UWA Keyed Up! Day of Piano, & RSI

I went back to my alma mater today to watch UWA Head of Keyboard and Performance Studies, Graeme Gilling, give masterclass tuition in the second annual Keyed Up! Day of Piano.

Graeme Gilling with student

What a great resource this is for piano students and teachers in Perth. Graeme’s many years of experience as a performer and teacher were in evidence as he gave sage advice to students ranging in age from young children through to late teens (and perhaps 20 year olds?), playing pieces from the early grades through to about grade seven or eight and perhaps one from the AMusA.

Topics covered, usually with several students, included voicing, rhythm & beat in mazurkas, balance, articulation, shaping phrases, and playing as if you were singing. Graeme made the point, often completely missed by students and teachers alike, that the only difference between a loud sound and a soft one was the speed with which the key goes down. So true and so counter-intuitive! The difference seems to be beyond human perception and so many people incorrectly think it has something to do with a vague notion about ‘force’ or ‘weight.’

Mx Margaret Dylan Jones

Mx Margaret Dylan Jones, that’s me.

A point made several times was that all pianists need to be careful to avoid getting repetitive strain injury (RSI), a descriptive term for an overuse injury also known as occupational overuse syndrome. While playing with wrists in an unnatural position (such as low, with the hands bent up) is not the only problem it is certainly asking for trouble. I had RSI about five years ago, caused mainly from a faulty piano technique but with poor computer mouse use a contributing factor. Then I discovered a much better technique for piano playing and now I’m practically symptom-free.

I don’t often get down to ‘The Flatlands’ so it was a little nostalgic for me to be in the Callaway Auditorium again. Professor John Exton’s black hemispherical acoustic baffles (diffusors?), installed just before I began studying for my degree there in 1979, are still hanging from the ceiling (see pic below), which no doubt contribute to the venue having such good acoustics. These students were so lucky to play there on a wonderful full-size Steinway grand. What a sound! But I wonder if anyone has thought to check the baffles for dust & dead insects. If they get heavy will they one day come plummeting down?

Callaway Auditorium at the University of Western Australia

Callaway Auditorium at the University of Western Australia

This annual event is highly recommended for all students and teachers. Feel free to comment below.

Hills Choir 30th anniversary concert & party

The Hills Choir Inc. celebrated their 30th anniversary with a lovely concert on 11 December 2016 and a private party a week later.

Jean Bourgault conducted the choir for her final performance (again). Next year the conductor’s role will be taken by the very talented local singer, Storme Reeves.

Sitting in the audience I was privileged to hear a string of wonderful performances by the choir and the long list of guest performers including the student percussion ensemble of Eastern Hills Senior High School in Mount Helena, Western Australia, where the concert was held.

There’s always a bit of nostalgia for me when I listen, play or sing in this wonderful and fairly new auditorium at EHSHS. In the 1970s I was a student there, doing years 8, 9 and 10 before heading ‘down the hill’ to Governor Stirling SHS to do my final two years before university. For years 11 and 12 I needed to change to Govo because Eastern Hills didn’t have a classroom music programme in those days, though in year 8 I did get six months of trumpet lessons in a demountable classroom with Sam Maher (a classmate for that, much better at trumpet than myself, was Phil Bourgault, one of Jean’s sons). Now the school has an amazing specialist music programme (largely developed I suspect by Maurice Bourgault, another son), with the student performers often participating in the choir’s concerts.

Jean Bourgault was the music teacher at the primary school next door. Her husband, Henri, taught me French in Year 8. Jean and Henri were classmates of my late father in teachers’ college (Dad was a mature age student) but I didn’t know this until a few years ago. Small town, Perth, eh?

Jean was never my teacher but I distinctly remember standing by the side of the road outside the schools showing her a small music theory book in which I’d written answers. She had a quick look at it and very politely and tactfully said “You ought to have a theory teacher.” This must have had quite an impact because I subsequently had a lot of theory teachers.

There’s no great review of the concert here from me, really just a few pics for posterity including the printed programme (zoom in to read it). More pics have been put up on a Facebook page.

At the party a week after the concert I had the opportunity to play a couple of original piano compositions which I completed earlier this year. Puck at Parkerville is a playful neo-baroque solo inspired by the mischievous character Puck from Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was produced in my childhood home, the Parkerville Amphitheatre, in the 1970s.

Rainbows Over Hovea is a moody but ultimately uplifting work inspired by the Jane Brook valley, particularly the lovely areas around the amphitheatre (which, despite its name, is in Hovea) and the John Forrest National Park. Both piano solos will be published soon.


Jean Bourgault conducting the Hills Choir. Eastern Hills Senior High School Auditorium, Mount Helena, Western Australia.


Bassoonist Melissa Mikucki accompanied by Brandon Scherrer.

Hayley Ferris playing Schubert's Impromptu Op. 90, No. 4 (piano solo).

Hayley Ferris playing Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90, No. 4 in A flat (piano solo).

Storme Reeves singing Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, with Alan Banks

Storme Reeves singing Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, with Alan Banks

Hills Choir concert programme for 11 December 2016.

Hills Choir concert programme for 11 December 2016.

Hills Choir concert programme for 11 December 2016, inside pages.

Hills Choir concert programme for 11 December 2016, inside pages.

Below are pics from the large end-of-year Christmas Party at a private residence in Glen Forrest, 17 December 2016. Many former choir members were able to attend.

Choir history display board One.

Choir history Display Board One.

Chloe Mauger and Display board Two, which she had a big hand in making.

