Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address 2021 - transcripts
Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address is an annual forum for ideas relating to the creation and performance of Australian music. Named after the Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks, it has been igniting debate and highlighting crucial issues since its establishment in 1999.
2021 Peggy Glanville-Hicks panel event: towards a sustainable future for artists
The 2021 annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address was presented on Thursday 4 November as a live-streamed panel event, featuring three musically diverse artists: ethno-jazz pianist and composer Zela Margossian, unconventional, tradition-challenging composer and percussionist Bree van Reyk, and singer, composer and improviser Sia Ahmad. The conversation was Auslan interpreted and moderated by ABC Classic's Vanessa Hughes.
Transcripts of opening statements
I was a teenage kid in a Belconnen bedroom, listening to the radio and pouring over music magazines.
I didn’t have the aptitude for learning an instrument, but I had become hooked on ideas, not theory but a feeling on what music could be if made on instinct alone and with a nervous energy.
I read about bands who played in garages and warehouses, I read about Rasta dudes playing hardcore punk, I read about an all-girl band making a funky racket, I read about the moment rock and roll became electric drone.
I remember hearing Brimful of Asha on the radio and being in awe of a band that shared the same skin colour as me, made a reference to Bollywood singers and could write a sweet groove.
I remember the first time I heard the album Free Jazz and being in awe of the expressive freedom and hearing the different musical colours throughout the beautiful chaos.
I would listen to everything and dream about these stories as mythic tales. I would dream about where my place in this could be.
In being asked to speak as part of this year’s Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address alongside Bree and Zela, I’ve been looking at why I do what I do and why I am where I am. Even before COVID lockdowns took hold, I had been taking a step back from the notion of ‘career’ to retrace my steps and arrive back at those formative discoveries and innocent dreams to guide me once again through my practice as a maker, facilitator, and mentor.
My creative life is 100% tied to the DIY punk ethos and it’s intrinsic to me as a human being too. I left that childhood bedroom to graft all over the continent then the world in the way that fits me best. I’ve spent years making the music that speaks closest to my heart and through this process, I’ve been so lucky to find myself sitting within a community that finds equal space for myself, those who I looked up to and those still finding their feet in the creative world, all who I am lucky to call a friend.
Without punk rock, I wouldn’t find those like me and share a world view that celebrates creativity in all its glory, flaws, and everything in between. Without punk rock, I wouldn’t be reminded day in day out to find a way to support the system so there’s a chance to stay self-reliant and sustainable when things are at their lowest ebb. Without punk rock, I wouldn’t keep thinking of ways to make creativity accessible to one and all, how to break down barriers so identity and social status were of no concern.
Through all the lockdowns and restrictions, I’ve been lucky to be working with stability in the arts sector while continuing to make and release albums during this time but more importantly, I’ve been able to use my privileged position to continue engaging with those who inhabit this community and support them the best I can, be it through performance opportunities, professional development conversations or simple messages of reassurance that things will be better soon and better for the future as a whole.
I certainly didn’t think it at the time, but I do think my teenage self would be stoked at seeing my role to help creativity thrive for a community and that I’m still as invested as I was all those years ago in how the community lives and breathes.
I am dialling in from Wallumettegal land. I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. I pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.
I would like to thank the Australian Music Centre for granting me this wonderful opportunity, together with two exceptional artists, to take part in Peggy Glanville-Hicks address, presented, as you can see, in a special format this year. I feel extremely humbled, and I hope my modest address will spark some positivity during these uncertain times.
It now has been almost 20 months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the restrictive circumstances it created in people’s lives is felt nationwide and the livelihood of many has been compromised, especially evident in the music industry, which was one of the sectors affected the most.
