Discover SLM Talk: Music in our Houses with Matt Stephens

Discover SLM Talk: Music in our Houses with Matt Stephens

hello and welcome to the third of our discover slm talks my name is nerida campbell and i’m currently the acting head of curatorial at sydney living museums i particularly want to extend a warm welcome to our members donors and supporters i’d like to begin by acknowledging the gadigal people of the eora nation on whose land i live and currently work i pay my respects to elders past present and future curators at slm are constantly discovering new stories about the people places and things we care for at our 12 sites during this talk series we will be sharing some of this research with you as we explore a range of subjects from food to furnishing textiles from celebrity marriages to colonial bungalows so keep an eye out for future talks about your favorite subject or for the incurably curious tune in every tuesday at 12 to 12 30 for a new topic there will be time for questions at the end of each talk just add them to the zoom chat today’s speaker is dr matthew stevens who is a research librarian at the caroline simpson library and research collection he is fascinated by early book and sheet music collections in new south wales and the stories they tell matthew leads the digitization and interpretation of slm’s sheet music collections and is a contributor to the forthcoming book sound heritage making music matter in-house in historic houses he has represented slm in performance and research collaborations with the sydney conservatorium of music and the universities of southampton and glasgow in the uk in 2019 matthew curated sln’s songs of home exhibition which examined the musical landscape of new south wales during the 70 years of european settlement thanks matt thanks an erica i’ll just share my screen with everybody i’m speaking to you from the blue mountains which is located within the ngara the country of the traditional owners who i acknowledge the derek and the gundam guru people today i’d like to explore the role of music in relation to our historic house museums at sydney living museums in doing so i’ll be focusing on the music related objects and resources we find either within these houses or those externally that help provide the context i should mention that i won’t be playing any recordings through zoom today but there will be lots of opportunity to explore musical examples after my talk through our webpage but first i’d like to think you to think about your home imagine if a music researcher dropped him while you were out and given the most diversity in lockdown let’s imagine you’re out exercising this researcher is interested in how people engage with music in the home there may or may not be musical instruments there may be sheet music there may be a high five some description records cds an iphone and there may be headphones or earbuds even with all this evidence without you being there it would be hard to gauge what musical activity whether individual or social was being made or enjoyed in your house it would be hard to know much about the individual musical tastes of the occupants too the researcher could hide in the garden and listen to musical activity when the residents are home i realise this is not the most ethical of our research studies our researchers may hear someone singing a song in the shower and interested not only in the choice of song but also in the way the singer uses their voice do they sing in a poppy or operatic way do they decorate the tune by adding extra notes and twiddles however increasingly the use of earbuds and headphones means the contemporary home may make no audible musical sounds at all ironically given this quiet contemporary soundscape a lack of sound is sometimes a criticism levelled at house museums quiet spaces that feel like they are missing the sounds of a living home again we do have musical objects in the houses to offer clues to past musical activity but we certainly can’t eavesdrop on their former occupants thankfully our houses include many clues such as the objects that both belong to the early inhabitants of houses like rousseau estate and at the in nara or illustrative of a reconstructed house interior captured at a particular point in time like at elizabeth bay house which focuses on the 1840s vorklu’s house a little later as well as susannah place in the rocks which illustrates a range of periods in addition to objects like musical instruments or sheet music we turn to diaries paintings photographs and pedagogical publications like piano and singing tutors we also work with australian music historians and expert musicians including first nations people to help understand what the musical soundscape in and around these houses may have been like stories about musical activity such as elizabeth farm at parramatta could offer some of the most powerful ways of thinking about these houses in terms of music here is a photograph of what some people believe is the first piano to arrived in australia temporarily positioned in a dining in the dining room of elizabeth farm a small square piano this one or one like it was transported to australia by mr george worgen of the first fleet in 1788 and which he gave to elizabeth mcarthur not long after for me one of the most extraordinary images of australian colonialism is imagining mrs mcarthur sitting in her drawing room elizabeth farm in the early 1790s and picking out a tune of what was the only piano on the australian continent what gives this story even greater power is imagining what the first peoples made of