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Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing!

I discovered these words of William Byrd's about 58 years ago, and they have been a mantra for me. I seem unable to help myself – I can be chatting to anyone, from a taxi driver to someone's mother – if anyone claims that they can't sing, or expresses fear or anxiety about their capacity to sing – I immediately begin a non-threatening coaching session, designed to show him or her that they have been mistaken, and that everyone who can speak, can sing.

As a primary school child in Sydney, my two favourite pursuits were reading, and drawing or painting. Music surrounded me – Mum singing, someone playing the recorder, Mum or Dad or my older brother or sister listening to a recording of a Beethoven string quartet, operatic arias from the wireless filling the kitchen every Saturday afternoon as Mum ironed  – these were all part of the fabric of life – rich and inescapable. But I didn't as a primary child put much time into making music myself. I sometimes asked if I could learn the oboe, or the cello, or the organ, but "money doesn't grow on trees." It wasn't until I was in a good choir at Hornsby Girls' High School that I met and fell passionately in love with great choral music. Britten, Handel, Bach, Josquin – I couldn't get enough. I taught myself to read music, spending hours at the piano figuring out parts in my favourite pieces. I found copies of Bach chorales, and did my best to persuade other teenagers to join me in singing these wonderful gems of unaccompanied four-part choral music.  A couple of school friends joined me on occasion, but without tenors and basses, the works were incomplete – and the few young men of my acquaintance thought that wanting to sing Bach chorales for fun was very odd. Things looked up in my first year at university. I joined every choir I could find at both Sydney University and the University of NSW.

Then my family moved to Canberra. It was early 1963, and I was just 18, entering 2nd year arts at the ANU. Suddenly I found myself in a very small fishpond – and I was, through dedication to daily singing and recorder practice, becoming a medium-sized fish. I joined every choir in Canberra at the time, and assisted with the formation of the ANU Choral Society (SCUNA). I began teaching children how to sing unaccompanied part-songs – and, as such songs suitable for children were very few and far between, I began to compose my own. I studied singing, composition, recorder and bassoon – all part-time. I began organising instrumental lessons for children over the Christmas holidays. My love of the visual arts never waned, but there was less and less time to devote to it. And I was discovering that part-time private recorder teaching was a pleasant and useful way to earn money, whereas part-time painting was a bit chancy! However, my love of drawing and painting found an outlet in designing logos, posters for performances, and sets and costumes for stage works. Eventually I began to look for music teaching work in schools, rather than French teaching. But it wasn't really until I studied music education at the Kodaly Institute in Hungary that I stopped feeling like a charlatan, and believed that I had something to offer the world.

And so the decades rolled by, full of the joys and challenges of teaching hundreds or perhaps thousands of children and adults that singing is a vital part of our humanity. I composed many choral and music theatre works across those decades, as well as some instrumental and chamber music. Perhaps what I love best is creating performances which employ all of our faculties – opera or music theatre, with singing, instrumental music, mime, speech, set, costumes, lighting and movement, all of which together can create a profound impact on both performers and audiences. And to facilitate such performances, I created organisations devoted to various aspects of music or music theatre. Eight of the thirteen Canberra organisations I founded or helped to found are still thriving: SCUNA, Canberra Children's Choir (now part of Music for Canberra), Summer Music Schools (Young Music Society), Canberra Recorder and Early Music Society (CREMS), Gaudeamus (later named Music for Everyone - now part of Music for Canberra), Lady's Mantle, Wayfarers Australia (AKA Waldorf Wayfarers),  A Chorus of Women; six have bitten the dust (University Consort, Canberra New Music Society, Canberra Musica Antiqua; the Variables, Voicebox Youth Opera, and recently (2017) I decided not to continue with Imagine Music Theatre holiday workshops (which I had been running since 1994). In Hobart I founded and directed Sundry Singers; in Adelaide I founded and directed Twitch (a women's vocal ensemble) and Voicebox Youth Opera (which for a couple of manic years I directed in two cities at once!) And for many of those organisations I have composed music, written scripts, designed posters, costumes, sets, made recordings….

In 2013, the hundredth anniversary of the city of Canberra, it seemed a fitting time to celebrate the fifty years of musical adventures, pitfalls and triumphs of which I had been a part in this extraordinary city, and to thank the multitudes of people who had put their talents, expertise and inspiration at my disposal – to say nothing of countless hours of sheer hard work! Accordingly, in December 2013, in Canberra's Albert Hall, I mounted a three day festival, So Good A Thing, involving as many as possible current and previous colleagues and students in a wide range of performances, including many of my pieces and also pieces by other Australian composers, many of whom had taken their first compositional steps with my help. I also displayed visual memorabilia related to all the Canberra organisations mentioned above across those fifty years.

The eight years from 2012 to 2019 were packed with Wayfarers’ overseas performance tours and teaching tours, mostly in Asia: Taiwan, China, Japan, India, Korea. For these tours I wrote several new pieces of music theatre and arranged a great deal of choral music to suit my often imbalanced choral forces. I also put time into typing up my early, pre-computer compositions, organising the mountains of music in my compactus, a great deal of it my original scores, and sorting my archives. and from February 2019 I began teaching music once a week as a volunteer at the very new, very small Alpine Steiner School in Cooma.

Then from January 2020 everything changed. The catastrophic bushfires which destroyed a great deal of eastern Australia's bushland, wildlife and human endeavours propelled me into organising and directing a huge choral and vocal concert in Canberra in March 2020. Over seventy choral and solo singers, adult and youthful, and a small orchestra, presented an array of Australian compositions looking at the stark realties of climate change - several written expressly in response to that terrible summer. And then a day later Covid 19 struck, and Australia, as well as the rest of the world, was plunged into lockdown, with live music-making one of the casualties. I found myself using the unwonted spare time in painting; teaching and other endeavours were conducted via zoom meetings. In early July I invited art-lovers to join me for a week of creative activity at Caloola Farm. Covid 19 realities forbade Melbournites from attending; the 53 Canberra and Sydney people who attended, aged 1 to 80, endeavoured to keep anti-Covid measures in place while enjoying painting, singing, writing, play-reading, walking, cooking and bonfires. The second half of 2020 will we all hope see a gradual resumption of face-to-face musical activities. 

Below is more information about the musical organisations and people I have directed or been involved with, as well as my compositions, performances, publications and recordings.


1. In 1963, on my arrival in Canberra as an 18 year old 2nd year arts student at the ANU, I found myself among a small but passionate group of undergraduates yearning to sing challenging unaccompanied polyphonic music in a small, homogenous group – thus SCUNA was born (Societas Choralis Universitatis Nationalensis Australiensis – the first conductor, Ian Allan, lectured in Latin!) We sang so many masses by Palestrina for the first year or so, that at the 1964 Intervarsity Choral Festival in Melbourne, four of us improvised an entire setting of the Mass in the style of Palestrina – at midnight, in our sleeping bags, in the toilets so as not to wake everyone!  After Ian, conductors were Graham Kerrison, Chris Burrell (under whose direction I believe that SCUNA reached unparalleled heights of sublimity), Anthony Waterman and William Herbert. I conducted in 1967, and again in 1983 and 1984. Other conductors were Brian Hingerty, Ayis Ioannides…. .and then my knowledge of SCUNA fades. Suffice it to say that SCUNA is still a force to be reckoned with in Canberra's choral scene.

SCUNA logo designed and drawn by Judy. Click on logo for photo (1964 or 1965)

2. In 1967 I founded the Canberra Children’s Choir, and directed it (voluntarily) for 9 years (1967-71, 1974-76, 1979). This choir quickly became exceptional, winning almost every competition we entered in Canberra and Sydney, and being invited to perform on ABC radio and television, for royalty and on many public occasions.  We made a record, The Christmas Story, which went golden (ie sold a million copies). For the Canberra Children's Choir I composed Songs of Middle Earth, which were recorded by the ABC. I rented a cottage in the bush, outside Braidwood (Manar), where I took choristers for weekends full of singing, hiking, campfires and mural painting. We made trips to Sydney to sing in the eisteddfod, to sing at weddings, to take part in youth festivals of music. The CCC was often asked to join with the Canberra Choral Society and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in large choral works. Composer Donald Hollier wrote an innovative Christmas opera, In Dulci Jubilo, especially for us, which we performed with some of Canberra's best solo singers and instrumentalists (My sessions with Donald, in which I was taught how to conduct aleotoric music, often reduced me to tears -  but I learnt a lot!). In January 1979 the choir performed to great acclaim at the first National Choral Championships, in Hobart. Many of the Canberra Children's Choir members from those early years are now well known musicians around the world. The choir underwent various changes of name under different directors. Directors I remember working with are Brian Hingerty, Helen (Cornwall) Swan, Mary Tatchell, Jonathan Beaumont (who commissioned me to write A Mass of Hope for the choir's 25th anniversary), Johanna McBride. In 2000 the choir became a part of Canberra Youth Music, and reverted to its original name. In 2015 Canberra Youth Music amalgamated with Music for Everyone to become Music for Canberra. In 2017 I directed the choir for its 50th anniversary.

CCC logo designed and drawn by Judy (two crotchets below CCC). 

Click on logo for photo (accompanist Johnny Aitchison with Judy and CCC, probably 1968 or 1969)

Logo designed and drawn by Judy.

Click on logo for photo (Becky Lagos with Judy's dog Pippa, and Jess' dad David Dixon, 1970 or 1971)

3. In the January holidays of 1969 I ran a music-oriented playgroup for children funded by the NSW Department of Education. In 1970 I founded the Summer Music Schools for Children (changing its name to Young Music Society in 1975), and directed nine music schools, as well as occasional other events, residential camps etc. Each summer I interviewed and employed up to 40 musicians from all over Australia to teach hundreds of Canberra children, whom I auditioned each December in order to place them in appropriate small classes. We offered beginner tuition in small groups on a variety of instruments; vocal groups and choirs; orchestra, recorder ensembles, wind, string and brass groups, as well as electives such as folk music, electronic music, non-western music, music theatre, composition. Many members of the Canberra Children's Choir attended the summer schools, and, as they reached adulthood, often became assistants and tutors at the summer schools. The Young Music Society still flourishes, still offering annual summer music schools, winter schools and other workshops, and regular weekly ensembles, as well as hiring out a wide range of instruments. Currently, the Society is directed by that energetic composer and conductor Stephen Leek. In 2019, the YMS celebrated its 50 years with a gala three hours of music at the Albert Hall. Pictured below I am at that gala with an early music ensemble consisting of 2019 young students along with adults who were themselves students in previous summer schools, and/or whose children attended summer schools. My original logo (pictured left) was used for most of those 50 years - at the end of 2018 it was changed (see below, to the left of the photo.)

4. In 1975 Michael Sawer, a recorder duet partner from our undergraduate days, and I founded the Canberra Recorder and Early Music Society (CREMS). We auditioned hundreds of recorder players of all ages and assigned them to appropriate playing groups. I was at that time a very ignorant new mother, and I was so sure that as a good mother I would never again be very involved with music, that I donated all my considerable recorder music library to CREMS. It was a bare three months later that I regretted it, and had to save up to buy new scores for myself! I directed the activities of the society for a number of years: 1975 – 1977, and again 2004 – 2006. This society is still thriving.