Challenging times necessitate shifting perspectives to cope and find new ways to endure hardship. I admire the dedication of artists in the music community, who, when live music came to a halt and numerous productions were cancelled, devoted their time to create petitions and reach out to the government to ask for more support for the art sector. Live-stream events, online collaborations, remote teaching, all became part of the new norm as adapting is key to survival but when human interaction is restricted and limited, the true essence behind why we make music, is lost. Each performance with my band, Zela Margossian Quintet, is different because of the energy in the room and each interaction with an audience is unique which translates into the music. Consequently, with the absence of a live audience, it was very challenging to find the energy to spark that ‘special’ dynamism which is almost only created in a live setting. The band and I also had plans on releasing a second album when the pandemic hit. It was difficult to face an uncertain future and not be able to plan ahead which compromised the momentum of productivity and being present.
Last year, also, in August, amidst the global pandemic, I witnessed my beloved Beirut, where I was born and raised, experience one of the most horrific explosions ever recorded in modern history. A month later, a part of my ancestral homeland, Artsakh, spiralled into a gruesome war. I was heavily burdened by extreme emotions of sadness, and I shared the sorrow of the Lebanese and Armenian people. However, through those difficult emotional times, I gained an important perspective. This, compounded by the COVID-19 situation globally, gave me a new outlook to deal with issues that I was facing. And through that realisation, I felt an immense gratitude; a gratitude of living in a country where I feel safe, where I never have to search for clean water, face food shortages and have access to a functioning health system, to name a few.
This gave me the strength to continue and create. I realised that it wasn’t only a matter of endurance but a time to reconnect with our passions behind our impulses to create, to appreciate what we took for granted and strengthen the relationships with musicians fostered during the challenging times.
The future might seem uncertain for a while to come; however, I can see a light ahead. Witnessing the perseverance of musicians during these challenging times, their creativity with presenting their music content online, music teachers devising interesting ways to present their lessons remotely and festival and venue directors going to extremes to keep serving music to the community and supporting artists as much as possible, is proof that there is a collective will to keep the music alive.
It’s a well-known fact that we have a big challenge to tackle: a lack of proper government funding for the arts. However, on the other hand, we should embrace what we already have which makes the creative community blossom: diversity. Diversity is an essential part in any community and is a great binding force in the creative sphere of the arts. Specifically, in the music sphere, diversity brings about unique relationships through music. Exchanging ideas and learning from one another’s backgrounds, personal stories, cultural heritage and musical traditions bring about distinct collaborations and interesting projects. Contribution creates connection and connection creates a network of support which is essential during uncertain times such as the one we are experiencing right now.
Speaking of my own experience, my band is an indication of that fact. The mere existence of the quintet is a testament that cultural diversity can result in a beautiful harmonious outcome. I am grateful for the opportunity I had, after moving to Australia, to explore all my cultural and musical identities and create something that not only represents me but opens the door to similar stories to unfold and continue the traditions of cultural diversity on which the land we live on has embraced for thousands of years.
Touching back upon gratitude, I would like to say thank you to each and every individual in the music industry who accepted me, who cared about me, taught me, supported me, and appreciated my music. That’s why I consider myself lucky that I am a visitor on this exceptional land, my third home, and I am thankful and grateful for the beauty it offers me.
It is our mission through music to spread love, unity and healing especially to those who need it the most.
Bree van Reyk
note: this text is an post-event edited version of the pre-event notes and talking points I’d made. some ad lib. verbalised text from the actual event has been added, in an ad lib fashion in the editing process based on what I think I may have said at the time, or in some cases what I had intended to say at the time but may have forgotten to say, or what I felt like saying during the editing process. anyway… it went something like this:
thanks for having me
thanks for listening
thanks to Sia and Zela for sharing their thoughts and words
thanks to AMC for opening up the structure of this address and trying something new
which provides for a range of perspectives to be amplified.