this new sound on their land and the tunes that carried down to the parramatta river when i talk about reflecting on the history of music making slm’s historic properties i mean we are interested in the entire musical soundscape while most of the music i’ll mention today relates to 19th century instruments and repertoire from our collection slm is keen to encourage all musical inspiration whether it’s classical folk rap or any genre and in recent years we have commissioned indigenous and non-indigenous musicians to reflect on our history through new musical composition it is not uncommon for house museums to want to explore music and slm has been making music in its houses almost since it was established as the historic houses trust in 1980 until relatively recently i would argue that most com the most common approach to music making in our houses was to match people who played identifiably historical music within a historical room regardless of whether there was any relationship between the two this could be a wonderful experience and i’m the first to enjoy music i like in a beautiful space it’s worth noting that music’s role in many of our public programs is to add to the mood and may not be about history at all however over the last six years or so we have asked ourselves whether there is a better way of linking the musical objects we hold in our collections to the historical spaces we care for and ultimately connecting the resulting soundscapes with our audiences and i might add that some of those wonderful performers illustrated in this slide such as jennifer erickson and tommy anderson have been working with us just in the last 12 months while we explore this new approach to our collections and music so what do i mean by this new approach at its simplest it begins with a series of questions we might ask about any of our house museums how did people make music at home in the past what types of music did they play what instruments did they play who did they play music with what interpretive techniques did they use to play their music and who taught them if anyone and how is this actively manifested in the house itself to answer these questions we first look at our collections houses like marugal and rouse hill house offer lots of inspiration in the form of sheet music instruments and diary and newspaper accounts of music making by the residents other of our houses like elizabeth bay house and vorplus house have little original musical material to offer but diaries and letters offers offer clues as well as the reconstructed interiors these houses are also large and robust enough to invite musicians and audiences into their spaces to explore the broader historical context of music in sydney and new south wales our first real test of this approach was a collaborative education program between slm and the historical performance division at the sydney conservatorium of music held in 2016 25 performance students under the direction of historical pianist professor neil perez de costa were given a tour of slm’s carol simpson library and shown 19th century printed domestic manuals books periodicals and early photographs illustrating and contextualizing houses interiors furniture and musical instruments of the 19th century they were also shown many examples of sheet music provenance to early 19th century australian settlers over a period of two months the students made weekly visits to the house to discuss and rehearse music that had belonged to sydney residents in the 1830s and 40s museum visitors thoroughly enjoyed the lively atmosphere as music drifted around the house over these weeks and were also fascinated by the teaching process on show the program concluded with a series of intimate concerts in the drawing room in which the audience was immersed in the musical world the students have discovered on their journey filling a house with music that may have been heard by its early residents is not as easy as it sounds the music played in these houses is often quite obscure and unknown to contemporary musicians our music collections are dominated by works by composers like bishop balf cherny playal and mizingy with a little bit of mozart thrown in better known composers today like beethoven schubert and schumann only start to appear in the collections from the 1850s and 1860s so not only are we asking musicians to virtually throw away the repertoire they know but we also want people expert in performing historical repertoire with a knowledge of historical performance methods luckily we’ve been working with some terrific musicians prepared to come for the ride and who are interested in experimenting with a little known aspect of city’s early sound world one unexpected area of strong interest for musicians has been an extensive scottish repertoire with holding our collections this strong representation of scottish tunes is due to the huge popularity of scottish and pseudo-scottish music in britain during the late 18th and 19th centuries it works particularly well in terms of house museums because it is a genre that crosses class boundaries it is quite likely that someone labouring in the grounds of any of our houses would have whistled along to a familiar scottish ditty emanating from the drawing room these three recent recordings were made using many of the musical scores in the stuart simon sheet music collection at the carol simpson library this generous gift made by the late stuart simons in 2016 consists of 1500 pieces of which many were owned by immigrants and residents in 19th century new south wales the recordings were the result of