Click logo (designed and drawn by Judy) for photo of Secundus vocal group.

Early music group High Court performance ,probably 1985 (click to enlarge)

5. In 1983, on my return from studying music education in Hungary, I founded Gaudeamus, which grew into a huge, multi-faceted music tuition and performance organisation, offering Kodály musicianship to young children from 3 to 7 years, choral training for primary children (PRIMUS), secondary students (SECUNDUS), experienced adults (TERTIUS), and inexperienced adults (FELIX), as well as recorder tuition, recorder consort (FLUTES A BEC), music theatre, and an Early Music group for sight-reading young people. From time to time I organised residential camps at Caloola Farm, south of Tharwa - programs were led by some of Australia's most innovative musicians and music educators (Michael Atherton, Christoph Maubach, Sandra Nash, Andy Rigby). I directed composition camps which resulted in the publication of two song books and recordings of songs by children, for children (A Pocketful of Rye and Four and Twenty Song-Birds). For the Early Music Group I purchased and lent out lutes, viols, hammered and Appalachian dulcimers, a cittern, a shawm, a dulcian, a cornetto, gemshorns, crumhorns, cornamuses, a rebec, a psaltery, a harp, a chrotta, and handbells. Members of this group made their own splendid mediaeval and Renaissance costumes in which to perform. For Gaudeamus performers I composed many operas and music theatre pieces, working with a rich array of Australia's best stage directors, designers and choreographers. I commissioned works from other Australian composers, conducting première performances. Gaudeamus performers toured Australia and the world. Eventually dedicated premises were secured, and towards the end of my 11 years annual grants were being given by both the Australia Council and the ACT Arts Bureau (artsACT). Unfortunately I was personally paid so little that by 1994 I had to look elsewhere for my livelihood.  In 1995 Gaudeamus changed its name to Music for Everyone  - it has remained very active, although being now a totally different beast (ie it is now principally a weekly music school, with performances being essentially low-key.) In 2015 it amalgamated with Canberra Youth Music to from Music for Canberra.

6. In 1991 I founded a small, select women's vocal group, Lady's Mantle. Brenda and I designed the mantles which we all made for ourselves. This group sang all my favourite SSA repertoire from one thousand years of European choral history, and I wrote several pieces for them – notably Birth Pangs, for the christening of Angela Vivian Bolt's two sons.  We gave regular weekend recitals, and competed in eisteddfods, often successfully.  Also, as several members of the group had good recorder playing skills, we sometimes added recorders, crumhorns and percussion to our mediaeval performances. In 1992 Lady's Mantle recorded May Howlett's Ashes of Roses for SSA choir, guitar, harpsichord and recorders. I sadly left Lady's Mantle at the end of 1993, when it became necessary for me to work outside Canberra.  This group (now directed by Maia Harrison) still delights Canberra audiences.

click photo to enlarge (at Wagga for National Choral Championships - awarded something, I think!)

Logo designed and drawn by Judy.

Click on logo for photo: Voicebox performers in Utopia about 1998 (?) - this is the Animal Farm segment

(masks made by Judy)

7. In 1994, having moved to live in Mount Barker, SA, I founded Voicebox Youth Opera in the Adelaide Hills. A dedicated, multi-skilled  group of about 20 teenagers met regularly with me to rehearse pre-existing operas (eg Malcolm Williamson's The Happy Prince) and to create new works of music theatre.  A Pawn in the Game was our first major new work, which was funded by Carclew Youth Arts. For this work I used my Seven Deadly Sins composition for multiple recorders of all sizes, and percussion. We used our grant to buy a huge canvas square, on which we painted the necessary 64 squares of the chess board, in cream and burgundy, as well as beautiful fabrics in various shades of white to cream, and plum to burgundy, for the 32 “pieces” of the chess set. The performers then needed to master the music, to the point where they could play their recorder or percussion part by heart while acting out the seven sins. In the same program we performed my Stony Tunes, short pieces for SAB voices and handbells, which use as text unusual and sometimes humorous 17th century gravestone inscriptions. The performers used masks and other props to act out the stories behind these inscriptions.

In 1997, having been forced by family necessity to move back to Canberra, I founded a Canberra branch of Voicebox Youth Opera. This group performed again several of the SA triumphs, as well as creating new works based on well-known novels eg C.S.Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, which received ACT arts funding. I shared the writing of the music for this work with budding composers David Cassat and Liam Waterford. Having experienced very difficult situations with committees of the Canberra Children’s Choir, the Young Music Society and Gaudeamus, I had decided to never again work with a committee. Inevitably, this led to too great a workload for one person (artistic and administrative) - and so Voicebox productions tended to be inadequately publicised, which led to less than full houses. I dissolved Voicebox in 2002, after making a spectacular loss on performances of The Grandfather Clock.

8. In January 1995, in Canberra, I founded Imagine Music Theatre, directing one or two week holiday workshops every January for primary and secondary students, most often in the Orana Steiner School. I chose age-appropriate stories, turned them into scripts, and wrote songs and instrumental music to suit the skills of the participants. The teachers who assisted me were initially graduates of Gaudeamus; as time went by, I was offering assistant teacher positions to young people who had been to Imagine workshops themselves for several years, or to members of my Wayfarers choir, many of whom had attended Imagine workshops. Successful Imagine teachers need an extraordinary mix of skills: besides the ability to genuinely enjoy teaching children, they need creative writing and editing skills, the ability to sing confidently and accurately in part songs, to play the recorder well, to be able to notate melodies children invent, to improvise and notate harmonies, to understand the piano and other instruments enough to help children who are learning them, to be musically creative with percussion and voice, to be bold mimers and actors, to be visually creative, able to engage children in the design and construction of simple sets, props and costumes. From about 2005 Imagine became even busier than it had been at its inception, offering music theatre workshops to children and teenagers every school holidays. I directed Imagine until the end of 2017, occasionally employing other directors for one of the age groups. Every year from 1994 new scripts and new music were written – often by me, sometimes by other teachers, occasionally by children. As there are no longer any Imagine graduates in Canberra needing holiday work, the last Imagine workshop was held in October 2017.

An interesting an enjoyable offshoot of my Imagine workshops has been the growth since 2015 of annual music theatre workshops in Lorinna, Tasmania. Together with Melbourne stage manager par excellence Yani Ioannides, I descend on this tiny rural community, where for a week every child and many adults devote themselves to learning lines and songs, making costumes, sets and props, and finally performing a show in the local community hall. 

click on image to enlarge

9.  In 1997 I founded the semi-professional vocal octet, the Variables, which I directed until 2010. The Variables, many being members of my at-that-time extended family, and past Gaudeamus members, built up a repertoire of unaccompanied choral music from the last 500 years of the European choral tradition. Our first concert was devoted to choral works by two of our members, David Cassat and Liam Waterford - both had been Gaudeamus members in their youth. Many of my choral compositions received their première performances by the Variables. We often performed at art show openings and gave regular Sunday afternoon recitals. In 2008 we released a CD, The Floor of Heaven, with pieces by Liam, David and me, as well as Maria Rosa Candida, our favourite  bit of 17th century double choir polyphony, and Die Weihnachtsgeschichte,  Hugo Distler's beautiful setting of the Christmas story.  I felt it necessary to stop directing the Variables at the end of 2009, when I was planning to study painting full-time at art school.

10.  Also in 1997 I founded the Waldorf Wayfarers, also known as Wayfarers Australia, as a performance outlet for students, teachers and parents from Steiner or Waldorf schools around Australia who love singing. Once a year participants met, in a different Steiner school each year, to rehearse intensively, and then to perform: choral music mostly, and occasionally music theatre. Eventually a Canberra Wayfarers group was formed, with membership open to anyone from age 10 to adult, with the only prerequisite  being the love of singing. The Canberra group, sometimes augmented by interstate Wayfarers, has performed Handel's Messiah, Bach's St Matthew Passion, Cathleen Meggitt's musical The Kelly Women, the mediaeval liturgical drama The Play of Daniel, a musical and dramatic adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, a concert of Magnificat settings by Palestrina, Schütz and Mendelssohn, my music theatre version of The Little Prince and my children's opera Heavenly Grandfather's Banquet. Australia-wide Wayfarers have performed overseas and in Australia my Hobbit Songs, Mythical Beasts, Modal Magic, The Ring BearerKakadu, and Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, as well as many shorter pieces from both the standard type of choral repertoire, and songs from around the world arranged by me to suit choirs with never enough men!  Wayfarers have toured to all states of Australia, New Zealand twice, Europe six times, and Asia nine times – the 2017 tour involved over 100 mostly teenagers from seven countries performing in Japan and Korea; in July 2019 75 performers from five countries toured Eastern and South Australia. Canberra Wayfarers has continued to meet semi-regularly, but the future of Wayfarers is now dependent on dedicated young adults (or at least younger than me!) taking over at least the organisational aspects. 

click to enlarge (logo painted by Judy for 2000 tour of Europe) - it represents the various streams of repertoire: mediaeval, folk songs, Renaissance, Tolkien songs, Kakadu, sacred pieces.

11. In 2003 I had been indulging in weekly vocal improvisations with Glenda Cloughley and Jolanta Gallagher. It was at this time that the Australian population became aware of Prime Minister Howard's intention to embroil Australia in an invasion of Iraq. I, with thousands of others, marched in protest - but I felt keenly the absence of music in the march. On speaking to Glenda about this, she replied that she had just written a poem on this very topic, a lament for the people of Iraq - so instead of improvising that weekend, I wrote a melody to Glenda's words. Both Glenda and I then spent two days ringing every singing woman we knew in Canberra; we rehearsed twice at Glenda's place with 30-40 women; then on Tuesday, 18 March 2003, I stood on one staircase in the foyer of Parliament House while Glenda stood opposite me on the other staircase. At exactly 1pm I sang the first phrase of our new song, Lament - 'Open the doors of the chambers', Glenda the second phrase - 'of your hearts' - and then the voices of about 150 women, scattered incognito around the foyer, joined us. We continued to sing for at least half an hour, with the public and the security guards and members of Parliament all entranced. That evening our singing led the 7.30 Report coverage of Australia's undertaking to go to war against Iraq. Fran Kelly referred to the singers as 'a chorus of women' - many of those women continued to meet with Glenda and sometimes with me. The sixteen years since then has seen the emergence of an extraordinary group of women dedicated to speaking out, through the mediums of song and drama, about issues of social and environmental concerns. I shared the musical direction of A Chorus of Women with Johanna McBride for the first six years or so. Since then Johanna has taken the full burden upon herself, while I have continued to sing and contribute songs. In 2015 I and many other Canberra solo singers and instrumentalists were involved with Chorus in performances of Glenda Cloughley's large music theatre work, A Passion for Peace at the Albert Hall. Since then Chorus has continued unabated - I have been less involved, partly because of many overseas commitments, and more recently because of the deterioration of my singing voice.



