“Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start.”
– Maria, The Sound of Music
Hello, and welcome to Music Tasting, a site for people interested in listening to, reading about, thinking about and talking about music. Here, I hope that anyone who wishes to deepen their understanding and love of music can come to learn and share, regardless how extensive (or how absent) their musical background might be.
This site was born for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I realised about a year ago that not only do I really enjoy performing and listening to music, I also enjoy talking and writing about it. It nourishes me to be able to make music myself, but the continual process of learning, reading, researching and discussing music is also a huge part of that. So by creating a place where I can share what I’m discovering as I go, this blog becomes a way to document that journey.
Secondly, I wanted to create a place that talks about music in a way that is accessible and relevant to both musicians and non-musicians alike. The world of classical music in particular can often seem like an utterly foreign land for those who have either no involvement in it or for those on the periphery. Sometimes I think musicians can unintentionally widen this chasm rather than bridge it, making it harder for people to engage with classical music and to want to know more about it. Why would you go to a concert of music you’ve never heard of, or turn up the dial on your local classical music station, if no one is giving you an enticing reason to do so, and if it seems like everyone’s speaking a different language? Music Tasting aims to be an inclusive community that breaks down some of those barriers. Everyone’s invited to the party.
A little something about me
My name’s Bronwyn and I live in Brisbane, Australia. I’ve been here since October 2009 but before that I was a Melbourne girl my whole life, apart from some time spent living and working overseas. I was in Vancouver, Canada and Cork, Ireland for about 3 months each back in 2007-8, and hopped across the US and around Europe for a bit while I was over there. And not that you really need to know, but if such things interest you, I’m now in my early thirties.
I have been a singer and musician for much of my life, but it’s not really my profession. At uni I studied history and politics, which I loved at the time but feels like aeons ago to me now. Professionally, my background is mostly in administration, event coordination and a bit of marketing, some of it connected with music, some of it not. But I’ve done a range of things in various capacities for small businesses and not-for-profits connected with music education, and done lots of voluntary work for community choirs that I’ve been part of or with music festivals. I sang for seven seasons with the National Youth Choir of Australia (until I begrudgingly gave in to their definition of youth), was a member of Concordis for ten years, and owe much of my earlier music education to the Young Voices of Melbourne. There were a few other choirs as well, in Melbourne and overseas, but if I listed them all I’d be here a while. Currently I sing with Brisbane Chamber Choir and Fusion. I also play the piano (sporadically).
But I am not a music teacher. I’m not a conductor. I don’t perform for a living. I don’t have a music degree. I am occasionally invited to do paid solo or ensemble work (weddings and the like), but this isn’t something I aspire to make a living from. But music is my passion, and it feeds my soul.
I first sang in a choir at the age of five, standing in the front row of a fairly standard thrown-together-to-sing-a-few-songs-at-the-end-of-year-concert kind of group from Monash Primary School. I was always a fairly earnest child, eager to please, mostly well-behaved (well, my mum may have some contradictory examples), curious, open to new experiences. So I was never the type to consider singing in a choir boring. And yet I had no idea what a world it would eventually open me up to.
The first performance (that I can recall) of this first choir I ever sang in, was in the large auditorium of Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University, just up the road. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stood on that stage since, and that first performance is just a hazy memory now. However, I do know that one of the songs we sang was The Rainbow Connection, of Kermit the Frog fame, from the original Muppet Movie from 1983:
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it –
I know they’re wrong, wait and see,
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection –
the lovers, the dreamers and me.”
There are another two verses, which I won’t share with you here, but two and a half decades later I still know every word of the song. In fact, the song has been something of a recurring theme at various times in my life and is heavily loaded with memories of people and places and occasions. Most are great memories; some are bittersweet. But what I do know is that hearing it – or even the mention of it – can transport me right back to another time or place. Sometimes so vividly it’s like I’m right there again.
Music can do that. I’m sure most people won’t need any convincing of that either, as nearly everyone has a favourite song, or a favourite album, something from a time in their lives that just wouldn’t have been the same without the accompanying soundtrack. Right now I won’t go into what it is about music that does that, and why it is that music can have such a hold over us. But I guess one of the first points I want to make is that the ability to love music – and to feel its power and its significance and its relevance to our lives – is universal. To love a piece of music, any piece of music, you don’t need to have studied it, or analysed it. You don’t need an education. You don’t need a piece of paper with a qualification. You don’t need anyone’s permission.
