three-story school building stands in the photo, a damaged shell, starkly empty. Were there children in school at 8.15 that day? If they were, nothing remained of them, their teachers, their books and equipment, their lunch boxes, their school bags, their sports equipment, their chairs and desks, their bodies, their clothes. There air raid sirens had sounded intermittently all night so nobody had slept much. But by morning the all clear had sounded so the students would have been in school or on their way, but tired.

© DJackel 2015
In 1945 the population of Hiroshima was about 350,000 people, most of them women and children together with the men of the military bases around the town. Probably half the population died instantly; cremated where they stood, or blown apart or burned where they sat. Over the next few days people died of horrible burns or, the most unfortunate ones, of cancers of all sorts as the damage to the chromosomes in the cells of their body tissues took effect.

Yoshito Matsushige; as the bomb exploded

Yoshito Matsushige was a press photographer working in Hiroshima in 1945. He arrived at a spot about 2.3 km from ground zero at about 11 am, not quite 3 hours after the blast. It took him 30 minutes to make the decision to photograph the unimaginable, the incomprehensible. His first image taken that morning has been enlarged to giant size and mounted just inside the first exhibit hall of the Peace Museum. It is an arresting image. It records a group of junior high school children attempting to clear rubble to create fire lanes. They are blurred into the background. In the foreground a group of people – all shoeless – stand, looking dazed, in a rough line on one side of the street. One of them is a young woman carrying a baby in her arms, its mop of black hair visible in the crook of her arm. Matushige wrote that she kept on crying out, 'My baby, open your eyes. Open your eyes'. It never did.

Only the shadow remains ...

A display case held a single rusted child's tricycle. Shinichi Tetsutani was riding it in front of his house that morning. He was nearly four. He died that night from his burns. His father, knowing he had no money for a funeral was unable to have the body cremated. Such was the number of bodies rotting in the Spring warmth, that he decided to bury his son and the trike in the backyard. Years later the boy's skeleton was exhumed for burial in a family plot and the bike was donated to the Museum. And there it was, that little, rusted little boy’s toy: an intensely powerful, eloquent testimony.

I fought back tears with an effort. I could take no more.

I made for the sunlight again, as if needing reassurance that the world was still habitable. In a weird act of defiance I found the Museum coffee shop.

I ordered a soft-serve ice-cream: powdered green tea and vanilla. An elderly American woman sat at a table clutching a strawberry and vanilla swirled cone, Shinichi’s trike a very few metres from her from her back in the museum. She spoke to her daughter, 'get me a napkin'. Her daughter, standing beside me at the counter, checked then replied, 'they don't have any'. Mother (exasperated), 'you've got to be kidding'.

'Sleep peacefully here. We shall not repeat the evil'.

19 July 2015

Seraphim Trio: Beethoven goes Pop-up

A year or so back I sat behind a family who got stuck into their tucker at a Montreal Symphony concert. The row beside me were scandalised. The family had been to an outdoor picnic concert a few weeks before – a concert designed to encourage newbies to sign up for more. Clearly it had worked. But the ignorants hadn’t twigged that the rules in Montreal’s Maison symphonique were different – and formal.


Concert performances of classical music has, for centuries, required players to dress formally. But, until recently, listening had quite different rules. Arriving late, chatting, being there to be seen, throwing food and applauding at the end of movements (much like jazz is appreciated today) was normal and expected. But then the maestros – the masters – started to crack down. They insisted on the respect they, if not the music, thought they deserved.

In the early 1930s Stokowski’s campaign for reverential silence right through the piece he was conducting prompted one dissenter to suggest that, at the end of a movement, Mr Stokowski ‘press a button …(for) … a noiseless illuminated sign: You may now cross the other leg.’

I should think so!

Seraphim Trio – and other groups such as Flinders Quartet and Victorian Opera – have begun de-reverence-ifying (I made it up) some of their repertoire, taking it to the people rather than compelling the people to come to a formal concert hall.

Late last year Flinders set up in a city shop. And already this year Seraphim have given recitals (have played?) in Melbourne’s Parliament Station. They've also collaborated with the street artist Peter Drew in a pop-up recital in Campbell Arcade.  Peter and Anna Goldsworthy, the pianist arm of Seraphim, had met at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas in 2013. 

