8 November 2021
2021 Peggy Glanville-Hicks panel: towards a sustainable future for artists
The annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address was presented on Thursday 4 November as a live-stream panel discussion with pianist-composer Zela Margossian, composer-percussionist Bree van Reyk, and singer, composer and improviser Sia Ahmad. Moderated by ABC Classic's Vanessa Hughes, the event took place at an important moment for musicians, with the challenging and stagnant pandemic existence slowly making way for a more open, yet largely uncertain reality. The reflections of the three panellists provide a stocktake of what the pandemic has meant for artists, and how they want to shape their creative futures. Listen/download audio of the whole event (MP3 file).
The panel had been given a broad brief to explore the diversity of our Australian music community through the lens of their own practice as creative musicians. Each artist gave an introductory speech which revealed that, while coming from very different parts of the art music community, the three had a lot in common and shared many formative experiences growing up as musicians. In Bree van Reyk and Sia Ahmad's case, these experiences even included growing up in the same geographical area and gravitating towards punk music and culture.
"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", Sia Ahmad reflected.
In their introductory remarks, all artists touched on their experience of the pandemic period, acknowledging it as a greatly challenging time for the music industry and its practitioners. But they also saw it as a time for reflection, a possibility to step back and evaluate their own own work, to realise long-term projects - and, importantly, as a time for slowing down. This need to step back and slow down formed the central theme of Bree van Reyk's statement in particular.
"It's been a really difficult time for everybody, and when I think about what I want to do with music, it's what I want to do with myself and with my life - I need to be able to nourish myself, and others. And I'm trying to find more and more ways to do that through music, rather than just ploughing ahead with music - trying to nourish myself in other ways."
She quoted at length a blog article by Adrienne Maree Brown, taken by one of its central ideas of looking way beyond the busy present day:
"That question is, for me, how we'll make it through the rest of our lives. That's what I've been certainly thinking about it a lot. This time has shown me that 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 any more."
This echoed the words Sia Ahmad had uttered some minutes earlier:
"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", Sia Ahmad said.
For Ahmad, the pandemic has in many respects been an active period:
"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", she continued.
Zela Margossian's experience of the COVID-19 pandemic had another, deeply personal dimension.
"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", she said.
In her statement, and later as part of the panel conversation, Margossian analysed her own experience as an immigrant artist with a classical background, seeking to find a new direction through jazz, and the encouragement and acceptance she found in the Australian music community.
"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."
The ensuing panel conversation returned to these themes as well as discussing artists' careers, building blocks of an artist's identity, strategies for balancing work and life, making art and making a living, and mental health in a profession that requires a degree of solitude.
In her welcome words at the start of the panel event, Australian Music Centre CEO Catherine Haridy reaffirmed a commitment to continue building on the AMC's long legacy, while also finding new ways to engage with and support the art music community:
"Since March 2020, it's been an uncertain time, but indeed the pursuit of art has always been challenging and uncertain. I want to acknowledge our brave, wonderful Australian creators and the inspiration and comfort their music gives us all. I want to thank our members who have continued to support the organisation and the work our team undertakes every day with great pride. The AMC is a one-of-a-kind Australian not-for-profit advocating for all in the art music community. We hope to continue to do this, and more, as we traverse a new transformed creative space. And moving forward does not mean letting go of our history. We will build on our legacy of commitment to our vital, living Australian Music collection, and the artists that create it", she said.
The 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.
> More information about the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address, including some videos, and transcripts of earlier addresses.
© Australian Music Centre (2021) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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