Now might be a good time to add a short confession: I actually started Music Tasting about ten months ago, when a couple of things in my life were different and I had a slightly different focus in mind for the site. I posted all of two entries (they’re gone now, sorry) but never told anyone about the blog, and thus never had a readership to whom I was accountable. So if you were one of the seven people who did happen to stumble across this site in its previous, very-similar-but-not-identical incarnation, then I owe you an apology. I’m very sorry. I got all excited… and then didn’t follow through. My bad. In my defence, I launched the blog about a week before I decided (with relative suddenness) to resign from the job I was currently in, so my priorities shifted when I had to start hunting around for new employment and work out what would come next. And shortly after that, in a spectacular fit of clumsiness, I managed to sprain an ankle and both wrists and was out of action for a couple of weeks. It’s an uninteresting story, involving a zumba class, a very hard floor and a lack of coordination – you can use your imagination for the rest. And then two weeks after that I caught whooping cough. Which was kind of also sort of maybe pneumonia, according to the x-rays my doctor sent me to get. So yeah, woe is me. Or was me, I should say.
But now that I have the sob story out of the way, I should finish telling you about my purpose and renewed interest in getting this blog up and running again.
Music and Storytelling
About a month ago, the wonderful ABC Classic FM radio station that we’re so privileged to have in Australia ran another one of its Classic 100 competitions, this time of music from the 20th century. When I say competition, I suppose I mean that all the music is competing against all the other music for the coveted number one position, plus the 99 ‘runner up’ spots. So listeners were able to vote for up to ten of their favourite pieces written after 1900 (and presumably before 2000) that they thought should make it in to such a prestigious list. Starting tomorrow they’ll be broadcasting all 100 pieces that made the list in an on-air countdown, and the top 10 will be performed live by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra next weekend.
While I’m looking forward to hearing what makes the cut, and probably discovering a tonne of new music, I was actually really interested in the companion Classic 100 Stories they’re running over at ABC Pool, the community forum. The Classic 100 list itself will probably feature a lot of very well-known music, much of it amazing I’m sure, but I know that there will be pieces I absolutely adore that won’t be in there, just because no one knows about them enough to vote for them. And that’s fine. They don’t need to be on a list; I’ll still know they’re amazing. But what they’re asking for on the Pool is for people to submit stories behind the pieces of music they voted for. Maybe it’s stories of the place where they first heard it, someone it reminds them of, a particular performance they were involved in… it could be anything.
Well this idea really intrigued me, because I began to realise that stories are really my doorway into loving music. Because I haven’t studied music at a tertiary level, I don’t think analytically about music very often, at least not when I’m just listening to it. I do when it’s required of me to perform it well, when I might start considering harmonic structure and phrasing, or stylistic things relevant to the period, or the use of text or word painting. But these are almost always secondary for me. It’s the associations of people, places, events, moods and emotions that really fix a piece of music inside me as special and memorable. I’m hoping that there are other people out there for whom this is the case as well. I’d like to find them and have a chat. I think we’d get along.
So it sparked an idea in me. This is what Music Tasting is, I’ve decided. It’s a place to share stories, and to use those stories to connect music and people. Because music is all about people. The people who write it, play it, conduct it, sing it, buy it, listen to it, live it. I’m guilty of forgetting this sometimes, of course, as perhaps we all are from time to time. When I’m busy rehearsing a piece of music it’s easy to forget that the person who wrote it had something to say, had a story, and was a living, breathing, flawed human being like myself. When I listen to a CD, it doesn’t usually occur to me to wonder about the life of the performer, their story, and what the music means to them. And when I’m on stage performing I don’t give a second thought to who might be in the audience, what they’re thinking, and what stories they brought with them that day. But these are the details that make music personal and meaningful rather than abstract, so this is what I plan to explore here. Music has as many stories as it does listeners, so I’m going to tell some of them.
Hoping you’ll join me on the journey.