Perversely, at their 2015 season launch, Seraphim even reversed even that. Instead of taking Beethoven trios to the people they brought the people into the Beethoven Trios – right into them. On each of three chairs huddled in a central triangle a volunteer sat facing out towards a player. Each audience-person had been dropped right in it – in the centre of the action. And they reported that they loved it. Certainly there was no shortage of new volunteers at the movement change-over. Each of them got a very personal aural view of a bit of one of two ‘early’ Beethoven piano trios (for piano, violin and cello) of his Opus 1 collection of three.

But there was more. Seraphim Trio is investigating “virtual reality”.

Jumpgate VR is a South Australian production company that creates virtual reality content for live events. Anton Andreacchio is the brains behind the company and, when Anna met him, she decided to investigate the  idea of virtual immersion of a Beethoven trio performance. At Jumpgate, Anton demonstrated a scuba diving clip (truly immersion!) that excited Anna enough to set up a recording that was trialled with a few concert-goers in late 2014.

A digital recording of a Beethoven trio performance is played through traditional headphones. A non-traditional viewer-headset shows the performance image consistent with the orientation of the audience-person head. That is, the image moves to follow the head as it ‘looks’ around a concert hall. Anna said that Jumpgate seemed a natural collaborator in a project that emphasised Beethoven; he was one of the most democratic of composers. ‘Choose Your Own Beethoven, she said, ‘is being developed as an opportunity for the audience to take a larger (curatorial) role in their concert experience. In the example I tested I ‘stood’ in the Salon of Melbourne Recital Centre for a Beethoven trio Seraphim had recorded a month before.

But all of this is not the stuff of gimmicks – desperate measures of an emerging group. The Trio has been together for two decades and they have big fans internationally. When I met them in late 2014 they had just returned from Europe. They’d been invited – for the second time – to study with one of the world’s great chamber musicians. They had spent 11 days working five hours a day in intensive workshops in Vienna with the violist, Hatto Beyerle, co-founder of the Alban Berg Quartet.

The Vienna connection continues – even if tenuously.

Beethoven wrote his first set of three piano trios in 1795 when he was 25 – about 15 years younger than the Seraphim players are now. He premiered them at a concert in Vienna. Papa Haydn was in the audience. Haydn advised Beethoven not to publish the third in its present form. It’s been suggested he thought it was “too creative”. That could be code for, “People won’t understand it”. It could also be code for “It’s too good; it threatens me”. Haydn is recorded as saying, ‘You give me the impression of a man with more than one head, more than one heart and more than one soul!" (A Alsvang, Beethoven, 1961).

By this time – 1795 – Bach’s Coffee Cantata was about 60 years old. Coffee with Beethoven-in-performance could have been old hat even if Parliament Station was a few centuries off. There’s no reason why caffeine shouldn’t be taken with Beethoven and every reason why it should. The only problem is getting the Steinway down the escalator.

In 2015 Seraphim are playing all the Beethoven trios in five Australian states above and below ground, in ones and twos at traditional recitals and in festivals, such ‘Weekend Feasts’ in Pontville, Tasmania and in the State Library of South Australia* in the beautiful Mortlock Wing.

Mortlock wing-State-Library-of-South-Australia

True, they sometimes still perform recital-style in black – or black and white. But Tim Cellist was seen inside a pair of lairy socks a year or so back.

*SA State Library Beethoven Festival


Saturday 22 August

11.00am - 1.30pm Concert 1 (includes lunch) - $45
Opus 1 No. 1 in E-flat major
Opus 70 No. 2 in E-flat major
2.00 - 3.00pm, Panel discussion
Simon Healy, Anna Goldsworthy and artist Peter Drew discuss Beethoven's contemporary relevance.

4.30 - 6.30pm Concert 2 (includes afternoon tea) - $45
Opus 11 Piano Trio No. 4 in B-flat major ("Gassenhauer")
Opus 1 No. 2 in G major
Opus 97 in B-flat major ("Archduke")

7.00pm 3-course dinner package - $135
3 course meal with Seraphim Trio in the Mortlock Chamber.