I’m here on Ngunnawal country
(I acknowledge and pay respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across
this country. Their sovereignty was never ceded)
in the house of my good friend (and very excellent musician) Jess Green
this country is where I grew up
where I’ve had so many formative musical experiences
like Sia I was listening to puck rock in my bedroom in Belconnen
playing post-punk, post-funk and post-rock in the garage
from the age of 16 with some very special people
folks like Jess Green and Zoe Hauptmann
who I am so lucky to still get to play with today
(https://www.jessgreen.com.au, google: Zoe Hauptmann)
playing with the Canberra Youth Orchestra
playing in experimental rock bands at all ages shows
driving around in my parents car listening to Sonic Youth
I drove here today listening to Sonic Youth in the car
and, being inspired by Sia’s comments
about the importance of punk rock in her life
I’m wearing my new Sonic Youth jumper
which is not what I’d usually wear
for a ‘classical/art music/concert’ kind of event
or at least, I didn’t before
but maybe I will now
I thought about this event
and I thought about one of the rare online event highlights
of the past 18 months or so for me
which was seeing Clare Cooper
share a virtual stage with community-based artists and activists
from Ireland and elsewhere in the world
where she said (something like…)
“I’m a control-freak, but I also love improvisation”
and that she was torn between
delivering a more polished string of word-based thoughts
or just playing/making something up on the harp
and in my mind I was all “please please please play the harp”
and she did
and it was wonderful
(Dr Clare Cooper is a Lecturer in Design Computing at the University of Sydney, and a
really great human and harp player)
and, I spoke with Jess whose living room I’m in
about this address and she said
“well, I don’t want to hear what anyone has to say about covid, but I have had some
profound thoughts during this time”
and I feel somewhat the same
so here are some of the thoughts that I’ve had
things that I’ve been doing
and what I’d like to keep doing from here on out:
thinking of the start of the of the pandemic
the ‘loss’ of my opera, The Invisible Bird
which was to be presented by Carriageworks and Sydney Chamber Opera
at the end of March 2020
we managed to make it through till the first day of tech week
at which point the cast and crew pulled off the incredible feat
of bumping in, tech rehearsing, dress rehearsing
and filming the quadruple bill
on the last day before the start of out nationwide lockdown
since then the opera has been viewed something like 9000 times
which is more than would have seen it at Carriageworks
and which is great
but it’s still heartbreaking for us all
that we didn’t get to perform it as intended in real life
with the lockdown and shutdown of any live performances
I finally got time to finish my ‘superclusters’ album
which I got a grant to start creating at the same point that I found out I was pregnant
and by the time the record comes out
my kid will be five
and the irony of having the time and isolation
to edit together an album that many of my closest friends and colleagues play on
while missing them all so much
in thinking about where we are now
about how I can nourish myself and others through music
I follow adrienne maree brown on instagram
she has a great account
lots of weird zombie/cat/whatever memes
interspersed with masses of vital and important
anti-racist, anti-misogynistic information and thoughts
she put up a post from her blog called
‘not busy, focused; not busy, full’
(adrienne maree brown is the writer-in-residence at the Emergent Strategy Ideation
Institute, and author of We Will Not Cancel Us and Other Dreams of Transformative
Justice, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, many other books, essays,
podcasts and a very funny, inspiring, thought provoking instagram account, which is
where I read the following blog post:)
this is a poem or a reset
you keep telling me you know I am so busy but…
and then you ask me for something
and I want you to know
I am not busy
no, with all of these boundaries I have space
to take care of my body.
to hold my loves tightly in my many many hands so we can somehow make it through
the rest of our lives
Question of how we will make it through the rest of our lives?
for me, some of my most recurring thoughts have been:
I miss people
I miss making sound with and for people
I want to be slow and sustainable - I don’t want to be busy anymore
(back to adrienne)
I hope to never be busy again
I owe this quiet breath to my grandmother
I am creating at an astounding rate
and some of it I even write down
some moments I get so still
I can sense how it is all connected
and that the tissue is love
and I know my love could never be wasted
or too small a contribution
I say yes when love leads
I say yes when there’s enough time to do it well
and sometimes even then I am not there
because life showed me another way to love
and it was irresistible
‘I hope to never be busy again’ is what I’d like my email sign-off to say
What has been most irresistible to me in recent years? What I will NOT resist:
I will not resist being aware of my privilege. I will not resist acknowledging it.
