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Striking clocks. There’s an edgy charm, an aural spontaneity that influences ANAM performances at the South Melbourne Town Hall through the inescapable continuo of everyday life’s freeform sounds from the outdoors, the building and of course the audience. There’s neither recording studio soundproofing nor multi-take perfection, but who wants that anyway? In particular, with most ANAM events starting on the hour, the striking town hall clock is a fortuitous percussive reminder that, yes, it’s time; simple and effective, without the pomp of a brassy Bayreuth fanfare.

With this striking reminder is the reverberating greater reminder of passing time at ANAM, of familiar musicians leaving, and that, paraphrasing Nobel Laureate Bob, the times they’re always changin’…

Over the past year or so, my listening times have certainly been a changin’. I’ve had rich experiences following two Made-in-ANAM ensembles, aka collectives, Rubiks and Affinity, of alumni and current musicians. I’ve experienced imaginative events in refreshing places that have, without exception, been testament to the key objective of ANAM, to nurture the artistic and professional development of highly talented young musicians, especially through performance.

Until last year I hadn’t specifically sought out percussion performances, except of a few musicians, Evelyn Glennie, Claire Edwardes, and ensembles, Synergy and, most recently, Speak Percussion. I’ve now encountered a new questioning world of music experience, one that involves seeing and feeling as well as hearing in a different way. Most of the encountered works I’ve never heard before so there’s no preconception, no subconscious attempt to relate to a previous performance. Neither do I listen to percussion music at home or on the road. Important elements of percussion performance are the visuals, the placement of the sculptural instruments, the players’ movements and their precision, even when aural hell is hammering the eardrums and the walls.

Peter Neville, the inaugural head of percussion at ANAM, has imaginatively nurtured and developed the talents of alumna Kaylie Melville, final year Thea Rossen and Hamish Upton, and James Townsend and Matthew Levy, and created a lineage of percussionists that will, with good fortune, make their long-term mark locally and overseas.

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ANAM Percussion alumni and third year’s: Hugh Tidy (top left), Kaylie Melville (top right), Hamish Upton and Thea Rossen

It’s an exciting time for imaginative music performance. Genres and ensemble structures are blurring. New repertoire is being explored with more energy and less inhibition. New venues are being discovered and tested. Performances are becoming richer, holistic theatrical events.

Rubiks is an eclectic collective: Kaylie Melville (percussion), Tamara Kohler (flute), Gemma Tomlinson (cello), Jacob Abela (keyboards), plus occasional guests. I’ve attended four concerts of diverse works at different venues, including a concert at Melba Hall entirely dedicated to Swede Marcus Fjellström, including the screening of his quirky animation, another technical presentation challenge. More recently, Brightspace, an unknown-to-me St Kilda gallery, was used for an evening concert that included the Australian premiere of John Luther Adams’ 1970s songbirdsongs, a work drawing life from birdsong and nature’s happenstance. The fortunate audience sat within a circle of percussion and woodwind stations and received an immersive bath of magical forest sound.

Returning to more traditional listening performance territory, but just as impressively curated and presented, Affinity Collective, a string ensemble formed by 2015 alumna, cellist Mee Na Lojewski, with violist William Clark, and violinists Nicholas Waters, Zoe Freisberg and guest Jenny Khafagi (Harry Bennetts being overseas playing with some European band), staged two concerts at Kew Courthouse, pairing the string quartets of Benjamin Britten and Andrzej Panufnik, who defected from Poland to the UK in the early 1950s, the start of a rich compositional time for Britten. How marvellous it was to hear this rarely-played-here string music imaginatively compressed over a few days, discover Panufnik’s chamber music and wonder at the 30-year gap from Britten’s second quartet to his 1975 third quartet, his final important work that he never heard performed.

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Affinity Collective at Kew Court House: Zoe Freisberg (violin), Nick Waters (violin), Will Clark (viola) and MeeNa Lojewski (viola)

Finally, two especially memorable and differing individual performances:

The first came last year in percussionist Kaylie Melville’s final, industrial-strength recital, with Dorothy Hindman’s 2007 Tapping the Furnace for speaking percussionist and multiple instruments, a memorial to Alabama’s pig-iron blast furnace workers. There isn’t enough space here to describe the work in detail so please look it up! A powerful performance with strongly-voiced text and movement, a flurry of score sheets flying to the floor, debris from the process.

The second occurred in percussionist Thea Rossen’s final recital in September this year, Sounds of the Reef – Music for Our Changing Climate, strongly individual and immaculately curated and described, presented and performed. This recital ended with To The Earth, a concise 1976 meditation by American Frederick Rzewski for speaking percussionist (again!) and tuned flowerpots on the impact of humans on the earth. Performed at audience level, this was a simple, brave and beautiful way for Thea Rossen to mark both the end of the recital ahead of the hour and her time at ANAM. For a few minutes, through a sonorous speaking voice and those flowerpots, I had some totally unexpected time travel in the imagination to a long-gone millennium, the time of the original people and their own use of similar simple gifts, their voices and their percussive clapsticks. The Bunerongs were to be displaced by strange people from over the horizon, impacting the land with incomprehensible ways and sounds, rushed days and ideas of passing time, and, yes, striking clocks.


About the author:
David Cramond volunteers at ANAM. A free, inquisitive and opinionated spirit, he’s also fortunate to have time to help at Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Footscray, sing in a few choirs, and until mid-December be in Neil Armfield’s Sea of Humanity for Opera Australia’s 2016 Ring.

Feature image credit: Alan Weedon (http://alnwdn.com/) — with Gemma TomlinsonKaylie MelvilleJacob AbelaTamara Kohler and guest, Marcus Fjellström at Melba Hall.

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One thought on “Alumni reflections by David Cramond

  1. Good article, David. I wonder if some formal way of strengthening the relationship of alumni to ANAM is required or feasible. Personal relationships are there but one thinks of the great American universities a large part of whose strength derives from alumni support.

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