1. In my early 20’s, between 1967 and 1970 I wrote Songs of Middle Earth: settings for SSA choir, soloists and chamber orchestra, of Tolkien's Travelling Song, Song of the Elves, Tom Bombadillo, I Sang of Leaves, Boromir, Song of the Ents, In Western Lands,  Sing Ye People. On the strength of those songs, I was invited by Olivier Messiaen to study composition with him in Paris. I was incapable of funding such a venture. However, Larry Sitsky did take me on as a composition student in 1970 because of them. Songs of Middle Earth have been performed by the Canberra Children's Choir, Gaudeamus and Wayfarers, among others. A difficulty has been the copyright issue. Tolkien himself was delighted – but that letter was destroyed in a fire. Decades later, Christopher Tolkien heard a recording, and gave me permission to have a professional recording made – but by the time I had managed to afford to get a professional recording made, ten years later, that letter had been lost, and the Tolkien estate were no longer interested. It will be up to my grandchildren to finally publish and make the recording available of what many people think are among my best pieces. (The recording was made in 1999 by past students and colleagues – Many thanks to you all!)

click to enlarge (scraper board drawings by Judy, originally published in The Compleat Chorister, 1971)

2. From 1974 – 1975  I wrote A Canticle of Light. While waiting for Jess to be born, I wrote the libretto - I scoured the bible for references to light, and formed them into a sequence, from innocence to wickedness, finally winning through to light again.  Once I was the proud single mother of Jessica, it was impossible to compose. My sister Margaret solved the problem – she said she would mind Jess every day for three weeks so that I could finish the work. That certainly broke the back of it. The only way to make quite sure that I would finish writing the work, and then put time into rehearsals, was to create a situation from which there was no escape – accordingly, I made the posters advertising the concert, and put them up around Canberra, before the writing was finished! A Canticle of Light was performed in 1976 in St Andrew's Church, Forrest, by members of SCUNA, Canberra Children's Choir and Canberra Youth Orchestra, with solo soprano Margaret Sim. The performance was semi-staged, with young members of the children's choir dancing in white tunics. At that point the lighting blew up. I remembered that the adult choir, who were in a semi-circle around the audience, all had torches covered in green, blue or purple cellophane, for use later in the piece. So, in a loud stage whisper I said 'torches!', at which point 30 beautifully coloured patches of light appeared on the white tunics of the dancing children. This effect was more beautiful than anything our meagre lighting resources could have produced! After the dance all the lights had to be extinguished as the adult choir screamed in the dark, and fell flat on the floor.  Finally the Tree of Life appeared, with humankind yearning for redemption ("We wait for light, but behold obscurity.") The piece ended with the children exiting around the audience, singing a canonic Alleluia.

3. In 1979 I had my first commission, from the Eisteddfod Society. I set the text of Dr Seuss' The Lorax for two-part children's choir, flute, clarinet, cello and percussion. The piece was workshopped, purely as music, by about 70 primary children; it has since seen many staged performances, in Australia and overseas, and has been workshopped by several Imagine Music Theatre groups.

4. In 1980 I was commissioned by the Canberra Girls' Grammar School to write music for their forthcoming production of Dylan Thomas' play Under Milk Wood. I wrote atmospheric music for string quartet, flute, voices, vibraphone and celeste. The students were divided into a sound group, who spoke or made music, and mimers. I performed this version of the play several times in subsequent years, with Gaudeamus and Orana School in Canberra and with Voicebox Youth Opera in Adelaide, always with great success.

cllick to enlarge (poster by Judy - the Gaudeamus growth logo morphed.)

5. Between 1983 and 1986 I wrote Modal Magic: a cycle of seven songs in the seven ancient modes, for unaccompanied SSA voices. I wrote the seven poems as well as the music. Each poem reflects the sol fa syllable of the key note of that song, while the time signature reflects the degree of the scale. This composition received retrospective funding from the Australia Council, and was published by the University of Western Australia's Matilda Press. The premiere performance of the whole cycle was given by Gaudeamus performers at the Adelaide ASME conference in 1986.  (The seventh song, Tintinnabulation, was finished on the bus, and rehearsed by Lake Bonney en route to the conference!) Excerpts from the cycle have been performed occasionally by other choirs, but it is very difficult, and many children's choirs have found it daunting. A small group of young adult Wayfarers performed it with puppets, and used it in workshops during their three-month tour of Europe in 2003. Modal Magic was recorded in 1999, and features on my CD Choralations – many thanks to the performers, who came from all over Australia to help!

click to enlarge

6. In 1985 I received funding from the then Arts Bureau, ACT, to write music for Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. That winter Gaudeamus adult singers were rehearsing a Handel opera. One evening after rehearsal at my house in Weston, three of the men and I decided to test out the acoustic properties of the nearby Weston underpass (someone had told me it was amazing!). So in the bitter cold of a Canberra winter night, about 11.00pm, four singers stood in the underpass for an hour improvising on a variety of words. This told me a great deal - not only about the Weston underpass (which was amazing!) but also told me that young Stephanos Malikides was a nascent composer. So I invited him to be a co-composer for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The result was a very satisfying blend of improvisational background sound for voices and instruments, and several solo and choral songs. Gaudeamus performed as the sound artists, with Stagecoach drama students miming and speaking. The director was Joe Woodward.This production, in which my students had to remain static at the side of the stage while the Stagecoach students mimed and acted, was what tipped me into wanting my own multi-skilled performance troupe of Gaudeamus members. I believed (and still believe) that by concentrating primarily on the acquisition of musical skills, adding movement and dramatic skills when required, a better music theatre troupe can be created, than by trying to teach drama students how to sing.

7. In 1986, on commission from the Kodaly Institute of Australia, Sydney branch, I wrote my first opera, Francis, or Singing is Believing. This opera was inspired by a young member of Gaudeamus, Pip Ingarfield, who was blind. She was intensely musical, and could sight-read her Braille music faster than the sighted children! When she died at the age of 12, I felt the need to better understand the life of blind children, and so I took the choir to Wahroonga, Sydney, to visit St Lucy's residential school for blind children, where Pip had spent some years as a pupil. Out of that visit grew my story of a fictional boy, Francis, who has been blinded suddenly at the age of 12, in a car crash caused by his drunk father, in which his mother died. The opera is set in a school based on St Lucy's, and one of the characters is based on the real Pip. Performances of Francis at the ANU Arts Centre in 1986 were directed by Lindy Hume, with a cast of soloists all from the Tatchell family: Jeremy, aged 12, played Francis; Mary played the headmistress of the school, Sister Joan, and Michael played Mr Cook, Francis' father. The opera was performed again in 1988 for the International Society for Music Education conference held in Canberra (and this time, a blind boy, Christopher, from St. Lucy's joined the cast).  The Australian Council for the Arts chose Francis as a work to tour NSW schools.

Drawing by Judy based on photo of Mary as Sister Joan with Jeremy as Francis, 1986.

Click for photo of Pip Ingarfield and her poem, which became a song sung by Pip in the story.

The central image is based on rock art in the Canberra area. Click on poster for photo of Tony Hill

8. In 1987 I received a Bicentennial grant, and wrote, with Canberra writer Anthony Hill, Nganbra – A Canberra Canticle, performing it in 1988 with four Canberra choirs, soloists (Margaret Sim as Mother Earth, Philip Thomas as Daramulan, the spirit of this place, and Michael Tatchell as the white invader), actors and orchestra. The work was written in two parts: part one needed four choirs to represent the four elements of earth, air, fire and water; in part two, all the choristers became the indigenous peoples of the Canberra and South Coast areas. I had wanted to employ the resources of the three youth choirs in Canberra at that time: Gaudeamus, the Woden Valley Youth Choir and the Canberra Boys' Choir. Sadly, the Woden Valley Youth Choir declined at the last minute to be involved, and so I had a frantic three weeks forming a choir out of Weston Creek High School girls, with the able assistance of their music teacher, Kaye Routcliffe. The choreographer who had been contracted left Canberra suddenly, but luckily a wonderful replacement was found in Jane Murray. The resulting performance, in the Canberra Theatre, was electrifying. The ABC gave us a whole day after the performance in which to make a studio recording, which was aired several times. Nganbra was performed again in 1992, both in Canberra and in Sydney - this time with the approval of local indigenous people, who performed as a prelude to the work. In 1992 Daramulan was played by Michael Leighton-Jones, as Philip Thomas had left Australia. (A sad end to the 1992 performance was brought about by our packing the hundreds of beautiful robes for the four elements into garbags. Once we had done that, we proceeded to have a party inside the Clancy Auditorium at the University of NSW – meanwhile, the local garbage truck dutifully removed our garbags and drove our hundreds of beautiful costumes to the tip, tipping them onto the blazing heap of rubbish. We managed to save a few bags.)

9. In 1989 I was a Creative Arts Fellow at the ANU, when, as well as teaching music, drama and stage design to both students and staff, I wrote the libretto and music for Terra Beata – Terra Infirma (Blessed Earth – Ailing Earth).The topic was suggested to me by my brother Don, an ardent conservationist. At that time, almost no-one was talking about the impact of our activities on the health of the planet, and I had to dig deep in the file boxes of the Environment Centre at the ANU to educate myself. I also was inspired by Matthew Fox's writings on creation theology.  I ended up looking at the destruction of the environment through the eyes of God and angels of the earth, air, fresh water and oceans, as well as telling of the environmental stance of a selection of people across the centuries.  This work required 15 solo singers, an SATB choir, and a small orchestra. God was sung by Louise Page and Philip Thomas, who sang tricky parallel tritones while perched together on a swing in the ceiling of the ANU Arts Centre. The stage director of the performance was Lee James. For the set, I painted a huge mandala showing the four seasons. This was based on a mandala by the 12th century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, whose prophetic words, and also one of her melodies, featured in the work.  

In 2009, twenty years after the première, Wayfarers, with Louise Page, performed sections of this work, noting with despair that nothing much had changed in those twenty years in Australia's attitude to climate change. 

Mandala 3.5 metres wide painted as set by Judy, with help from the cast - based on a mandala by Hlidegard of Bingen. This painting hung in the Rehearsal Room of the School of Music (now the Larry Sitsky room) from 1989 to 1999.

Click for photo of Michael Wilson as Chief Seattle, with his squaws.

10. In 1989 I adapted J.M.Barrie's dramatic version of Peter Pan, wrote music for all the songs, and performed it with Gaudeamus at Theatre 3 (where the revolving stage greatly aided the illusion of flying!) Jan Carey was the wonderful choreographer, and my teenage niece Annie Wright made many extraordinary wild beast heads and a stunning crocodile! (Annie went on to make a career in props and sets design at the National Film and Television school in Sydney). I called the show Peter Pandemonium. The performance was received with acclaim – a new Gaudeamus cast performed the same work in the same venue in 1990, and Voicebox Youth Opera performed it in Adelaide in 1997, Tuggeranong Children's Choir and Wayfarers performed it in 1999, and Lorinna Music Theatre (Tasmania) performed it in 2015.

Poster designed and drawn by Judy, based on an early illustration.

Click poster for photo of the original cast, with Kynan Waterford in the title role.

11. In 1990, I was an Australia Council-funded Composer in Residence for both Gaudeamus and the Young Music Society. For Gaudeamus I wrote a half-hour long music theatre work, Kakadu, which we performed both in Canberra and at an International Society for Music Education conference in Finland. This work was inspired by the book Kakadu Man, a conversation with the last remaining full-blood from Kakadu, Big Bill Neidjie. My mother, poet Marian Clingan, and I, wrote the libretto. I tried hard to contact Big Bill – I really wanted him to know how much I appreciated his words in the book Kakadu Man, and I hoped he was happy with what I had written. I sent a tape of the work to somewhere in NT, but heard nothing back. Then Melanie Starkey, bassoonist in one of my Kakadu performances, and a great bushwalker, came across Big Bill somewhere in the outback, and, sitting around a campfire, she told him about what I had done. I tried for years to muster performers to take the work to NT – I succeeded in early 2002. Sadly my hopes to sing to Big Bill were dashed, as he died two weeks before we got there. However, we climbed Ubirr Rock, and performed part of Kakadu on top of the rock, looking towards Big Bill's homeland.