Finding ways to use my heart and mind and ears and hands and time and creativity in
order to divest and disperse my privilege is irresistible to me.
the past 18 months have been hard
but we as musicians are used to hard and can shoulder it being a bit harder for a while
for many other people life is non-stop hard
this is certainly the case for many Aboriginal people
I’m studying in the Composing Women Program at the Sydney Con
I’m very privileged to be there
on a government scholarship
with all my tuition paid
with access to the brilliant mind and heart
and wealth of knowledge and generosity of Liza Lim
I had the opportunity of working with community in Yuendumu
assisting Dr Georgia Curran
whose research is based in facilitating the recording of and community access to
the Yawulyu songs of Walpiri women
during my brief time in Yuendumu
I had the opportunity to help out with some workshops
in the young women’s music program at PAW media
which is led by Grace Marshall and Ben Green
who are providing space, time and access to musical instruments
so that the young Walpiri women there can learn to play
and operate sound gear
with the hope that they could get jobs
in the sound department at PAW media
I helped set up a fundraiser for this program
which is called Pirjirdi Karnta-Karnta
which means ‘strong women’ in Walpiri
and we raised over $15,000
to buy instruments and continue to run workshops
my aim is to run ongoing virtual lessons
through my MASSIVE BAND project
other things that are irresistible/that I will not resist:
I will not resist continuing the act of opening my eyes and responding to the
inequality and discrimination I see.
Calling out and making positive action towards the destruction of sexist,
misogynistic, racist, trans-hating, gay-hating systems and behaviour is irresistible to
again, as part of the Composing Women Program
which I started when my daughter was 10 months old
I became aware of the world through the eyes of a parent
how much, or how little, will change in her lifetime?
I walked into the library on the first day of my degree
and was greeted by the eerie dead-eyed stares of the busts
of three dead European men
who apparently we all ought to think are pretty darn ‘great’
I looked around and saw two more busts
two more dead white guys
in total there was 5 busts
two of which were Beethoven
and none of which were women
I saw these busts
I felt a bit sick
teenagers of the Con high school use that space everyday
what does it say to those young minds
that only dead white male composers
are ‘great’ musicians
I thought of Peggy Glanville Hicks
of her rogue spirit
or her philanthropy
I thought/I think about so many other great women
who were/are composers but who do not have busts made for them
who are not amplified in the hallways of these institutions
I thought of my friend Anna-Wili Highfield, who is an immensely talented sculptor
I spoke with Professor Liza Lim, Professor Anna Reid (Dean of the Sydney
Conservatorium of Music) and my colleagues in the Composing Women cohort
myself and the CWP team got together and decided
we’d like to commission
a bust of Deborah Cheetham
who everyone here should know
as an amazing opera singer, composer, educator, activist, a Yorta Yorta and Yuin woman
who has done many amazing things
including leading the Sydney Mardi Gras parade a few years back
we asked Deborah if she would honour us by being ‘busted’
and now the first thing anyone sees when they walk into that library
is an exquisite bust of Deborah Cheetham made by Anna-Wili Highfield
thanks to Liza Lim’s efforts
the USYD library has commissioned a further two busts from Anna-Wili
(https://www.shortblackopera.org.au/team, http://www.annawilihighfield.com, https://
other things that are irresistible/that I will not resist:
I will not resist listening to and trusting myself and part of this is trusting my knowing
that most of the systems and philosophies that our culture is based on are damaging,
patronising, unequal and unjust - and they need to be reevaluated and changed.