collaborations between slm and musicians and research institutions here and in the uk while concerned the concerts in elizabeth bay house have also been a feature of some of these projects the digital availability of these performances enables this early immigrant musical experience to be shared with the world the need to be able to share this music digitally is particularly important in house museums like rouse hill estate where the generations of family possessions displayed in a fragile building make it a challenging place in which to perform two recent projects have helped communicate the musical story of the house to a broader audience online in the first project the sydney children’s choir selected a song called the letter by samuel lover from an early volume of music in the house the music was arranged for the choir by composer jessica wells as a two-part choral work for 22 voices and accompanied by piano and violin the choir rehearsed and made an audio recording with the choir’s director lynne williams before visiting rousseau estate for a house tour and filming the second project at rouse hill estate and sln’s most recent music project house music at your house was a response to the coveted pandemic and was proposed and directed by violist and educator nicole forsythe and with the support of the city of city council over the second half of 2020 the program provided an opportunity for musicians and music audiences to explore 18 songs using the rauschel estate sheet music collection professional musicians recorded videos of their own interpretations of these pieces from home and a mix of digitized scores guitar chords recorded accompaniments and other online examples were added to inspire the public to share their own versions it will come as no surprise that the type of music found in roussill house is heavily european focused with a strong colonial thread while there are some early australian compositions that include arrangements of aboriginal tunes heard in the early 19th century none of these have been found at raskill estate slam is currently a partner in an australian research council discovery grant with the university of sydney in which we’re exploring the world of music in new south wales up until 1860. the project covers both indigenous and colonial music making during this period it includes some exciting work which aboriginal communities will interpret the language and tunes found in early remnant european transcriptions from their country for the house music at your house program we asked your laraway storyteller and musician nadi simpson for a response to the music collection at rouse hill she chose the song hearts and homes by charlotte young and john blockley and this was a song recorded in newspapers and family music collections at least far north as the clarence river area and further south in the hunter valley sydney rouse hill goulburn and wagga wagga these important songs permeated the soundscape of homesteads and towns and inevitably the country of first nations nadi translated the song into her own language with additions and referencing the omnimatic opaque word for heart in the daric language butt butt and the possum skin drumming of her ancestors nadia accompanied herself with a firm steady beat on a wallaby hide this recording and many of the performances i’ve mentioned today are available via our website and i’ll give you access details at the end of this talk as i’ve said walk into any of our houses and you will find numerous objects offering clues to the role of music in past lives you may have noticed that all my illustrations of our houses include piano this instrument is the most common way of alluding to musical activity in a house museum and they were incredibly common in australian homes by the mid-19th century but i’d like to spend a couple of minutes discussing a particularly interesting piano in our collection that illustrates some of the challenges we face when considering an interpretation of music in these houses in these two images you can see the same piano a square piano made in around 1826 by a firm called litchfield inks and photographed over an 80-year period you can see it on the left in volckler’s house in 1933 and on the right in elizabeth bay house in 2016. the desire to represent the world of music at volkl’s house occurred strikingly early in its development as a museum in the late 1920s within a decade of establishing the site as a house museum the vorkluse house trustees began to focus on how to approach music in a historical setting this included the acquisition of musical instruments choosing repertoire and engaging with the local community to promote music dance and pageants in the house this english square piano was acquired by the trustees in 1929 and the correspondence relating to its acquisition restoration and interpretation has been preserved the piano had been brought to australia in around 1882 by thomas and rose tunstall when they emigrated here and had belonged to rosa’s grandmother and taylor of enfield middlesex according to family stories anne owned the piano well before the 1850s after some confusion as to whether it was a piano or a queen and harpsichord it was purchased by the trustees so that music such as gavats could be played in the house it was also suggested that madame evelyn grieg who in the 1920s was well known for her performances of scarletti on the dulcetone a keyboard instrument invented in the 1860s and also known for her music history lectures on local radio should be employed to play the piano at the house this desire to reflect upon the