I received a Sounds Australian award for Kakadu in 1991.

I have performed Kakadu with school choirs, with professionals in Adelaide, and with Wayfarers Australia touring groups, and have taught excerpts from it to secondary students around the world, with great success.

This design was drawn by Marg Neale (her two children, Sonny and Jodi, were in the original Gaudeamus touring cast).

Click on poster for image of Kakadu Lagoon (one side of a six-sided Kakadu puzzle painted by Judy from photos taken during the 2002 Wayfarers trip to Kakadu.)

Scraperboard drawing by Judy, based on a 15th century painting. The painting was copied in colour by Judy , Brenda and others onto a huge canvas as the original backdrop for the 1991 premiere.

Click image for photo of Orana students in the non-western orchestra for the 2000 performance.

12. The other work I wrote in 1990 while a Composer in Residence in Canberra was the opera Marco for the Young Music Society's 1991 summer school. I wrote the libretto after a careful reading of Marco Polo's Travels. I asked instrument maker Peter Biffin to make a variety of eastern and middle-eastern instruments in simplified form, which could be learned by musical young people in a short time. These instruments gave a marvellous visual and aural authenticity to the performance.  Marco has been performed four times since then: in Canberra by Gaudeamus in 1990; In South Australia by Mt Barker Waldorf School in 1994; in Canberra by Voicebox Youth Opera in 2000; in Taiwan and Japan by Wayfarers in 2014 (see photos of the Australian members of the cast and the new backdrop painted in Taiwan by Jiren Lai and me for that tour).

13.  And still in 1990, I wrote Seven Deadly Sins for the international Recorder Festival, Recorder 90.  The work calls for as many recorders as possible, of all sizes from sopranino to great bass. Also needed are crystal wine glasses, to make that fine humming sound when the rim is rubbed with a wet finger. Poor Jill Downer, who took over the organizing of the festival, was called upon to supply quite a few glasses, as players smashed them quite often! The Recorder 90 participants really got into the spirit of the thing, and wore appropriate colours for each "sin." Seven Deadly Sins was published by Currency Press in 1996 (Recorders at Large, volume 1), and has been performed by many recorder ensembles; I incorporated it into a half-hour music theatre piece, A Pawn in the Game, which Voicebox Youth Opera performed both in Adelaide and Canberra. This was a great success – on a gigantic chess board, 32 actors dressed as chess pieces mimed the seven deadly sins as they played recorder or percussion. The proud bishops zoomed across the board on roller skates; the two queens battled it out as jealous rivals, while playing a fiendishly difficult treble recorder duet. Last year (2018) Viandante, a recorder quartet consisting of Judy, David Cassat, Naomi Elliott and Yen-Ling (Minnie - a young Taiwanese woman who assisted me from 2015 - 2018) played Seven Deadly Sins during our recorder tour of Taiwan, calling on musicians in each town to join us as percussionists. We held up the Mandarin translation of each "sin", and acted as we played. Audiences loved it.

14.  The fourth major work I wrote in 1990 was both libretto and music for the Christmas cantata The Birds' Noel, commissioned by the Canberra School of Music Community Choir, now the Llewellyn Choir. This piece postulates Australian birds as the characters in the Christmas story e.g. chattering magpies tell the news; trumpeting brolgas bring gifts; the humble sparrow thanks the Child for his care of those normally overlooked.  I took tapes of Australian birds on our Gaudeamus tour of Finland, and every morning at 4.00am sat in the Finnish forest transcribing the bird calls and then using the transcriptions as the basis for one of the movements. The piece is written for choir and band – most of the movements are for SATB choir, except for the Sparrow section, which is for children's choir. The Canberra School of Music Community Choir was joined by Gaudeamus SATB singers; the Woden Valley Youth Choir sang the Sparrow; the Duntroon Band supplied the accompaniment. There are several sections for audience participation. Don Whitbread conducted; Jan Carey provided choreography with children from Yarralumla Primary School. The Birds' Noel was performed again, by the Orana School in 1999, and by the Canberra Choral Society and Wayfarers Australia, with the Ginninderra Band, in 2005. The work won a composition prize in the Sydney Eisteddfodd in 1992.

15. In 1991 I was made the inaugural Canberra Times Artist of the year, and was awarded an Australia Council Composition Fellowship – I wrote words and music for the song cycle Songs of Solitude, for soprano, wind quartet and harp. The premiere, recorded by the ABC, was performed by soprano Merlyn Quaife, with Melbourne instrumentalists. A Canberra performance featured soprano Nola Younghusband. I sang the cycle myself in Adelaide in 1996.

The image is from Tony Hill's grandfather clock, which inspired the story.

Click poster for photo of Abbey Mackay as Connie, in the Garden of Dreams.

16. Also in 1991, I started work on a huge music theatre piece, The Grandfather Clock, based on Anthony Hill's novel of the same name.  This novel had intrigued me when I read it in manuscript form. It is full of conundrums, number games which I felt would be fun to play with musically (the number 13 is woven into the music in several ways!).  And the plot was extremely colourful, featuring a girl fighting her way through the mechanism inside a grandfather clock, battling giant spiders, and dodging characters from the Greek underworld.  I finished more than half the piece in 1991, but shelved it pending certainty of performance. Ten years later, in 2001–02, I was made the artsACT Creative Artist of the Year, and finished the piece. It was extremely unfortunate that neither the Australia Council, which had funded my first year's writing of it, nor artsACT, which funded my second year's writing of it, saw fit in 2002 to help with the performance costs (in the Playhouse and in the Street Theatre). I had to sell my house in order to afford the performances, which still could not reach the heights of the elaborate set I had designed while studying set design in England during my Churchill Fellowship in 1999. However, the performance was glorious in many ways - Abbey Mackay and Amy Woods (double cast) were both splendid Connies, the girl lost in the clock, and we were extremely fortunate to have veteran actor Oliver Baudert as the Timekeeper. Liana Matthews was a meticulous and inspired choreographer.

17. In 1992 I wrote Mythical Beasts - the four beasts are Dragon, Phoenix, Unicorn and Turtoise.  The libretto is mine. This piece lends itself to dance or mime. Gaudeamus was teed up to perform its premiere at the ASME conference in Perth that year, but for reasons best known to the local arts funding body (never clear to me!), Gaudeamus was forbidden to perform for two years. So Mythical Beasts could only be workshopped by Gaudeamus in Canberra. It was performed by combined primary school choirs in Brisbane (who had commissioned it) in 1992, and in 1994 by adults in Adelaide; in 1999 Voicebox Youth Opera performed it in the Canberra Brickworks, with beautiful choreography by Jess, at the launch of my CD Choralations. This CD, containing Mythical Beasts, Modal Magic and other pieces, was helped by a CAPO grant – performers came from all over Australia for this two-week project of making Clingan recordings – thanks to all concerned! In 2003 a small group of young adult Wayfarers performed the piece in UK and Europe, dancing as they sang.

18. In 1993 I turned Tolkien's 3 volume novel The Lord of the Rings into a script, and wrote a further 8 songs to add to my earlier Songs of Middle Earth. The resulting musical, The Ring Bearer, was performed by Gaudeamus in 1993, with the James McCusker Orchestra from the Canberra Youth Orchestra. The most memorable thing about this production occurred at the end of the story, after the ring had been consigned to the fire along with Gollum and Frodo's finger (!). Sam (played by  Brenda's 11 year old daughter Eleanor), and Frodo were being hoisted onto the shoulders of burly SCA warriors for the triumphal Sing Ye People!, when Eleanor's warrior slipped, and Eleanor found herself  tumbling into the cello section in the pit. Fortunately neither she, nor any players or instruments were hurt. In 2011 Wayfarers performed The Ring Bearer on Aspen Island. Notable in this performance were Tom Bombadillo's dance beneath the sun-dappled leaves; Galadriel's solo in a swan-prowed boat; a remarkable last-minute Gollum performance, and the glorious peals of the carillon in the finale Sing Ye People! In 2012 Wayfarers Australia performed the full work to acclaim in Australia, Asia, Europe and UK. The most arresting performances of this production were provided by Gill Christie's Gollum. The Ring Bearer has also proven to be a very useful piece to workshop with high school students. We even translated the narrations into German for performances in Germany and Switzerland!

The Eye of Sauron and Elvish script copied from Tolkien's illustrations.

Click poster for photo of Kia Moon as Galadriel in the 2012 touring production.

19. In 1997 I was invited to compose a work of music theatre for the Composing Women's Festival held in Sydney.  I decided to look at women's role in the world. For part 1 I researched the pattern of male attitudes to women in different eras and different parts of the world (and was staggered by the words of many of the early church fathers!); for part 2 I chose to tell the stories of a number of outstanding Australian women. The result I called  Adam's Rib? Thirty girls and women, and a small number of men, formed the cast, which was accompanied by a chamber orchestra. The bulk of the performers were from Canberra. The women portrayed in part 2 posed an interesting problem: it was necessary to find singers of three different ages for each character, who could all pass as the same woman. I invited past students from other parts of Australia to help. For the backdrop, I used the theme of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, but painted a young woman instead of Adam, being woken by a big African Momma as Mother God, flanked by a helpful dog-angel. It was unfortunate that the organisers of the festival did not realise that in the world of music theatre it is usual to spend a week in the performance venue, setting up sets, props, hanging costumes for quick changes and plotting the lighting during technical rehearsals. On this occasion I was given precisely one half day in which to do all of that. As the audience was entering the theatre the still-wet backdrop was being hung. My signature Tree of Life appeared once again – this time as the vehicle for Eve's apple! My daughter Jessica Dixon devised fitting choreography. Maybe Adam's Rib? deserves a Canberra performance in my twilight years. Certainly not enough has changed!

Click poster for photo of the set, painted by Judy and members of the cast.

20. The next large compositional undertaking (funded by the local arts funding body) was in 1998:  I turned C.S.Lewis' Narnia novel The Magician's Nephew into a script, wrote poems to become songs, and invited David Cassat and Liam Waterford, two young men who had spent their boyhoods performing with me in Gaudeamus, to share the compositional work. We gave several performances with Voicebox Youth Opera in the Street Theatre. Musically the result was splendid, but the lack of adequate funding meant that other aspects of the production suffered. There were however two glorious moments: the gobo I designed, showing the two children on the flying horse, which soared in a satisfying way across and up the back wall of the theatre; and the Paradise Garden: to David Cassat's breathtakingly beautiful music (shimmering strings and wordless voices), the multitude of gorgeous trees were alternately lit with or silhouetted against slowly shifting magical colours. This particularly will remain in my memory as proof that everything is worth it.

Drawing by Judy, copied from the cover of the novel.

Click for photo of Estelle Muspratt as Queen Jadis, with Polly and Diggory.

