November 26 2016 : Cock Crow: Rosemary Dobson in Words and Music

Diana Weston
Diana Weston

My upcoming Spring concert Thinking Of You is based on the work of the inimitable Ann Carr-Boyd, one of the Southern Highlands most valued resident–composers.

I first met Ann a few years back when looking for contributions by Australian women composers for our first recording. It immediately became apparent that she was a ‘hands on’ musician who loved to get into the thick of things. Present at our first rehearsal, she put us on the right track over a number of points to do with her song ‘man is so proud’ which called for a harpsichord accompaniment.

Ann Carr-Boyd
Ann Carr-Boyd

What had struck me was that Ann seemed a natural with harpsichord style – a very unusual quality because, as everybody knows, harpsichords are instruments from a different era – 17th and 18th century – and have very little to do with the 20th and 21st. It turned out that Ann had studied harpsichord in London, but, more importantly, had been encouraged to develop this skill immediately on her return to Australia in the early 70’s by harpsichordist Robert Goode. Goode himself (with his group The Consort of Sydney) was at the forefront of the transport of Australian music abroad as part of Musica Viva. On his instigation, Ann was able to contribute vastly to their repertoire….and popularity. The result is a large body of work in which the harpsichord with various and unusual combinations of instruments (violin, percussion, voice, electric organ, guitar) is central.

It’s this material that Thoroughbass has recorded as the Flying West Collection, amounting to over 120 mins of listening time. (Flying West refers to a new work which Ann wrote for Thoroughbass based on a day in the life of a Flying Doctor, for harpsichord, cello and recorder).

Last year we presented some of the more exuberant, not to say, outlandish pieces in the collection (one piece influenced by Aboriginal music is extraordinarily other-worldly). This year’s program focusses more on the intimate and philosophical side of Ann’s thinking.

Taken as a whole, and having got to know Ann through the process of preparing, recording and performing huge amounts of material, it has become apparent that Ann has a secret well of energy most of us would envy. Involved in every activity from arranging and playing duets at Piano Teacher Association Conferences, to composing new works to hands-on teaching, she is never not busy.

Ann’s status as a composer continues to flourish in Australia and oversees. In October she and I have been invited to present a concert devoted exclusively to Australian composers at the Geelvinck Festival in Amsterdam. This festival of early keyboard instruments calls on keyboard players from around the world to present music from the instruments’ origins to the present. Much new music is now being written for ‘old’ instruments with the realization that they have their own voices and need not apologize for being ancient. And Highland’s Ann Carr-Boyd has contributed significantly to this state of affairs.

Following this is the Summer concert; ‘Cock Crow: Rosemary Dobson in Words and Music’, which also focuses on a female local identity.

Dot and Rosemary
Dot and Rosemary

Rosemary Dobson had a special connection with the Southern Highlands. She was educated at Frensham School Mittagong, when its founder Winifred West was building her particular brand of schooling with its emphasis on women’s equality. Rosemary was highly influenced by and indeed retained a life-long gratitude to Winifred West for her education at Frensham. She even spent time as a teacher there before embarking on her studies at Sydney University.

About a year ago, when my sister was sorting through some bookshelves preparing to move house, she came across a bundle of our mother’s effects. It included an old vinyl recording called ‘Poets on Record’. This particular issue was by Rosemary Dobson, now recognized as one of Australia’s leading poets, who sadly died 4 years ago at the age of 92.

Rosemary and my mother had been firm friends for many years, dating from when Rosemary lived in one those spacious Federation houses at Barry St Neutral Bay. I remembered my mother telling me that a mutual friend of theirs Hazel de Burgh had the inspired idea of asking poets to read their own work as part of an historical record of poets of the age. Quite a number of recordings were made and are now kept in the National Library of Australia.

With some interest I listened to and read the eight poems on the recording. Chosen and read by Rosemary they covered an eclectic range of subjects but a few of the things that struck me as a reader was how they resonated with universal truths today, and how in tune they are with the lives of women. And while the language was dense, it was not so dense as to be impenetrable.

Now with great enthusiasm I researched Rosemary Dobson and her work. At some point, I remembered my mother telling me that she lived in Canberra, and indeed both she and her publisher husband Alec Bolton, are recognized as notable Australians at the National Library of Australia. Contact with her youngest son Ian Bolton (himself a musician working in New Zealand) revealed the fact that her complete life-times’ output had recently been published as Rosemary Dobson Collected. And there it was, on the shelf at Gleebooks.

Inspired by these wonderful poems, but focussing only on the original 8 of the recording, I felt that a concert of Rosemary’s words matched with music would be both a personal venture in memory of our mother’s friendship and an opportunity to re-discover these poems in a musical setting. So the music that I’ve chosen reflects some aspect of the poem, in one way or another. Perhaps not surprisingly, most is composed by Australians, and some of these are women.

Diana Weston

Dates and Places:

Spring Concert: Thinking of You: Life and Love according to Ann Carr-Boyd
Date and time: Saturday September 24, 4pm
Where: The Rose Room 51F Sunninghill Rd, Burradoo.
Bookings: $30/$25 concession (includes supper) http://www.thoroughbass.com.au/events-list/thinking-of-you

Summer Concert: Cock Crow: Rosemary Dobson in Words and Music
Date and time: Saturday Nov 26, 4pm
Where: The Rose Room, 51F Sunninghill Rd, Burradoo
Bookings: $30/$25 concession (includes supper)