Sunday 23 August

10.00am - 12.30pm Concert 3 (includes morning tea) - $45
Opus 1 No. 3 in C minor
Opus 70 No. 1 in D major ("Ghost")

Other ticketing options

3-concert ticket - $120
All inclusive festival ticket - $250

Contact: Michelle Harniman; P: (08) 8207 7258 E: harniman.michelle@slsa.sa.gov.au

Why is Granda crying?

I can’t remember ever having typed out a speech/talk/lecture/presentation in full but I did with this one in case I lost it and my wife had to take over. I printed it in 16 pt too so I could read it without my look-overs, just in case. Even though the second last page vanished into a black hole while I read I winged it and read the “thank you” paras – carefully written to make sure I didn’t leave out anyone I was truly grateful to. So I got to the end. Easy!

But then I chucked in a last sentence. What an idiot. I turned to the coffin and started to say, ‘Bye Mum; it’s been fun.’

I got as far as, ‘Bye.’ and  whispered the last four words totally blinded with tears. I stared at the lectern. At least I could see the step down to the floor and my seat.

It’s difficult to point to Mum’s achievements because, mostly, they’re not tangible. There are no university degrees, no college diplomas, no certificates of appreciation, no robes of office, no military medals, no community awards, no sporting trophies on her coffin today. Instead, the high achievements of hers relate to the effects she had on our individual lives.

On the day a girl was born in rural Victoria in February 1916 The Argus was filled with articles about the war – the Great War – in Belgium. Our knowledge of the history of the next 40 years or so – principally two world wars and the great depression – suggests that any chance of happiness and fulfilment for the child would have been very small.

The influence of these large-scale catastrophes was ever-present in Mum’s life even though, in her case, she apparently didn’t think their effect was out of the ordinary. And we, her kids, in some ways were the mirror image of her growing up. We had very little disposable cash but we had good food. The family income was small but it was enough to clothe us. Mum sewed, knitted, mended, darned; she never threw away; she used till it was threadbare – transparent. She only used a new tea-towel, a new bath towel, when I took the more-holes-than-thread models away and binned them.

She grew up in a country town. Her father had the Malvern Star bike agency in Wang opposite the Boar’s Head. He repaired gramophones and serviced guns. The family had a small income but their food supply was supplemented by fish from the river and rabbits from the foothills of the Warbies. Mum told us about buying a lump of dough from the bakers on the walk home from ‘down the street’ on Friday night – a weekly social occasion – frying it and sprinkling it with sugar to make puftaloons. White flour, white sugar and fat. Yum!
JEGM - the source of all the ginger genes at the funeral
And, not surprisingly, that was the nutrition we were fed as kids. Plenty of meat, veg – all very well roasted or boiled. She sometimes made my favourite: steamed golden syrup dumplings made with honey rather than golden syrup: white flour, honey and fat. Yum!

My point is that what she provided for us was, in many ways, a reflection of her own childhood. She cooked family staples of scones, sponges, roast lamb, vegetable soup without tomato in it because Nanna put tomato in hers. She made grapefruit marmalade, apricot jam, tomato sauce and she bottled fruit as she had done for her father and her siblings for seven years after her mother died. When the fridge replaced her coolgardie safe (a big event) she made ice-cream for us. She cooked on a wood stove just as her mother had done for most of her life. But when the washing machine replaced Mum’s copper she still had to iron in the kitchen on a 100 degree day with the wood stove alight to drive the hot water system.

It’s clear that, in what little education she did get, she never shone. In this there are the beginnings of how she saw herself. The typical school Geography/History/Science curriculum of the early 1930s depended heavily on memory: rivers, countries, cities, seas but her memory for unnecessary facts was hopeless (as is mine). She would have done badly on memory-based tests (as I did). As well, girls were taught domestic science (the correct order for washing up and how to make sandwiches) and needlework: useful stuff for serving girls. Domestic skills; Home duties.

She had piano lessons from a bloke over the road in Moore Street but she failed. She told us, “I was pretty dull”. Having no piano to practice on may have been a contributing factor, Mother! Dull had nothing to do with it because she had an intuitive understanding of music. She hated (her words) “screeching sopranos or tinny electronic organs”. This idea – that she was intellectually dull – re-appears throughout her life, but it’s nonsense.