21.  In 1999, at the instigation of Kamaroi Steiner School in Sydney, I set Tolkien's poems from The Hobbit to music for solo voices, choir (which can be either SA or SB) and instrumental ensemble (Hobbit Songs), and in 2000 performed these songs with Waldorf Wayfarers, with choreography by my daughter Jess, around Australia, in UK and Europe. The songs have also been performed several times by Imagine participants in a full music theatre setting (I created a script from the novel in 2002); Wayfarers put on a splendid Hobbit Feast in 2011, with the script read by static actors holding masks which I painted for each character. The songs were recorded in the 1999 recording marathon, and are available with the other Tolkien songs. My version of The Hobbit has been performed several times by Imagine participants; in 2018 it was performed by Lorinna Music Theatre in Tasmania.

22. In 2001 I was made the artsACT Creative Artists Fellow, and, juggling five eye operations around the compositional process, wrote Resonances – Four Songs for Unusual Acoustics.  The four songs: Everyone Sang, Spiritus Sanctus Australis, Sit, Jessica and Esperamus, were performed by The Variables and Wayfarers Australia: Everyone Sang on Aspen island, with the carillon; Spiritus Sanctus Australis, with wind quartet, in the new Parliament House Great Hall; Esperamus with string quartet in the Hall of Memory, Australian War Memorial; and Sit, Jessica, with tuned percussion, in the Mt Stromlo Observatory (in the dome sadly destroyed in the 2003 fire). I arranged Spiritus Sanctus Australis for solo singer and piano for a performance in the National Library by Louise Page and Pip Candy some years later; it was performed around the world as an unaccompanied SATB piece by Wayfarers Australia in 2012, and was performed by the Canberra Choral Society in 2013 and 2017. Sit, Jessica is on the Variables CD, The Floor of Heaven.

23. In January 2002 I created a script out of C.S.Lewis' Narnia novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for Imagine Music Theatre. Many of the participants were highly creative young people, and wrote both words and music for a number of songs. The resulting show was so successful that I produced it again a few months later with Voicebox Youth Opera in the Belconnen Community Theatre. The show had another airing for Imagine Music Theatre in 2012 when my daughter Jess was very ably assisted by Katie Cole, and in 2016 it was performed by the Lorinna community’s music theatre troupe in Tasmania.

24. In 2005 I wrote words and music for Dance on the Wind, for SSAB voices, recorders and handbells, which was premiered by an augmented Wayfarers in the new theatre of the Canberra Church of England Girls’ Grammar School. The performance was embellished by huge Sun, Moon and Stars carried around the audience. We were fortunate to be permitted to use the School of Music’s wonderful set of handbells, played by my handbell choir Klingensingen.

25. In 2006 I presented Peace in our Time? in the Albert Hall, on the International Day of Peace. This new work called for soprano solo (me), alto solo (David Yardley), recorder quartet and solo shakuhachi. Susanna Pain and another dancer improvised movement to the music. In the same event Wayfarers performed a new piece by Canberra composer Fiona Fraser entitled Prayer for Peace, A Chorus of Women performed my Tree of Life, and Cyrenes Women's Choir performed several well-known peace songs with the audience joining in. The evening concluded very beautifully with all the performers and the audience processing out of the Albert Hall in candlelight, singing the Taizé chant Da Pacem Cordium.

26. I have of course written many short choral pieces across my life, most for modest groups to perform, a few for extraordinary performers. Most of the more extraordinary short pieces can be heard in my CD Choralations (eg A Fool Came Riding Along Here). I have also written many small pieces for Imagine Music Theatre workshop performances, for Wayfarers small performances and workshops while on tour, and for A Chorus of Women. For instance, The Tree of Life I wrote initially for A Chorus of Women to sing at the Ceremony of Memory at the National Museum on the first anniversary of the Bali bombing. In 2005 I wrote a wind quartet, Runes, which later morphed into a piece for unaccompanied vocal ensemble, In This Fateful Hour. (This was so difficult to sing that it has never been performed!) At the end of 2006 I wrote Planet We Share for A Chorus of Women to perform at For Love of the World - an interfaith call to action on climate change, at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. 2009 marked 20 years since I had written Terra Beata - Terra Infirma and I was aware that not enough had changed in our national consciousness on the subject of the health of the planet. The children's round Turn Again, Whittington kept on recurring in my dreams with the words 'turn again, citizen, ponder creation'. And so I wrote a choral piece based on that tune with the words from my dream, mingling with words from the speech of Chief Seattle. Ponder Creation received its first performance with singers from both A Chorus of Women and Wayfarers in the foyer of CMAG (Canberra Museum and Gallery) on the International Day for Climate Action. For the 2015 Festival of Peace in the Albert Hall, organised by A Chorus of Women, I wrote four short SSA songs on the subject of peace, which were sung by the Canberra Children’s Choir. In 2016 I wrote Truths for a semi-professional vocal ensemble, and in 2017 Why? for virtual choir, and the Christmas carol Now All Created Things That Be for SSAB choir. In 2018 I wrote two pieces for SSA choir: Hare in the Moon and Everyone Sang.

27. In 2004 I was asked by the NSW Department of Education music branch to write a work for massed recorders and orchestra. The resulting The Dancing Wombat has been performed many times by Wayfarers and children in schools around the world - often with children miming the creatures. This piece is written in seven sections, each in one of the ancient Greek modes.

28. In the last eight years (2012 - present) I have written seven new music theatre works for touring Wayfarers. For young children I have written story songs: Jabberwocky, The Jumblies, The Old Gumbie Cat, Custard The Dragon, Grace O'Malley, Troupiaux, The Earth Story, Mrs Malone.

29. In 2015 I wrote a music theatre work for teenage and adult audiences, Endangered!: looking at the endangered species of Taiwan, mainland China, Japan and Australia, as the work was to be performed by teenagers and adults from these parts of the world. 100 performers rehearsed and performed in Eastern Australia: for the species from each country I wrote dialogue, songs and instrumental music for mime or dance. The backdrop consisted of 85 squares which had been painted by the cast, depicting their favourite places and creatures of the physical world. On a screen images of the endangered or recently extinct creatures appeared. Choreography was by eurythmist Kimberley Hammerton, with stage direction assisted by Paul from England.

The now-extinct Taiwanese Clouded Leopard

Click on the photo for an image showing the Taiwanese actors preparing to weave the web of life

30. Also in 2015 I created a children's musical, The Singing Mermaid, from Julia Donaldson’s story. A small band (guitar, violin, recorder and percussion) accompany the story-telling singers, with actors miming and occasionally singing. Atomo Canglah from Taiwan was the perfect singing mermaid. The first performance was enhanced by the acrobatic skills of the teenage boys from Japan, who in the circus scenes rode unicycles while juggling. This performance has toured Australia and the world with great success.

The gypsy caravan painted by Jiren Lai. Click on the photo to see Atomo as the singing mermaid surrounded by creatures of the sea.

2018 schools performance of Heavenly Grandfather's Banquet with Christopher Lincoln Bogg in the title role

31. In early 2016 I wrote words and music for Heavenly Grandfather’s Banquet, a mini-opera for children which looks at the story behind the Chinese zodiac. My daughter Jess was the stage director. In April we rehearsed for two weeks in Taiwan with a group of about 40 Taiwanese children and adults. The score gives children short solos, mostly not difficult, accompanied by a small orchestra of guzheng erhu, violin, cello, recorders and percussion. Adult narrators sing solos and duets. Simultaneously with learning the music, we created costumes and made and painted animal heads for each of the creatures. We then performed the opera in Taiwan and in China (one of the performances was for the Asian Steiner Teacher's conference). Since then, Heavenly Grandfather's Banquet has been performed several times: a group of 24 Wayfarers from Taiwan and Australia toured it around Europe in late 2016; in 2017 the Canberra Children's Choir performed it as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations; in 2018 Wayfarers Australia performed the opera in five ACT primary schools.

32. Also in early 2016 I was busy translating Antoine de Saint Exupéry's novella, The Little Prince, creating a script, and writing songs and incidental music for it to suit the 24 performers who had committed to a three month tour in late 2016 of Scotland, Iceland, Ireland, France and Switzerland. Our first performances were in the Edinburgh Fringe - a tremendously exciting but hair-raisingly death-defying experience, as we were given exactly 30 minutes bump-in time and 30 minutes bump-out time. Extraodinarily, we managed! And we had at least 50 people each performance which is a feat in itself at a time when there were 3000 shows daily in Edinburgh! And we received rave revues! Our props included hundreds of felt circles, a variety of sizes in different shades of pink, from which for every performance we had to create anew a garden of roses, twisting the circles onto their green, leafy wire stems. We also used magnificent larger than life-sized puppets: a fox and a snake, which Raphaela Mazzone, a Wayfarer who was not coming on this tour, made for us, and a street lamp which Jiren Lai created which could be turned on and off by the lamp lighter. Our instrumental ensemble consisted of two violins, viola and cello, three gemshorns, recorders, percussion, guitar and piano. Siggy Nock, a home-schooled 12-year-old from Lorinna, Tasmania, was a remarkable Little Prince. Stage direction was by Rohan Vicars from Melbourne.

In December 2017, trying desperately to catch Siggy's treble voice before it broke, an all-Australian cast performed The Little Prince  in Canberra. This time our performance was greatly enhanced by the exquisite balletic movements of our fox puppeteer, Marcel Cole.

poster for Little Prince performances in Edinburgh fringe. Click to see Siggy Nock in the title role with aviator (also stage director) Rohan Vicars.

33. In 2017 I composed Why? - a piece for unaccompanied SAAB choir, requested by citizens concerned at the high incidence of unacknowledged police suicides. Singers from all over the world were invited to participate in the project by sending a recording of them singing the part that matched their voice. About 35 singers from Australia (Canberra, Federal NSW, Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Bendigo and Perth), Taiwan, Germany and Brazil contributed recordings of one, two or three parts. The process of synchronising the 40 tracks took 15 hours in Kimmo Vennonens' sound studio. Here is the finished result on YouTube.

34. In 2017, in collaboration with my daughter Jess Dixon, I wrote Harmonia Mundi. This work grew out of an invitation from a Japanese teacher at the Izumi Steiner School in Hokkaido for me to work with his students. Eventually we ended up inviting high school students from Taiwan, China and Korea to join with the Japanese students. A group of Australian students (some home schoolers from Tasmania and some students from Sophia Mundi Steiner School in Melbourne) also participated. Jess, Kunihiro and I all wanted the new piece to speak with sincerity and depth to the young performers, looking at contemporary realities. Our protagonist, a teenage girl named Sophia, is depressed by climate change and incessant wars, as well as the fact that her mother is very ill. In a "hero's journey" scenario, Sophia is challenged by a mentor, Gaia's Messenger, to learn to recognise and to follow Gaia's melody, and ultimately to be able to play it on an ocarina he gives her. Following the melody leads Sophia into many adventures, meeting both friends and foes, enduring many trials, finally winning through (and now able to sing Gaia's melody). As I was lucky enough to have many good string players, as well as an excellent wind trio, I set the text I had written for SAB choir (the Harmonisers), unison younger children as Discords, solo voices and orchestra. Jess came to Japan with me to shape the physical theatre group into various atmospheric tableaux and movement sequences. Volunteers in both Australia and Japan cut and sewed costumes for 80 performers. A remarkable 13 year old from Sophia Mundi Steiner School in Melbourne took on the role of stage manager. Each rehearsal was quite an undertaking, needing translation into Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. The production toured both Japan and Korea.