Chloe Mauger and Display Board Two, which she had a big hand in making. I saw myself in some of the pics on this board.

The piano on which I played Puck at Parkerville and Rainbows Over Hovea, plus another Schubert Impromptu (No. 3 in G flat).

Me at the party, sitting at the piano on which I played Puck at Parkerville and Rainbows Over Hovea, plus another Schubert Impromptu (Op. 90 No. 3 in G flat).

For these pics and more see www.facebook.com/MixMargaretDylanJones

See the choir’s own website at www.hillschoir.org.au

Please feel free to make a comment here and/or on Facebook.

HSO concert at Midland Town Hall 20160703

OK, so they’re not the WASO or the Berlin Phil, but there is nothing like a real, live orchestra. A full house enjoyed the Hills Symphony Orchestra’s concert today, and so did I.

HSO at Midland Town Hall on 20160703

HSO at Midland Town Hall on 20160703

According to Facebook I must be in the 10% who’ve never seen Game of Thrones, but now I know some of the music, which was memorable enough as concert music.

Several items from Tchaikovsky ballets reminded me of why I like his music. From melodic elements which seem too simple, too basic, Tchaikovsky fashioned great music which never disappoints. Often made of simple scale fragments and sequences, his music still engages your attention and your emotions, which is similarly a quality of Beethoven’s music. Perhaps there is also magic in the chord progressions and modulations? (These relate to some of my own preoccupations as a composer.)

The King Kong film music seemed well-fashioned but I’m not sure I’ll remember it.

Hills Symphony Orchestra

Midland Town Hall

The amateur HSO is a precious jewel in the local scene. I hope they keep getting such big and appreciative audiences because they deserve it, they put on great concerts. See below for their links.

Mx Margaret Dylan Jones

Mx Margaret Dylan Jones



All-Smalley concert at State Theatre

Since Roger passed away in August I’ve been to two concerts featuring his music (see near the end for the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra’s concert).

It was great to be in the audience last night (20160607) for a Tura concert consisting entirely of music by my mentor, Roger Smalley (1943-2015). The Perth group Decibel performed five works in the first of their first Scale Variable concerts in the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre (in Western Australia). Most of the music was  composed in the UK before 1976 when Roger moved to Australia to teach composition at the University of Western Australia.

What a delight this was! Though I recognised some of the material I had the feeling I was hearing it for the first time, or with new ears. After reading the great programme notes (by Cat Hope) I realised that some things had found their way into later works, so mystery solved.

These are pieces rarely heard with some probably not performed for decades. The members of Decibel and their friends went to a lot of trouble to assemble or recreate the materials needed, beginning with tracking down some lost items.

The first work was Didjeridu, for four channel tape, composed when Roger was Composer-in-Residence at UWA during his first visit here in 1974. From the programme: “[the work] uses source materials extracted from an LP that is still housed in the UWA library, featuring traditional music from the Mornington Peninsula.” I happened to sit next to Jenny Wildy, who was the music librarian at the Wigmore Music Library for nearly forty years. She said “I know that LP!”

Transformation (1968 rev. 1971) is for piano and live electronic “ring-modulation.” I thought I’d heard Roger using ring-modulation in another work, but I don’t recall it sounding like this. Adam Pinto’s masterful rendition of this virtuosic work was exciting, and the ring modulation was a revelation.

Impulses (1986) for ensemble treats ideas from an earlier work, Pulses. Full of pulsating, of course.

Another piano solo with ring modulation is Monody (1971-72), “the first of Smalley’s pieces to feature ring-modulation as structural, rather than colouristic and decorative role.” This was quite a mesmerising performance by Stuart James.

Decibel gave us the Australian premiere of Zeitebenen (‘time levels,’ 1973-75) for live electronic ensemble and tape, a major 45 minute work which made up the entire second ‘half’ of the evening. A large and varied work. I feel so privileged to have heard it, and I was impressed with how the composer managed the long time frame.

Before coming to Perth Roger was part of Intermodulation, an important electro-acoustic group of four composer/performers, for which he wrote this music. “Decibel is not unlike Intermodulation in its make up and intent… thus the program is dedicated to compositions for acoustic and electronic instruments… Decibel is a world leader in the integration of acoustic instruments and electronics, the interpretation of graphic notations and pioneer digital score formats…”

On 6 December 2015 I went to another really wonderful concert by the Fremantle Chamber Orchestra in the Fremantle Town Hall but I didn’t get around to blogging about it at the time. They gave a great rendition of Roger’s Footwork (2006, also known as Birthday tango) in a programme of mainstream works, and it was very well received. I’ve misplaced the printed programme and there’s nothing about it on their own website. Unlike last night’s concert there was no restriction on photos.

FCO Town Hall concert

Fremantle Chamber Orchestra on 6th December 2015, playing Roger Smalley’s Footwork

So that’s my five cents worth; I don’t write full-on music reviews. There is a little more about the Decibel concert at http://www.decibelnewmusic.com/intermodulations.html Perhaps the whole written programme will be put online, too? It has a lot more detail. (Hint, hint to Cat Hope.)

There was also a review of the Decibel concert the next day in The West Australian newspaper by : https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/31795960/decibel-honours-smalley-legacy/

For more about Roger see my first blog about him from August 2015 and the many comments on it at http://mixmargaret.com/blog/2015/08/19/vale-roger-smalley-a-great-australian-musical-intellect/ At the end of that blog I’m adding more and more links to performances and articles about Roger, including the Decibel concert and any reviews I find.