Turning everything upside down and looking at almost everything from the other
end, the multiple other sides, is irresistible to me
the thing that has been most irresistible
for me to make music with
for the past several years
is a plank of wood
not a particular plank of wood
but just any old plank of wood that you might find lying around
the left-over bit from some other use
or otherwise abandoned
a plank of wood for me is an ‘un’ space
it is an unloved discarded left-over piece of generic raw material
but it contains a huge array of naturally occurring harmonics
as any sounding object does
it is the opposite of a stradivarius
but equally rich and valid
I can use my hands and sticks to play it
but the actual techniques of doing so are completely different
to any other percussion instrument I’ve learnt before
so I have to make it up as I go
the practice I have with the plank
is the practice I want to have with most things
from now on:
I sit down at the/a plank
feel what my body wants to do
feel what my body/hands want to do
listen to the sound change and feel what my hands want to do
hopefully I will be at the Peggy Glanville Hicks house
in a couple of weeks time playing a plank of wood
with current artist in residence Aviva Endean
a plank of wood is irresistible to me
trusting myself and my body
is irresistible to me
With a rich and extensive background in Australian music, Sia Ahmad has been creating idiosyncratic sounds over the last decade and more. Using guitar, keyboard, voice and electronics, she works both as singer/composer and improviser, when performing solo, as Shoeb Ahmad, as well as collaborative projects. She has released a diverse range of original music while also working on sound design for dance/theatre, installation pieces and contemporary chamber composition, inspired by 20th-century avant-classical works, Indian raga form and minimalist electronic music. Her latest release, Facade, was released in early October 2021 on Provenance Collective label. She has performed throughout Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the UK and South Eastern Asia as a solo artist, and with acclaimed groups such as Sensaround, Spartak, Tangents and the Australian Art Orchestra. Parallel to her practice, Sia currently sits on the boards for Girls Rock! Canberra (as Chair) and the Australian Art Orchestra (as Director), and chaired judging panels for the 2021 APRA AMCOS/AMC Art Music Awards. Between 2018-2021, Sia was a member of both the Ministers’ Creative Council and LGTBIQ Ministerial Advisory Council for the ACT.
Born in Beirut, of Armenian heritage, Zela Margossian is a Sydney-based pianist, composer and ARIA-nominated musician who fuses the rhythms and harmonies of jazz and the discipline of classical with the beautiful melodies of Armenian and Middle Eastern folk music. Her debut album Transition, realised digitally on the Australian Art As Catharsis label, garnered favourable reviews, with the influential US magazine Downbeat calling it ‘…an entrancing and dazzlingly unique kaleidoscopic niche’, and Jazzwise (UK) referring to it as an 'exemplary album that is simultaneously heartfelt, authentic and wholly absorbing'. Zela was the AMC's inaugurual Artistic Associate in 2019, as part of a market development strategy for jazz, which allowed her the opportunity to travel to Jazzahead to expanding her horizons, leading to a connection to the international label Ropeadope, who will release Zela’s next album in 2022. In 2020, Zela’s quintet made its debut at the Sydney Opera House, and she was awarded an ABC commission for a collaboration with Sydney-based saxophonist Jeremy Rose, resulting in Visions of Nar, a project that premiered at the Joan Sutherland Centre. Zelea Margossian was selected, from a competitive international field, as one of the Creative Armenia Fellows – an opportunity from the Creative Armenia Foundation which led to a mentorship with extraordinary Armenian pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan – an invaluable relationship as she prepares music for her quintet and the forthcoming release.
Bree van Reyk is a drummer, percussionist, composer and sound artist who makes unconventional and tradition-challenging performance works. Her music resides in the intersection between contemporary classical, indie-rock and performance art and is equally warm-hearted, celebratory, and focussed on issues of equality. Bree has been commissioned by Sydney Festival, Sydney Chamber Opera, Ensemble Offspring, Canberra International Music Festival, Marrugeku, Urban Theatre Projects, Performance Space, Sydney Dance Company, The Letter String Quartet, Shaun Parker Company, fashion designer Bianca Spender, AGNSW, GOMA and the MCA. Her performance career includes tours and recordings with artists such as Gurrumul, Paul Kelly, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Synergy Percussion, Ensemble Offspring, Holly Throsby, Sarah Blasko, Marcus Whale, Laura Jean, Sally Seltmann, Toby Martin, Darren Hanlon, Grand Salvo, Katie Noonan, Oren Ambarchi + Martin Ng, and Anthony Pateras. See also www.breevanreyk.com.