I am currently wrestling to write something based on this (bad) transcript of the podcast listed below.
Joanna Murray Smith playwright, artistic royalty and
Michael Cathcart, ABC RN broadcaster discuss art.
Can you enumerate some of the artist’s challenges?
I mean what would be the top of the list, what is the common challenge that all artists face?
I suppose it is emotional engagement with the audience. It is not so hard to form actual engagement with the audience you can engage audiences quite easily with ideas but it is hard to engage them on an emotional level. If you don’t engage them on an emotional level then ultimately you’re not succeeding. And learning how to master that is the great journey for any artist. It is how you harness ideas to an emotion and get them in the right balance . And you use the emotions to get the ideas — to harness the emotions and get them in the right balance. And use the emotions to make the ideas powerful. As an audience member if only my head is engaged something is missing. As audience members we know that if only our head is engages then it is boring.
Fortunately, it is not only the artists responsibility, it includes the venue, and the audience and their willingness to come to engage with the work.
When I opened the door, I could not believe my eyes. In my absence, the room I understood had changed. I knew we had few possessions, (married six months), but I remembered we had a new unused television, record player, radio in the front room. A very up to date three in one appliance it was. It was there, standing in that vacant space. I missed it. Had anything else gone? The cash from the sale of some charity raffle tickets, a few other odds and ends, had also gone.
I remember it as if it was yesterday (it was almost sixty years ago). The things didn’t matter in the long run; we knew we could replace them with an insurance claim. What really hurt was the violation, losing privacy and the invasion of our little home.
Imagine if we lost our home, our land, our way of life? 1,000s of Australians have experienced this in the last twelve months the imagining has been their reality. Events of this type have reoccurred for nearly every year of the past 250 years of Australian European history. What have we learned as a people?
Is history an excellent teacher? Observers continually remind us if we take no notice of the past it binds us to make the same mistakes. My recent holiday to the Apple Isle of Tasmania has reminded me of the history lessons I took as a child, mainly because life has taught me how inefficient those lessons were.
Previously we have visited Port Arthur prison village. My school lessons taught me about the severity of the punishment metered out at that awful place. I had not imagined so many as 2,000 convicts housed in Hobart itself.
They taught us the Isle discovered by Abel Tasman, first called Van Diemen’s Land, was a superb place to send miscreants who filled British gaols. Therefore, from 1807 until 1868 74,000 people were transported to Fisherman’s dock in Hobart. On the dock today stand four bronzes of young women and a boy to represent the 14,000 women and children who were transported to the island. People like: Margaret 27 for stealing thread, Sarah Emma, 29 for vagrancy, Anne, 19 for stealing wheat, and Rose, 23 for murdering her children. Children like Toby 10, and a list of other waifs like, Joseph Robbing 10, Sarah Thomson 12, Louisa Gannon 3, Ann James 6. (What crimes could these children have perpetrated that required them to be shipped to the other side of the world?)
The city sitting on the edges of the broad Derwent River is a very attractive modern city. It is the last destination of one of the longest open water yacht races. Each New Year’s Day, the competition leaves Sydney. Daily the media reports on the yachts as they make their way to Constitution Dock at Fisherman’s wharf Hobart.
Tasmania therefore has a long association with the mainland. We know it for its fish, its apples, its milk, wine, mining and whisky. It is also the home of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, the thylacine. They captured the last animal in 1930 and it lived a miserable, solitary life in a wire cage instead of in the wild forests it was born for.
My school lessons told of its awful last years. They also told how the migrant settlers had rid the land of the wild indigenous people. (Missed was the story of the murderous behaviour of the people with guns hunting them like animal and massacing them for the sake of their beautiful timbered land. It told of Truganini.)
Little by little the inaccuracy of the things I learned at school about Tasmania and its peoples has come to my attention. The most recent improvement came from this visit when we visited the Museum of Tasmania. In confirmation of my class lesson, the museum has a bronze bust of Truganini on display. It also has a UNESCO recognised treasure as a recording of Fanny Cochrane Smith singing. Fanny out lived Truganini, who died in 1876 by 30 years. They considered Fanny the last fluent speaker of her language. Thus the Palawa or Pakana people supposed lost to history unlike the thylacine remained. Fortunately, the bloodline of these people survives.