house’s history through performance was also of interest to the vorkluse music club on the 6th of december 1930 a pageant shades of old vault clues was presented on the veranda of the house where performers revisited the old haunts of warcrew’s house the script survives and music most likely performed on the litchfield link’s piano was used to accompany dancers demonstrating waltzes from years gone by undoubtedly this account highlights how a lack of knowledge about an instrument its context or repertoire may now seem naive not being sure whether it is a piano or a harpsichord or whether it is 100 200 or 500 years old is a pretty basic obstacle to interpretation nevertheless the required technical knowledge of our historical instruments their repertoire and playing methods is no simple is no simpler today the litchfield thinks piano has probably not been played at least since the 1960s and is unplayable in its current states some time ago it was moved from vorkle’s house to missouri’s bay house to help interpret the morning room as the 1826 piano matched the year of the mcclay family’s departure to australia over the years we’ve had discussions about whether the piano should be restored an internal international expert in square pianos has confirmed that the instrument is structurally secure and should have a sweet sound she also observed the bizarre eggplant coloured french polish must have been applied when the piano was restored in 1930 however the decision to restore is not straightforward the conservation care and interpretive approach to such an instrument is now more sophisticated than when the piano was first restored in 1930. sln’s conservation keyboard consultant broader griffin notes what an exciting provenance this piano has she says that if we can identify a direct line of ownership from the present day to the piano’s manufacturer in the 1820s this is rare she reminds us that the biggest challenge is to decide on a treatment approach which preserves as much of the physical evidence of the story as possible from the maker’s original work and any evidence of use to the repairs carried out for vulkan’s house in the 1930s and 1960s while working with early keyboard specialist preparer colin vanderlech bronwyn has photographed and documented the current condition of the instrument she knows that to restore the piano to playing condition would require replacement of original or early components such as the leather hinges for the hammers and some hammer coverings any changes will need to be documented and any components that are removed should be retained for further reference where possible examples of original material should be left on the instrument but the time being the piano has been cleaned and stabilized and despite its unplayable state strongly supports the visual interpretation of the interior of elizabeth house as a tool for performance it is less of a priority because we’ve had access to other fine early keyboards for our concerts these early instruments have a lightness of sound and timbre that is distinct from later pianos and matches the earlier repertoire common in these houses it also better supports the sound of other 19th century instruments as well as approaches to singing this style of music if you’d like to read more about making music in historic houses i’d like to finish with a plug for a new book slm has partnered with the university of southampton and the royal college of music called sound heritage making music mata in historic houses and published by rutledge later this year the book is an exploration of museum and research projects around the world interested in music and historic houses there are a number of australian contributors and the book includes a chapter on his approach to music in slm’s home home museums over the last 40 years we’ll have a copy at the carolyn simpson library when we reopen i’d also encourage you to explore the sln music web page to read our music related stories and to enjoy the many audio and video recordings we have available if you’d like to have a go at trying out some of the 400 digitized scores we’ve created i’d encourage you to visit our internet archive sheet music collection available via the same that web page it can be really addictive here is the the url to get to our web page or you can just search google music slm thanks very much thank you matt i particularly like that idea of the music wafting out of one of our rooms and the gardeners and other people hearing it and humming along what a beautiful idea we’ve got a few questions for you and if anybody has any other questions feel free to drop them into the chat as as um that’s answering so the first one is from haley she’d like to know do you have a favorite musical piece in the slm’s collection oh that’s a hard one it’s like which is your favorite property at slm it’s always the last one you visited i think it’s the way it usually works um i look there are many favorite pieces not always because i even particularly like them it depends um i think my favorite piece at the moment is a song called i think of thee and it’s a really interesting song because we have the only known copy of this song and we have a few of those that we found in the collection um it’s an australian composition that was written in 1946 by a composer called frederick ellard he was only about 18 i think he was a very young man at the time it’s a really interesting piece it’s based on a poem by goethe so it’s not unsophisticated um it was published by his father francis ellard who was a very well-known music instrument seller and music