She read a lot (she loved books; strangely for a dullard!) she listened to ABC country radio, 2CR, with its river heights and Blue Hills and, once in a while, got some classical music on the wireless. Once a year a concert might hit St Pat’s Hall. Vladimir Ashkenazy, for example, played Beethoven and got a bit lost in one movement of the Moonlight but nobody seemed terribly perturbed. Apart from the annual Choral Society G and S there wasn’t much else.

About a year ago I’d finally had enough of having to buy that terrible excuse for decent journalism, that right wing Murdoch rag, The Herald Sun. I suggested The Age; it had crosswords like the Sun. “I’m not intellectual enough”, she said.

So I think the idea that originated in her childhood and was never challenged or changed. She left school at the end of Second Form and went to work in the mill. Her mother died when she was 17 and the family conference resulted in her leaving work to run the house and bring up her baby brother, Jack.

Her mother had left the Church of England (where Mum had gone to Sunday School) down the slope to the Church of Christ. Mum followed.

She met her husband at the church. No other meeting place was possible for Churches of Christ young people because that would have meant socialising and marrying outside the clan. Her social life was within the church; tennis was big. There was a court in Baker Street behind the original church building where she, in turn, tried to teach me. I hit the ball over the fence (at least I hit it!) into the long grass of what is now Safeway’s carpark. We went home. Again, she’d failed.

They were married in 1940. No bridal dress: no money. A blue (wool fabric? it was August) dress and a maroon handbag. The wedding breakfast was supplied by her friends and her family at her sister Edna and Les Montgomery’s café near her dad’s bike shop in Murphy Street. Her brother-in-law Les made the wedding cake – a four-story monster with a plaster steeple on top. Magnificent! The whole affair was done on the smell of an oily rag in wartime when everything was hard to get. Not yet rationed in 1940, but hard to get.
Les Monty’s creation

Even if she assumed the servant role – appropriate for a dull girl that doesn’t mean she wasn’t loved and respected because, during our childhood; she clearly was. And after her marriage, you could argue, she was trapped in the shadow of a husband, his work, his church and his mother’s family.
10 August 1940

She became wife of a career beekeeper who was ever at the mercy of the weather. What he did on a given day and therefore what she did was often decided a bit after dawn and she had no say in it. The basics of ‘home duties’ were fundamental. Those activities that could be done without much intellectual input: pack the tucker box for Dad, shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, managing kids with a husband who was away for days at a time in Summer and working on maintenance and beeswax production in Winter. She didn’t grow vegies; that was Dad’s job.

Throughout our childhood, Mum had church: Ladies Guild and Women’s Christian Temperance Union – I was a little White Ribboner (I had the pledge certificate, ‘Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine’). And Dad was church secretary for ever: it was the Jackels' church – started in Dad’s parents house and Dad’s mother was its social organiser – and Mum had no option but to support that.

Nanna, by the way, would have been aghast at Mum taking up boozing at her 90th birthday party. She (Mum, never Nanna) developed a taste for, appropriately, working class champagne, ie prosecco, which she socked away as if it were lemonade.

Mum lived next door to Dad’s oldest brother Lloyd and next to them lived her mother-in-law; all with interconnecting side gates and open back doors. Nanna, her mother-in-law whom Mum referred to universally as Granny, was the matriarch.

So Mum’s environment all through our growing up was no job, no independent money, a matriarch two houses away, bees that had to be worked, and the church that had to be run – all of which was ever-present. Mum was an intelligent woman – even if she was led to believe she wasn’t. She was fundamentally independent – as St John’s care staff constantly commented – right into her 100th year.

And determined in her own quiet way. Another characteristic St John’s staff constantly commented on. Determination that, in her last years, led to frustration at not being able to move as she always had. And that, in turn, led to her falling when staff did not show up fast enough to get her off the toilet and back to her chair in front of the window (or in front of the telly to watch Question Time; you’re cracking up Mother!)

So it’s no wonder that, when we were kids, frustrations occasionally boiled over. Conflict resolution skills? Never heard of it. But they loved each other even if they only showed it occasionally. Public – and private – displays of affection were almost unheard of.