In July 2019 75 Wayfarers from Taiwan, Japan, India, Switzerland and Australia toured ACT, NSW, Victoria and South Australia, performing Harmonia Mundi, as well as my Fruits of Hope (see 35). Also in the repertoire were nine new choral songs on the themes of how to care for our natural world and each other. These songs were all written by Wayfarers, many with my mentoring / help / arrangements. A new book was prepared to coincide with the tour: HARMONIA MUNDI: New Songs for a New World. This book, besides containing the new songs, also contains many of my short pieces on the same topic written across at least the last 30 years.

Sophia (Morgan Smith) and Sol (Leon) come across the wounded bird, Tori (Ui), in the forest.

Click on photo for Sophia's meeting with Gaia's messenger (Phiyllis Huang).

35. Fruits of Hope. In 2019 I re-orchestrated her 2006 Peace in Our Time score for full orchestra and added poems from a variety of sources. The 2019 Wayfarers from multiple countries performed this work as dance theatre in their 2019 tour of Eastern Australia. Choreography was by Kia Moon..

My earlier compositions (most of them facsimiles of hand-written scores) can be obtained from the Australian Music Centre in Sydney. About 12 years ago I began to learn how to type my scores into Sibelius. I am unfortunately extremely behind in submitting these typed scores to the AMC - most of them can be obtained directly from me.

My shorter songs are available in various collections: Songs of the Tree of Life, volumes 1 and 2, Musicianship Magic, A Chorus of Women's Songbook for Citizens and Play On (my 2017 book for teaching recorder in schools). Compilations of SAB and SSA songs and arrangements (Together volumes 1 and 2) shall be avaialble by September 2022.



In 1965 Dorothy Green, lecturer in English at the ANU, and an alto singer in SCUNA, put on the mediaeval play of Everyman in Civic Square. I chose appropriate mediaeval  music, and taught it to a small, select band of SCUNA singers and children from the National Methodist Memorial Church, Forrest (this group of children formed the nucleus of the Canberra Children's Choir, which I started in 1967).

click to enlarge

From 1967 – 1971 I sang alto in a semi-professional vocal consort of

8 voices directed by Geoffrey Brennan, the University Consort, which gave Canberra music lovers many fine concerts of vocal chamber music in the Great Hall of University House. The two sopranos, sisters Janet and Susie Hough, both had remarkably beautiful voices.  It was with these singers that I first sang Bach's masterpiece for unaccompanied SSATB choir, Jesu Meine Freude.

click to enlarge

In 1969 Father Fid(elis - now John Stinson) sold me a bassoon, and gave me a couple of lessons before vanishing to Townsville. I then found myself in the dubious position of being the only bassoonist in town! And so, every time an orchestra came to Canberra, I had a couple of lessons with their bassoonist. In the same year I began to play in the Canberra Youth Orchestra, the Boccherini Orchestra at the ANU, and other ACT orchestral groups. I remember, to my shame, abandoning the orchestra in the pit of the Canberra Theatre during a Canberra Philharmonic season of La Belle Hélène in order to play in the much more exciting (to me!) Mediaeval Feast at the ANU. Apologies to anyone who remembers this! I was also active as a solo recorder player.

In 1969 The Canberra Children's Choir was invited to make a record of Christmas carols for the Girl Guides' jubilee. We spent a day in Sydney recording, and were given a tour of the harbour on a ferry.  As was their wont, whenever they were enjoying themselves, the children sang constantly – on the ferry, they went through all their repertoire of madrigals, sacred pieces etc. I was approached, and told the captain wanted to see me. I was anxious, fearing that we were about to be reprimanded for committing a public nuisance – but no: when I confessed to being the person in charge of these children, the captain wept, and told me that in 1939 he had been on tour in Australia with the Vienna Mozart Boy's Choir. He never went home again, never saw his family again. Our singing the sort of repertoire which they had sung brought it all back.

Cover of The Christmas Story record, painted by William Dobell. click to enlarge

In December 1969 I conducted the Canberra Children's Choir in a performance of Britten's A Ceremony of Carols. I remember well that this was the first real musical work of any length and substance which I had conducted (up to that point, I had only conducted folk songs, madrigals, my own songs, well-known carols etc…) I was really anxious that my father, who had been a professional musician, come to this performance. I sent him a special invitation, but he didn't come. I was hurt, and feared it was because he still looked upon my musical aspirations with scorn or pity (he had never felt that choral music was the equal of instrumental music. I was keen to prove him wrong!)  Sadly, I realised later that he didn't come because he was too ill. He died a few months later. I have also performed Britten's beautiful work with Gaudeamus, Orana School and Wayfarers, twice with a harp, more often with a pianist or harpsichordist.


Margaret Sim

In 1970 I assisted in the formation of the Canberra New Music Society, and conducted the première performance of May Howlett's Katha Upanishads in St Andrew's Church, Forrest. This was an extremely challenging piece to teach a choir of mostly teenagers. With lots of hard work, we got there! After the performance, May said to me, " I'm very impressed! You got all the notes right!" I said, "Well, of course, that's what we were trying to do!" She said, "Oh, you could have sung any old notes - it was the atmosphere that was important!"

Also under the auspices of this society, my composition Chanson, for mezzo-soprano, viola, clarinet and cello, which in 1971 won a composition prize in the Hobart festival, was performed beautifully by Margaret Sim.

May Howlett

At the end of 1970 I conducted Donald Hollier's new opera In Dulci Jubilo in St Paul's Church, Manuka, with the Canberra Children's Choir. Donald wrote this opera especially for me and the choir - and it was an extraordinary learning curve for us all! While at times the music was based on carols (with audience participation), at other times it was fiercely atonal, more difficult than any music I had had to teach children before. And then there were sections of lyrical beauty. Teenager David Marsh made a splendid Herod. In Dulci Jubilo was performed again in Hobart with my Sacred Heart girls and other school children, joined by members of the Tasmania University Choral Society, and members of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. In 1977 it was performed again by the Canberra Children's Choir. I was at that time living in the community at Caloola Farm, where I had moved in 1976 when Jess was one. I had for the first time in my life bought a car, and was driving between Caloola Farm (in the Naas Valley south of Tharwa) and Canberra for CCC rehearsals. It was in 1976 that my many crashes, some almost fatal, alerted people to the fact that there might be a medical reason why I should not drive. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with severe narcolepsy, and told that my brief driving days were over. And so I had to give up the Canberra Children's Choir for a couple of years. Barbara McRae conducted the 1977 performance, which was in the Canberra Theatre, with teenager Stephen Leek as Herod. I helped with costumes and props. I remember thinking that the Canberra Theatre was too vast a space for this opera - it was visually more successful in a church. In 1984 I conducted performances of In Dulci Jubilo with Gaudeamus in the church of All Saints, Ainslie, this time with my daughter Jess and Donald's two young children in the cast, and Michael Thompson playing the tricky solo recorder part. This is one of the best children's operas I know (except for the impossibly difficult atonal bit for the three young shepherds!) In 2013, at the conclusion of my So Good a Thing festival in the Albert Hall, we performed excerpts from this opera, with many of the original performers, of course now adults!


Also in 1970 I founded and directed Canberra Musica Antiqua, performing John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and excerpts from the 12th century liturgical drama, The Play of Daniel. I had seen a performance of this play in Sydney in 1961 – I had been intrigued with its stylised action, gorgeous costumes, and music totally different from any I had ever heard before. Everything mediaeval became important to me for years.
I finally managed to perform the complete Play of Daniel with Wayfarers in 2008 and again in 2009, with counter-tenor David Yardley singing the title role.

n 1971 the CCC took part in a wonderful event on Springbank Island – Alice, a musical/dramatic version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, with great music by Paul Thom. The children all wore huge playing cards on their fronts and backs; the actors and the choir moved around the island scene by scene, with the audience traipsing gamely through the mud and long reeds.  The most memorable scene was the Mock Turtle's song, during which the Mock Turtle (played with gusto by Jon Stephens) actually splashed out into the lake!

In 1974 I was invited by Musica Viva (recommended by Sydney conductor Peter Seymour) to form and direct a professional vocal ensemble for national and international performances.  (I very regretfully turned down the offer because my daughter Jess was only three weeks old!)

In 1977 I directed the music for the University of Tasmania's tour of mediaeval drama, which gave performances in Canberra. I mustered members of SCUNA, and others interested in early music. I had by this time bought myself crumhorns, gemshorns, Renaissance recorders, a rebec and a dulcimer, which I lent to good instrumentalists for this performance.

n 1979 I was employed by Canberra Rep to direct the music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was being directed by Michael Lanchbery. It was January, a heat wave. I had to conduct professional instrumentalists playing a rather unappealing (to us) modern score. Our rehearsals sometimes lasted 6 hours, with no time at all allowed for breaks. My 4-year-old daughter Jess was very sick, but the director would not allow me to have any time off to take her to a doctor. Val Tupper, the pianist, quit. (The rest of us needed the income!) I then had to find another pianist capable of playing the difficult modern score at sight, who would put up with this treatment. Young Margaret Legge-Wilkinson agreed to try. She did her absolute best, but was roared at for fumbling at her first sight-reading go. Finally, for performances, we were all encased in black netting, which, added to the century plus heat just about finished us off.  Someone in the orchestra had to keep on waking me when I fell asleep, which was every time we had nothing to do. Not a good memory.

At various times across my 50 years in Canberra, attempts have been made to form opera companies (The Opera Group; Canberra Opera…) In the late 60's I sang in the chorus for Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, directed by Wilfred Holland, and performed in Civic Square. In 1970 or 1971 I sang in the chorus of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, as well as designing and making costumes (musical and stage director was Donald Hollier). In 1979, 1980 and1981 I sang in the chorus for Donald Hollier's productions of Honneger's  Joan of Arc at the Stake, Poulenc's Dialogue of the Carmelites, and Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Pilgrim's Progress. In Dialogue of the Carmelites I was one of twelve nuns who were faithful to the end – as we ascended the ramp to the guillotine, we sang Poulenc's searing Salve Regina. As soon as I had been "guillotined", I had to rush into the orchestra pit and play the tubular bells! For The Pilgrim's Progress, as well as singing in the SATB chorus, I trained an SSA children's chorus, acted as offstage conductor, and sang an angelic solo from the gallery in the Llewlellyn Hall.

Costume designs for Dido and Aeneas painted by Judy.
Click for photo of Margaret Sim, Lois Bogg and Colin Slater in The Pilgrim's Progress.

In 1981 and 1982 I studied music education, conducting and singing at the Kodaly Institute in Kecskemét, Hungary. The Hungarian government gave me a scholarship, and the ACT Arts Bureau gave me a travel grant. I still didn't have quite enough for my 6 year old daughter's needs, so I sold my two bassoons, and put on a fund-raising concert in the Albert Hall (also called So Good a Thing!) Performers from many previous years rallied to support me.  Thanks, wherever you are!  My study in Hungary was pivotal – from then on, I knew what I had to do, and I now had the tools to do it.

