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14 May 2018

Sally Mays - a champion of Australian music

Sally Mays Image: Sally Mays  
© John Elsom

Pianist, music educator, composer and music editor Sally Mays died in London on 25 April at the age of 88. A friend and colleague Rita Crews remembers her in this little article - read also an obituary in The Guardian by Sally's husband John Elsom.

Sally Mays had an international reputation as a renowned performer of contemporary music and, in particular, a champion of Australian piano music.

Born in 1930 in Melbourne and a graduate of the Melbourne University Conservatorium, Sally made her home in London after her postgraduate studies but made annual visits to Australia. I first met her in 2007 via my PhD supervisor, the late Professor Eric Gross AM, who suggested that I invite her to give a concert for the Music Teachers' Association of NSW conference that year. Never one to disagree with my supervisor I took up his suggestion, and thus began a lasting friendship during which I gained an enormous respect and admiration for Sally's unflagging work in the field of contemporary music.

Sally's background is interesting in that both her parents were professional musicians, and so she grew up in an environment where music was second nature. Following studies at the Conservatorium, she won the Clarke Scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London where she won every prize available to pianists and eventually taught at that institution as well as at Goldsmith's College, University of London. For many years she was an examiner with the ABRSM, travelling to many parts of the world to impart her immense knowledge to students and colleagues alike.

Sally was always highly regarded by her fellow composers, many wrote works especially for her and many other works were dedicated to her in recognition of her efforts to bring Australian music to the world. She also commissioned a number of works from Australian composers, and many of these have been recorded and broadcast.With her fine pedagogical eye, Sally edited several volumes of Australian Piano Music for Currency Press (see: vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3 and vol.4), featuring contemporary works that range from beginners to more advanced levels. Sally saw the series as 'a documentation of Australian piano music...an insight into the huge variety of styles and traditions that exist in this country'.

Concert pianist, teacher, composer, broadcaster, recording artist and examiner, Sally Mays will be remembered not only for her tireless advocacy of Australian music and Australian composers, but for her grace and generosity and her dedication to the cause of the music of this country.

In an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London, in 2016 in recognition of her outstanding achievements in the world of music, Sally was awarded the AM [Member of the Order of Australia] 'for significant service to the performing arts as a leading solo pianist, accompanist and composer, to music education, and as an editor'. A reward justly deserved for this passionate supporter and exponent of Australian music.

Further links

Sally Mays - obituary in The Guardian by John Elsom (8 May 2018)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Dr Rita Crews OAM is President of the Music Teachers' Association of NSW and Deputy Chairperson AMEB [NSW].


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A Major Loss

Though Sally never championed really difficult compositions by the handful of modernist Australian composers, her contribution was huge in her support of distinctive and distinguished composers such as Larry Sitsky as well as my dear friend and former teacher Eric Gross. Her passing will be lamented.