So she was, or became stoic, and made the best of her life. I sat beside her through Dad’s funeral service where she remained dry-eyed and in control. But photos of her all through her life show a bright-eyed, smiling, happy woman.

All the evidence I’ve found pointed to her being a happy child growing up in a happy family with not much but more than enough. I got the picture of a simple life-style with simple pleasures. She hated me organising the cook’s dishes after the meal was served. I now know that was because she liked her tucker hot. She ate it quickly. On the bass of no evidence at all I think that was due to living in a big family that included three boys. “Don’t you want that chop? I’ll have it, ta.” So she got stuck into her tucker with single minded determination. There was no point trying to have a conversation – polite or otherwise – with Mum when she was eating.
Lunch is late!

Let me go back to the dull idea.
Verbally dull she was not.
Mum was a smart mouth (I’m being polite because I can’t say “smart arse” here in the Cathedral). She had a smart, quick wit.

Here’s a picture. About five years ago at the kitchen table for her ACAS assessment, the nurse is asking questions and completing a form.
Nurse, “How do you keep track of your appointments – chiropodist, doctor etc”
“I write them on the calendar.”
Nurse, “This one here behind the kitchen door?”
Nurse, triumphant at having caught her out, “But how do you know which day it is?”
“I look at the paper.”

And again, at lunch earlier this year;
Me, “Would you like some water, dear”
Quick as a flash, “Only if it’s got tea in it.”

And one more;
At lunch in the King River Caf a couple of years ago.
The pot of tea arrived. She turned the teapot handle towards me.
“Pour, slave.”
“Yes Mother.”

All this from a woman whose chief hobby was not answering the question. I sat with her at the eye doctor for her cataract operation review. She gave not one of his questions a straight answer – and this with a straight face. In a different era she would have done an arts degree in order to drive a tram or work in a library. Instead she raised two kids, six grandkids and a dozen or so great grandkids. She couldn’t disown us even if she wanted to because many of us have her family’s red hair. The genes are easily traced back to her father James Edgar Gordon Moore (what a great name) then to a whole tribe through Wendy and me. The red genes also by the way found their way into her sister Edna’s line and at least one other line that turned up 30 or 40 years ago. JEG Moore was evidently an enthusiastic procreator. Gingernuts of the world unite, Mother! There are 26 of your direct line here today. We are all down to you.

She wrote to me on 23rd April this year on mauve paper in a mauve envelope. Not many people get hand-written letters from a 99 year old woman, “I thought to surprise you.”
“You seem to be having a very busy time, a very rewarding one. I was telling Judy how lucky I was to have this room. I have just seen a gaggle of about seven wild ducks waddle past. It must be duck opening day.”

Me n my mum
Thank you Rev Goodyer, The Dean, for allowing us to use the superb Holy Trinity Cathedral and for your flexibility in writing the service.

Thank you John Scott for the magnificent music. I pointed out earlier that one of Mum’s one-liners concerned “screeching sopranos and tinny electronic organs” A year or so ago she and I conspired to hear this wonderful Willis/Lewis beast today. http://www.ohta.org.au/confs/Albury/WangWillis.html 
It has a 32 foot pedal stop – a big bugger – and an 8 ft Trumpet on the Great that John rarely has an excuse to use. I’m glad he can use it today.

A big bugger indeed. Image © by lfb
Festive Trumpet Tune, David German, b 1954

Thank you, nursing staff at St John’s Village for you excellent care since Mum has been a resident with you. Especially, I thank the RNs who were on duty over the last week of Mum’s time there. Their palliative care system included us, her family and involved – I discovered – cuddle-based pastoral care when the RN concerned decided you needed it.

But most of all, thank you Judy, Ann and Rob and Masie who were the people on the spot for Mum in Wangaratta with her family in Melbourne. You were critical people for Mum. She respected you, she loved you and she depended on you.

I’d barely parked my bum on the end of the front pew where chief mourners sit when a small gingernut grabbed my leg and rested her head on my knee. Apparently she’d asked her dad, ‘Why is Granda crying?’ When Andrew told her she decided I need a hug. In typical Miss Lil fashion she’d decided problem required solution – no debate required – so she scuttled around the front pew to provide it.
Thanks Lil. I won’t forget that.