In 1985 I directed Gaudeamus singers in two concerts of new music by Australians – secular and sacred.  One of our favourite pieces for the sacred concert was Stephanos Malikides' Missa Brevis, or Small Mass, for SSA voices, which he wrote especially for us. We loved singing this work. Stephanos and his wife, pianist and composer Margaret Legge-Wilkinson, lost their home and all their possessions in the 2003 fire storm. Stephanos' score of this mass was one of the things  irretrieveably lost – he had not digitalised it, and there were no copies elsewhere, he thought. But fortunately Lucie Holmes, who had sung the work with Gaudeamus, still had her copy. She typed into Sibelius for Stephanos, and a group performed it with him in the So Good A Thing festival in 2013.

n 1986 I commissioned Australian composer Douglas Knehans to write a work for Gaudeamus to perform. The Australia Council undertook to pay a large chunk of the fee. As I knew that all of 1986 and 1987 my best singers of all ages would be extremely busy learning and memorising Handel operas for staged performances with Paul Thom, I asked Douglas to write music for two choirs, singable by average children with no music reading skills, and inexperienced adults with no reading skills. The piece I received from Douglas, St Luke Magnificat, was absolutely unlearnable by an average singer of any age. It required perfect pitch in every singer, and computer-like precision with crazy rhythmic complexity. I was so ignorant of the legalities that I assumed I had no rights in the matter, having asked the Australia Council for money. So I struggled for almost two years to muster enough singers with the skills and courage and sheer doggedness to learn the work. Mary Tatchell kindly agreed to add her best Canberra Children's Choir singers to the attempt. In the end, it was only made possible by adding instrumentalists to each choir – an organ and a recorder quartet. It wasn't until the dress rehearsal that Jo Cooke and I looked at each other at a pause in the music, and said, "That was beautiful!"

In 1986, 1987 and 1988 I trained my best Gaudeamus singers to be chorus members or a soloist for the three Handel operas directed by Paul Thom: Belshazzar and Susannah (at the ANU Arts Centre) and Hercules (in the Canberra Theatre). These performances were highlights for all involved: excellent professional solo singers were joined by a baroque orchestra of Australia's and New Zealand's best players, and exquisite trompe l'oeil sets were painted by Peter Harris. In Susannah, a chorus soprano abandoned ship two weeks before the show. Paul Thom persuaded me that I should sing, from memory, choruses I did not know (the Gaudeamus group were singing different choruses.)  I made memory-jogging cards to assist myself – luckily chorus members were required to make beautiful hand gestures with every note they sang, which put my cards in front of me! And then Paul said I could not wear my glasses! In those days, before my multiple eye operations in 2001, I was extremely short sighted. I told Paul that I would fall off the stage, and not see him conducting. He retorted that I would have to wear Baroque glasses! So I found baroque-style glasses frames in an antique shop, and had my prescription lenses put into them! There is a photo of me, in a splendid costume, wearing those little round glasses, asleep on stage (narcolepsy!)

Geoffrey Brennan with Gaudeamus chorus.Click to enlarge

click to enlarge

In 1983 I had become a represented composer in the newly-formed Australian Music Centre, and so from then on, each year on my birthday the ABC played something by me, as they did for all represented composers. However, they didn't want cassette tapes – but the few recordings which had ever been made of my compositions were on cassette tapes. The only piece which had made its way to an external group's commercial CD was my Hymn to the Virgin, for unaccompanied choir, which I had written in 1968.  And so year after year, that is what the ABC played on 19th January. I couldn't bear it – especially as by the 90's I was writing rather differently from the 60's!  So in January 1999 I put out a call to past students and colleagues to help me record some of my choral works, both unaccompanied and with orchestra. About 60 people turned up in Canberra from all over Australia, and we had a very enjoyable and productive two weeks – firstly in the drama room of the Orana School, and then, when the rain on the tin roof made recording impossible, we moved to the Boys' Grammar School. Thanks to all those who performed, and to those two schools for giving their space! Ian Blake was our indefatigable recording genius. Only one sellable CD has so far come out of those sessions – Choralations.  My Songs of Middle Earth and Hobbit Songs which were also recorded, are not commercially sellable because of copyright. I sent Choralations to the ABC, but as far as I know nothing has been played from it.

In 1990, before 20 Gaudeamus performers and I set off on our tour of Finland, taking Kakadu to perform for the International Society for Music Education, I had been rehearsing Gaudeamus and other choristers in preparation for a late 1990 performance of David Fanshawe's African Sanctus.  With my impending 4-week absence, I felt that it was necessary to furnish the choristers I was leaving behind with rehearsal tapes (me singing their line against the piano playing the whole thing). Our pianist, Mark Freer, was happy to help me make these tapes, but the only time we could find in common was 4.00am. So, for a week or more, 4.00am it was! On our return from Finland, we had to tackle the final preparations for this hugely exciting and demanding work. David Fanshawe arrived from England; solo singers and instrumentalists joined us for the final rehearsals, along with a large contingent of ethnic dancers and drummers. I then discovered that David's plans for me were not at all what I had had in mind. He insisted that I conduct the whole work wearing headphones, through which he would transmit at top volume the tape he had made of African chanting. I was not to move those headphones even the tiniest bit, to hear the choir or other performers on stage – I was to conduct the whole work "deaf!"  This would have to be the most terrifying thing I have ever had to do in a performance. I had to stand in front of a huge choir and move my hands at them, not hearing a note of what they sang – hearing only the pounding rhythms of the African music. It was hugely challenging for me – but it worked! Llewellyn Hall was packed (queues of people who had hoped to hear the performance were turned away!) The performance was a great success.  I think African Sanctus is the earliest major work written by a composer from the European tradition which attempts to bring together the two strands of European and non-western music – "fusion music." Fanshawe's lyrical, contrapuntal writing weaves around and through the taped African music in a very satisfying way.

In 2005 I was asked by Jan Wawrzynczak, artistic director at the Belconnen Community Centre, to train a choir for a performance that same year of Fanshawe's African Sanctus. He planned that it would be sung with the Maruki Orchestra, conducted by John Gould, musician extraordinaire, who was transcribing Fanshawe's score for orchestra. I agreed to try – but all the good choral singers of Canberra were by then committed to their own year's program, and my Canberra Wayfarers group was too small. For a choir to be heard above a symphony orchestra, the choir needs to be at least 100 strong. So I had to persuade as many good choristers as possible to add another weekly rehearsal to their life. We made progress, and enjoyed ourselves, greatly helped by our cheerful and unflagging repetiteur Margaret Legge-Wilkinson. But I still knew that our 50 – 60 voices would have a hard time being heard above the orchestra. And then suddenly Jan, the instigator of the project, was killed in a motor cycle accident. At this point John Gould and the orchestra decided not to continue with the plan – but I felt bad about all the effort and time the singers I had cajoled into the choir had given, so we continued, and presented most of Fanshawe's work, with several short African songs, at a concert in Wesley Uniting Church. Sonia Anfiloff was a splendid soprano soloist, and to Margaret's piano we added congas. The audience loved it!


In 1999  I was a Churchill Fellow, researching choral music and music theatre in UK and Europe. I met many good musicians, discovered many beautiful places where people sing, and heard many memorable pieces of music – all of which helped greatly in planning the 2000 tour of UK and Europe with Wayfarers (see Clingan Compositions and Performances 22)

In 1991 I commissioned Stephen Leek (who had been a Canberra Children's Choir member 15 years earlier) to write an opera for Gaudeamus. We asked Marion Halligan to write the libretto. Marion chose an old English legend telling of the discovery by two poor children of a treasure chest deep in a haunted mire. We settled on Kilcallow Catch as the title of the opera. Stephen then proceded to write extremely engaging music for soloists, chorus and orchestra, pitching it exactly at the required skill level. Meanwhile Marion departed for France. The final scenes of the opera never quite gelled - Stephen and I found it difficult to contact Marion in those pre-computer days, and so in the end we had to invent some sort of point to the story, which never quite worked. However, the characters were convincingly drawn, and Stephen's music was performed with élan. Tessa Bremner was director par excellence, and my niece Annie Wright (who had been a Gaudeamus member in her girlhood and was by then a professional designer in the NSW Film and Television School) designed and created the sets and props. Brenda designed and created the costumes.

There's a lovely story connected to our performance of Kilcallow Catch. I had advertised for young children aged 6-7 to sing a unison song in the opera.  I accepted everyone interested. One boy, exceedingly keen and confident, couldn't sing in tune at all. I kept giving the young children weekly singing lessons, hoping that Tristan would cotton on.  He didn't.  I felt torn – on the one hand, the paying public is entitled to hear a new opera well sung; on the other hand, telling such a young person that he was not good enough was too unkind, and such things can scar a person's approach to singing for the rest of his/her life. I discussed the problem with the stage director, Tessa Bremner, and we hit upon a good plan. We told Tristan that he was going to sing a solo. He was very happy to do so. We told the other children to enter first, and curl up on the stage like little autumn leaves. We then stopped the orchestra, and Tristan  wandered onto the stage,  singing the children's song unaccompanied as he slowly picked his way round all the little curled up leaves. It  didn't matter what notes he sang. When he had finished the song, he curled up on the stage; the orchestra started up again, and all the other children sang in tune with the orchestra as they slowly wandered around the stage. It worked beautifully –  artistically more heart-rending than the original scenario. But here's the really interesting bit – by the end of several dress rehearsals and then several performances, Tristan was singing perfectly in tune!


 first sang Britten's searingly beautiful cantata Rejoice in the Lamb (SATB choir, soloists, organ) with SCUNA in 1964. I was asked to sing the alto solo ( I was actually a soprano, but there were already several beautiful sopranos, and I suppose I was a useful fake alto.) The words are by the 18th century English poet Christopher Smart, written when he was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. The text veers between a pure, simple joy in the beauties of creatures, flowers and music, and Smart's agony at being misunderstood. I conducted performances of Rejoice in the Lamb with SCUNA in 1984. I spent most of 1999 travelling to Waldorf or Steiner schools around Australia enlisting singers for the Australia-wide Waldorf Wayfarers choir, and teaching Rejoice in the Lamb to young people and adults keen to tour the world with me in 2000. I ended up with close to100 voices. My daughter Jess devised beautiful choreography for the parts of the work dealing with creatures, flowers and music. The tortured soul of the poet we decided to portray with a solo eurythmy performer. I spent time with eurythmist Diane Tatum and her student, Emilia Mazzone, who was to be the solo performer. I drew the shape of each phrase, and Emilia moved what I had drawn. The result made us all weep. I asked our Wayfarers pianist Renate Turrini if she would have some organ lessons. She did this for a year or so, and then we toured this work, along with my Kakadu and Hobbit Songs, around eastern Australia, UK and western Europe, where Renate had the privilege of playing organs in some of the finest cathedrals in the world.

From 2000 – 2003 I performed as a solo improvising singer with harmonic dancer Deborah Mader (now Whitford) of the Gavemer Foundation, in Canberra and interstate. For some improvised performances I invited other singers to join me. Garry Richardson, director of the Gavemer Foundation, helped me in numerous ways – he paid for my multiple eye operations, gave me a computer and bought me a Sibelius program, helping me in my initial attempts to transcribe music. He also bought me five pitched crystal singing bowls, which are exciting to use with vocal improvisation.