seller and printer and um it was missing the last page so we had to we commissioned our musical consultant dr graham skinner who’s been invaluable in all of our interpretation of the last decade and he reconstructed the last page and then we um asked a wonderful singer amy moore to actually record it for us and so i it’s a it’s a construction of the house very much and uh quite a beautiful song so i encourage people to listen to it actually they’ll better find on their webpage awesome we’ve got a question from gabrielle who wants to know what periods of music do you concentrate on at slm at the moment um we’ve really been focusing on 19th century um music and particularly early actually which is quite a challenge but a lot of our work has been 1930s 1840s um to start with and then we’ve also had we’ve dabbled in the 50s and 60s as well and that’s quite a range of styles as well some of it’s quite folky uh some of it’s american once the gold rush hits we get started quite a few american tunes arriving so quite a nice range thank you jahan would like to know how did you collaborate on the book was there consensus on the approach to music in historic houses ah there’s a it’s really worth looking at the book um it’s literally going to publish the next week so i’ve just been looking at it a bit um there’s a real range of contributions um uh you’ll find that there are some of the british contributions we’re interested in sort of quite large country houses we don’t have those in australia um the australian contributions of course are interested in smaller more personal buildings um we’re lucky in australia that we do actually still have some really good collections within the houses like slm um so that’s actually really quite rare internationally as well we have contributions from india to gorey’s house which is very very fascinating the bach archive um we have a a chapter by some um [Music] researchers in france who are looking at how the um the kings of france listen to music so they’re recreating the sound of music in their homes or their chapels so as you can see it’s quite an interesting range america um some very some very interesting work from america as well so we we had a three-day conference in london in 2019 which was an absolute pleasure and luxury and anyone writing book i recommend it we all got together in london at the royal college of music from all over the world and um presented what we wanted to do and then sort of really thought through what what it will mean and uh and then came back with our chapters having had that three-day discussion so it’s it’s it’s i think a very connected um uh group of essays i hope sounds very collaborative i have another question um and it’s from gabrielle i have family members involved in music at the end of the 19th and early 20th century can you recommend places for researching these periods yes the carolyn simpson library is number one um because we can probably help you a lot in understanding what you have or what your your family might have played and we do have lots of examples both in the carol simpson library and in our houses and those increasingly getting documented and publicly available state library of new south wales an amazing source as well there’s so much wonderful material there the national library also has an incredible collection of music and and a lot of that is online a lot of that has been digitized particularly australian music that’s their focus and that’s one point i should make actually that what i think we’re doing that is different is that we are thinking about the whole soundscape and it’s not actually necessary australian compositions we obviously focus on that and um well our state library and our national library will focus on the music that was written and composed in australia from from whenever um whereas we’re actually saying but what do people actually hear and to be honest a lot of it wasn’t australian it’s this quite unusual and often very beautiful music that we don’t know anymore that’s sitting in our houses in our libraries um and that’s what we’re recreating it’s a combination of british european american and other places we’ve got time for one last question matt and it is what is the most surprising thing you found out about music in your research into sydney living museums houses i think the most surprising thing one of them is that there are so many clues well there can be clues within the musical scores about how people actually performed and that’s something we’ve really enjoyed experimenting with uh if people scribble they scribble their ornaments what they did even in the 1830s which is what we did with the dowling project um and we can actually then try and have a go speaking to them through their own their own scribbles who knows how close we get it’s a very informed way of doing it um but i think that’s been the most surprising thing and i think that’s really surprising for a lot of young musician students musical students that there are australian sources um in australian houses and i think that’s been quite a surprise for the students that come from the column and work with us and really exciting that they are getting excited that there is a musical history that they can learn about in australia well thanks matt thanks everyone for joining us um join us again next week same time we’ll be looking at the burdekin house columns next week thank you everyone and goodbye thanks
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Discover SLM Talk: Music in our Houses with Matt Stephens

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