Our journey took us down the river Derwent, past the suburb of Risdon, that place that houses the women prisoners of today to the Museum Of Modern Art, MONA. MONA is the private art gallery of the eccentric collector David Walsh. This man has contributed wonderfully to the people and the State of Tasmania. Tourism to his museum is one compelling reason to visit the state. An off shoot of his artistic endeavour is Dark Mofo. This annual winter event is in the last stages of planning after the museum was closed because of Covid 19.
The Spanish artist Santiago Sierra had requested the aid of local indigenous people and asked them to donate blood to him to help him create his additional art work. His gimmick was to soak a British Union Jack in their blood. David Walsh thought nothing more of it. I thought it reasonable as well. The idea of ruining a flag with aboriginal blood seemed at first to represent the struggle the people had had to keep their land.
Fortunately, the artwork will not proceed. Sufficient people pointed out aboriginal people have lost enough blood over nearly 250 years and this is not the time to lose more. David Walsh apologised. I apologise. I understand, enough is enough.
Which brings me back to my home burglary. I easily replaced the property I lost. The point is just a matter of conversation, whereas when the British colonised this land the people that lived here lived productive lives based on the knowledge of 60,000 years of continuous occupation. The colonisers did not consult them, and they did not cede land to them. In payment for their generosity, they were exploited. It dispossessed them of their land, their culture, their language. 500 locations mark places of massacre. The land has so many locations defiled in this way, researchers have used newspaper reports to build a map recording of the happenings at each site.
Australia has a constitution that does not acknowledge the indigenous and their long ownership of the land. Today marks the third anniversary of the well-considered statement. The Uluru Statement from the Heart.
As background, the country has discussed the issue since 1963. The From the Heart Statement came out of two years of careful consultation and they presented it to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the morning of 26. March 2017 and by the evening of the same day he dismissed it without discussion. It is now time to recognise our people in the Constitution and acknowledge with pride how lucky we are to live in a nation with such a proud history.
Today I signed the Uluru statement of The Heart to support the aboriginal nations that made this country.
I had heard of it, but never experienced the madness of Valentines Day until 1976. The children of Carstairs Primary School, Scotland, introduced me to the experience that year. In all the years since I have never felt the need to join in this annual celebration to love. Lest I seem more old fogey than I am, I am happy to acknowledge love is the cement, (there may be better words than cement, but cement seems to fit well to me. Aged cement is very difficult to break) I continue, love is the cement that binds humanity as one people on Earth. Peace is the natural companion of love.
I have just been reading, Letters of Note, on Substack. The last entry includes this extract from a letter written by Charles Darwin. Born 12/02/1809.
Among the extracts was this
“What an utter desert is life without love.”
Charles Darwin | Letter to Joseph Hooker, 27 Nov 1863
It appears Darwin had the same grasp of love as all lovers celebrating Valentines Day tomorrow.
Love can be as local as your loved one, or as wide as your love for everyone. Love, love, Love.
He sat squarely on the piano stool. The boy reached out and opened Aunt Clara’s piano and spontaneously played. The lad played it so well his father bought him a baby grand piano at age 10 and reluctantly agreed he could at last take music lessons. At 13, young Louis played at his own Bar Mitzvah. By the time his influence entered my world he was a noted maestro and a chain smoking conductor his friends called Lenny.
By 1960 his modern opera, a rework of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had reached the Princess Theatre Melbourne. The music by Leonard Bernstein with a libretto by Stephen Sondheim tells of a gang war between Puerto Ricans and the Whites ( or the Jets and Sharks). At that stage Bernstein was thirty-two. Sixty years ago the 33 year old reached new critical acclaim when this musical was released as film by the same name. A few years latter the film reached Melbourne and Jennie and I went to see it. I was so enthralled by it we bought a 12 inch LP ( Long Play) recording of the cast performance.
Our Pye, three-in-one player: (TV, Radio, and Turn-Table), was never put to use before it was stolen from our home. However, the record stayed and was a regular hit with us. The tracks; “I Feel Pretty”, “Tonight”, “America”, and “Somewhere”, have entered the canon of America’s greatest works. Fortunately, Stephen Sondheim lives on, Lenny died from the after effects of an addiction to tobacco, and his friend, American composer, Arron Copeland has also died. Clearly the world is poorer without their talent.