In 2003 ten young adult Wayfarers and I spent a wonderful three months performing and teaching music from mediaeval to contemporary in churches and Steiner schools of Finland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, England and Scotland. Besides a great deal of early music, and some Shakespeare, we performed my Mythical Beasts and Modal Magic, bits of Kakadu, and bits of Liam Waterford's beautiful Missa Brevis. An odd sequel to this tour was the fact that a suitcase containing our beautiful Elizabethan costumes, for our Shakesperian segment, vanished - dispatched via a courier from England, it never reached Australia. A year or more later I was rung from Libya, where I was told my suitcase of costumes had turned up. I willingly paid the handsome sum I was quoted for its return - but when it arrived, it contained only rubbish.

n 2005   I invited specialist early instrumentalists (Graeme Stentiford from Sydney, and Tom Burge and a sackbut choir from the Canberra School of Music) to join me and Wayfarers in a concert of magnificent late Renaissance – early Baroque pieces requiring two or more choirs. Other choristers and instrumentalists joined us, and we were able to cover the 40 parts in Tallis' Spem in Alium. We performed this repertoire in St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn. We were by no means free of imperfections, but the journey is the thing in many ways – and we all loved the music so much!  This concert was titled O Magnum Mysterium.

Handel's Messiah is of course a wonderful work, which all choir directors hope that their fledgling singers will one day perform.  Sixteen of my best Gaudeamus singers performed it in Wesley Uniting Church in 1989, with a very small instrumental ensemble – this was a beautiful performance. Wayfarers took some years to accumulate enough tenors and basses to make a sufficiently balanced choir to attempt this. By 2006 we managed, accompanied by organ, but with the  amazingly exciting addition of virtuoso recorder player David Cassat improvising above several choruses.  Soloists came from the choir. We performed it in this way, in Canberra, Bowral and Sydney, in 2006 and 2007.

In 2007 I was asked by Jennifer Procter to work with Kimmo Vennonen in creating a soundscape for her performance piece Aperture. I had taught Jenny at Telopea Park School and in Gaudeamus, and then I had lost track of her for years. When I met her again in 2007 she was a dancer and a creator of both scripted and unscripted performance pieces. The theme of Aperture was dislocation following a car crash in winter by Lake George. Kimmo and I spent an exhilarating couple of days crawling around Lake George, looking for possible sound sources. We recorded bits of old fence wire being twanged, being rubbed together, being tapped with stones etc. We also recorded my improvisational singing, my playing of singing crystal bowls of varying pitches, and my playing of recorders and other tuned and untuned instruments. Then back in Kimmo's studio, we listened to everything, then distorted and combined sounds in various ways, and listened again. Kimmo made our favourite sounds available on a keyboard - by touching a key, I could conjure up a certain set of sounds. He also added into the mix a contemporary song by one of Jenny's friends. In the performances I improvised vocally (wordlessly), while controlling our mixed sounds via the keyboard, and adding crystal singing bowls. I loved it! Thank you, Jenny and Kimmo!

In 2007 I experienced huge difficulties in relation to a Wayfarers tour to New Zealand, involving students from several Australian Steiner Schools. For a month or two I sank into a deep depression, feeling that my work with Wayfarers had come to an end. However, hope springs eternal in the human breast - and I eventually resolved to carry on, however being more careful in future as to which schools / teachers / parents I would encourage to be involved in Wayfarers' activities. This little image depicts my determination to hang on in spite of everything.

Another work which I first sang as a teenager, and have loved ever since, is Bach's St Matthew Passion. When I directed the Canberra Children's Choir, they were asked several times to be the chorale singers. For years I longed to direct a performance of this most moving work. In 2008, by adding the Variables to the most experienced Wayfarers, we made two well-balanced small choirs; less experienced Wayfarers formed the chorale choir. I decided that we would sing the work in English, so that both singers and audience could really enter into the story. We engaged semi-professional solo singers and two good chamber orchestras. David Mackay was a splendid Evangelist. The Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture was a very good venue for this performance – it was intimate, and when the audience joined the choirs in several of the chorales, everyone in the space felt connected. That was a very special event.

In the mid-80's I was approached by an older woman, Cathleen Meggitt, who wanted composition lessons. She was a writer of children's novels under the name of Oona Roche, and had already written quite a few songs, but was not certain how to orchestrate. We worked together and finished her children's musical, The Singing Boomerang, which Gaudeamus performed in 1987 in the TAU theatre (Through Art Unity – it burnt down shortly afterwards).  In 2008 Wayfarers Australia mounted a production of Cathleen's adult musical The Kelly Women, in the Street Theatre, with stage direction by Barb Barnett.  We formed a small bush band, with whistle, harmonica, clarinet, cello, guitar and keyboard, to accompany the lyrical songs and choruses. The leads were Zach Raffan as Ned Kelly, and Odette Upstill as his lover, Kate. Odette had been a young performer in Gaudeamus. Her beautiful voice and scintillating stage presence contributed considerably to the success of The Kelly Women. We were all shocked to hear of her unexpected death in France the following year.

Cathleen paid me for my work in The Kelly Women with her husband's beautiful bassoon, which he was no longer playing. I was overjoyed at the prospect of being able to play again, as I hadn't owned a bassoon since I had sold my two to help fund my study in Hungary in 1981. I had from time to time over the years borrowed or hired bassoons, but never for long enough. However, I sadly sold this bassoon when I realised that my thumbs were by now too arthritic to play well (bassoonists' thumbs are very busy!)

click for a dramatic action shot from The Ring Bearer

In 2012 I and 20 members of Wayfarers Australia spent the whole year rehearsing, performing and teaching music and music theatre from mediaeval to contemporary. The most challenging piece was Bach's Jesu Meine Freude. We had a large Australian repertoire: besides my Kakadu, Spiritus Sanctus Australis (from Resonances), Songs of Middle Earth (in the staged Ring Bearer), and many of my shorter pieces for young audiences, we performed works by Stephen Leek (Ngana, Kondalilla, Eurunderee Creek), Sarah Hopkins (Past Life Melodies), Liam Waterford (Missa Brevis, The Wattle Tree), Anne Boyd (A Song of Rain), Ben Thorn (Lord's Prayer), Moya Henderson (Woman's Song) and Miguel Heatwole's arrangement of Frankie Armstrong's Message from Mother Earth. One of the singers, Gawain Davey, from Melbourne, wrote several pieces especially for the group during the year. We performed in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and northern NSW before touring the world: Taiwan, China, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, England, Orkney and India.

Events from 2013 are listed on the EVENTS page



St Peter Chanel’s, Yarralumla 1965

Canberra (Boys’) Grammar School 1967

Ursula College ANU 1968

Catholic Girls’ High School (now Merici College) 1968

Canberra Girls’ Grammar School 1969 – 1971

Sacred Heart College, New Town , Tasmania 1972 - 1973

Canberra College of Advanced Education (now the University of Canberra) 1975, 1979

Caloola Farm via Tharwa (community) 1976 – 1979 (voluntarily)

Northside Infants School 1976 – 1981 (voluntarily)

Tharwa Public School 1976 – 1978 (voluntarily)

Yarralumla Primary School 1979 – 1981 (voluntarily)

Hawker Primary School 1979 - 1981

Turner Primary School 1979 - 1981

Red Hill Primary School 1979 - 1981

AME School (Association for Modern Education) 1983 (voluntarily)

Telopea Park School , both primary and secondary 1984 – 1985 (en français!)

Orana Steiner School 1991 – 1993, 1997 – 2000, 2002, 2009, 2012

Mt Barker Waldorf School 1994 - 1996

ANU Centre for Continuing Education 1983, 1984, 1997 – 2000, 2002-2003

Wayfarers Australia teaching and performing tour of Europe, UK 2003

Oriana Chorale 2003

Canberra School of Music MUST program 2004

Canberra Choral Society 2004 – 2005

Klingensingen (handbell choir at the School of Music) 2004 – 2008

Cyrenes Women’s Choir 2006

Bluegum Community School 2006(?)

Canberra Gay and Lesbian Qwire 2007

Sing for Joy (for young people with disabilities) 2007 - 2009; 2013 - 2015

Carers Choir 2006 - 2009

Alta (women’s vocal ensemble / sight-reading class) 2005 – 2015

Wayfarers Australia preparing performers for 2012 world tour 2010, 2011, 2012

Wayfarers Australia year-long world tour, rehearsing, performing and teaching children and adults 2012

(Steiner Schools in Taiwan, China, Europe, UK and India 2013)

Kompactus Youth Choir interim director 2013

Viandante (= Wayfarers in Italian!) chamber music performances in Coffs Harbour, February 2013: mostly baroque music with Judy

soprano and recorders, Helen Womack alto, Renate Turini harpsichord and piano, Trish O'Brien cello

Steiner schools in Taiwan, adult education college in Japan 2014

Humanising Education Conference, Mumbai India, Jahuary 2015, January 2016, Januray 2018 (teaching teachers music and art)

Steiner schools in eastern Australia 2015

Steiner schools and Camphill communities in China, Taiwan, Scotland, Iceland, Ireland, France, Switzerland 2016

Steiner schools in Japan and Korea 2017

Canberra Children’s Choir 2017

Work with Wayfarers and Viandante instrumental ensemble 2018 and 2019

volunteer teacher of music at a small new Steiner School in Cooma, the Alpine School 2019


In 1971 I compiled, illustrated and published a book of mostly SSA choral works, The Compleat Chorister

In 1972 I released a Canberra Children's Choir record

In 1980 I published So Good a Thing – 5 volumes of choral music: Songs of Middle Earth, Folk and Fancy, Things Mediaeval, Ave Alleluia, A Christmas Collection

In 1984 I was commissioned by The Australian Early Childhood Association to write Music is For Everyone, a handbook for parents and teachers

In 1987 Bluegum Press published a book and a cassette entitled Fipple Fun, which is a selection of Australian folk songs arranged by me for recorder ensemble. The cassette features my Gaudeamus recorder group


In 1990 I released a cassette recording of SSA music, sung by Dan Scollay, Alison Procter and me - Elven Tears


In 1991 I released a cassette recording of A Canberra Cycle, for voice and rock band


In 1996 Currency Press published my Seven Deadly Sins for multitudinous recorders, in Recorders at Large, volume 1


In 1991 Matilda Press, at the University of Western Australia, published my Modal Magic – a suite of seven unaccompanied songs for SSA choir


In 1996 I published Songs of the Tree of Life, volume 2, commissioned by the Orana School, and funded by the Australia Council


In 1998 I published Volume 1 of Songs of the Tree of Life, which has been reprinted twice – it is used extensively in pre-schools and primary schools, especially Steiner schools, around the world


In 1999 I released the double CD of my recordings, with Lynne Kowalik, of the songs contained in volume 1, Songs of the Tree of Life


In 1999 I received a CAPO grant to make a CD of my shorter choral compositions – Choralations.  Past students and colleagues from many of the groups I had directed or schools where I had taught came together to perform for this recording


In 2002 I released the CD Short and Sweet - short choral compositions from medieval to contemporary performed by Waldorf Wayfarers


In 2008 I published Musicianship Magic – volume 1 – for beginners


In 2017 I published Play On - The Recorder in Waldorf / Steiner schools


In 2019 the Mandarin edition of Play On was released in Taiwan; the German edition is under way.

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