When we bought the West Side Story record, the best recorded music was found on 12 inch L P’s. We bought several. Most came from a group trading as The World Record Club and they were recordings of classical music. The records ran for 60 minutes, but the user could only hear the last 30 minutes by stopping the player and turning the recording to hear the reverse side. Fortunately, a 12 inch vinyl record was a big improvement on previous records. The extra time recorded on each disc was achieved by reducing the speed of the turntable to 33 revolutions per minute and adding width to it.
With the 33 rpm turntable also offered the listener other speed choices. A 45 rpm disc was the record used at the time by pop song promoters. The record had two sides and two songs. It was common for the promoter to advertise one of the two songs on each record. The A side was supposed to be better than the B side. Frequently they got it wrong, in the ears of the listeners, and the more popular song was on the reverse.
The first recording I ever bought was of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It was written in 1880 to commemorate the Battle of Borodino where Tsar Alexander 1’s forces routed Napoleon in 1812. As my student allowance money was scarce my copy was a 45 vinyl disc. The overture only lasts about 16 minutes. To my annoyance half way through the performance the record had to be flipped over to hear the remainder. It was certainly a performance Tchaikovsky had not written, even though it was performed with actual canons.
The gramophone of the 1960’s replaced the model my uncle Paul had graduated to just a few years before. He had a passion for the popular music recorded before WW11. Performer’s names included favourites such as: Chick Corea, Al Bowlly, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Ross Colombo, and the catalogue ran on with the names of band leaders such as Chick Webb, Artie Shaw and the Dorsey brothers. The records were 78 rpm. Each side ran for about 3 minutes. I have retained one I have altered to a clock face. It is a Decca recording, of Bing Crosby singing, On the Sunny Side Of The Street.
Paul was fanatical about his collection. Each record had a matching file card. The card mentioned the name of the song: where and when it was recorded, who the musicians were. (The cards may have had other information I have no idea. But he did). For thirty years he ran an old time music program on, not one, but two community radio stations. He based each program on the notes he had made at the time of purchase.
When he started to collect these tunes they were sold in a brown paper sleeves. When he played a recording he would wipe any dust that might have fallen on it. Originally the first tunes he played was on a gramophone he had to wind up. The record was placed on a felt disc and the pickup was lowered onto the disc from the outside edge. The pick up was a steel needle. To protect his collection he would use a new needle for every recording he played.
The shellac recordings were brittle and easily damaged. The sound was reproduced by a needle running in the groove made when the sound was recorded. The trouble with such a system is the damage caused by the friction made playing the music.
Paul’s was not the first wind up machine. That role goes to the phonograph. Our neighbours, the Coverdale’s, had an original model. It played music recorded on cylinders. The recording method was similar in that used to make 78s. In that a grove was cut into the cylinder using a mechanism that converted the sound waves into energy that did the inscribing. The pickup followed the scratch to reproduce the singers voice.
Over the course of my life. We have used tape recorders, compact discs, and down loaded LPs to digital programs so they can be reproduced from the computer. I was ever so impressed when Ben and Nina introduced me to the first iPlayer. I found it hard to believe such a tiny recorder could hold so much music and be reproduced so easily.
Years ago I downloaded my entire record collection to my mobile phone, and I have listened to it amplified by wifi and Bluetooth. I have even used Spotify but I have found the range of classical music limited so when in doubt or in need of a switch-up I turn to an app on my phone and I can get worldwide coverage of classical music programs any time of day.
Aficionados, like to explain the 3mp copy excludes much of the pure sound a vinyl recording gives. They may be right but to my creaky old ears it sounds ok and it plays without the need to jump up and turn a record on the turntable. It is even better than the “clunk” you got when one record dropped onto the other when records were stacked one upon the other on a multi-player.
Any A, B or Z musician would be proud to be enjoyed so easily today. Bernstein, Beethoven, Brahms, or Borodin — music is great. That you can listen to any-type of music anywhere from the phone in your pocket is something the boys and girls of West Side Story could never have imagined