The Growing Orchestra

Classic FM has some wonderful treasures.

One of them is Graham Abbott.

I listen to his Keys to Music program whenever I can.

This weekend his program was about the growth of the orchestra.

In the background notes to the program, Graham observes that:

Orchestras were small groups, barely distinguishable from chamber ensembles, in the 17th and early 18th centuries. But in the hands of composers and performers the orchestra grew into the massive ensembles of 100 or more required by composers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And the music these ensembles were required to perform is some of the greatest aural art ever.

His discussion of the orchestra led me to think about the growth of high performance sport. I wondered whether investment in high performance departments had produced massive ensembles too in a very short space of time.

Photo Credits


Luther Orchestra


Aural Triggers for a Language of Performance?

In the last two years I have become interested in the insights music can offer to the development of a language about performance in sport. In the last week I found three examples of music and sound offering insights.

On 20 November Graham Abbott presented a ‘Keys to Music’ program about Motzart’s C major Symphony, K551 (“Jupiter”). I was fascinated to learn that Graham regards this piece as “one of the most sensational achievements of all Western music”.

In his blog post about the program, Graham observes that:

The “Jupiter” is a staggering masterpiece, and in the last movement in particular we see Mozart out-Baching Bach, out-Haydning Haydn, and even out-Mozarting himself. Why did he push the symphony in such a direction, simultaneously cerebral, sparkling, intense, entertaining and academic? What audience could he have possibly hoped would appreciate such a thing?

This is a link to the podcast of the program. The podcast is a detailed examination of the symphony. The skill and knowledge Graham has is a great example for anyone wishing to observe and analyse performance in sport.

A second program this week offered insights into sound and listening. Margaret Throsby interviewed sound recordist Chris Watson. This is a link to the podcast of the program.


Chris explained in detail the work of a sound recordist. The podcast has some great insights into the art of listening and a discussion about how to capture the essence of a sound. Chris’s website is an excellent example of how sound can be used to engage a viewer. I liked his discussion of the use of birdsong as a calming influence (more information here).

Towards the end of the week ABC Television interviewed Sir Simon Rattle at the conclusion of the Berlin Philharmonic’s first tour of Australia. The transcript of his interview is available. I liked the first two points Sir Simon made about the Orchestra:

They simply love to play. Every concert they play like it’s their last concert on Earth.

I’m biased; they’re my family. They’re the most extraordinary orchestra I know of. It’s a kind of energy you could power a small nuclear plant with.

The interview discussed the mentor program the Orchestra offered to Australian school children through the work of Cathy Milliken (Brisbane born director of the Orchestra’s education program). I was fascinated by quality of the Berlin Philharmonic’s work and thought that what they do is an exemplar for any sporting organisation seeking to inspire and support performance.

What a great week for thinking about performance and exploring the aural triggers for learning.

Photo Credit


Understanding Music Inside Out

After finishing my post on writing I had the opportunity to listen to an interview with Judy Carmichael.

colony400 Photo Source

Judy is the host of the Jazz Inspired radio program. This program explores creativity and each week in the program  “celebrated artists discuss their creative process and how their passion for jazz has inspired their work. They share their favorite recordings with the listener as well as insight into their life and art.”

Her interview explored virtuosity and creativity. This is the MP3 audio of the interview.

Listening to Judy’s ease with discussing Jazz I was reminded of another marvellous music interview I heard two years ago. That was between Michael Tilson Thomas and James Brown in We Were Playing Boulez, But We Were Listening To James Brown! The trail for the program reads:

As a university student, Michael Tilson Thomas and his colleagues were on the cutting edge of modern classical music. One day, while he was driving on the LA freeway, a song by James Brown came on the radio. That song, and the many that followed, changed MTT’s views about how to perform the music of Boulez, Stravinsky, and the like. The level of energy, the precision, the sense of time, the angularity — all gave the young conductor insight into the music he was performing.

mtt Photo Source

The confidence with which Judy Carmichael and Michael Tilson Thomas spoke about music reminded me of Maureen Pope‘s discussion of the personal contruction of formal knowledge and her link to Arthur Koestler‘s articulation of the vision that links poet, scientist and artist.

After listening to both interviews I revisited Howard Gardner’s discussion of multiple intelligences. He suggests that musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. (Mark Smith)

This reminded me of two quotes:

Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent (Victor Hugo)

Music is the silence between the notes (Claude Debussy)

Overall my writing about writing and about music has amplified my interest in performances of understanding and the forms this understanding can take. Lee Gutkind, Judy Carmichael and Michael Tilson Thomas have a great deal in common.


Classic FM’s Keys to Music has broadcast (May 2009) four programs about Music Education.

1: The Body
In Part 1 of the series Graham Abbott and Richard Gill discuss the importance of dance and movement in a child’s musical experiences. In this program they are joined by Dr Micheal Giddens, a leading exponent of Dalcroze Eurhythmics.

2: The Voice
Graham and Richard discuss the importance of singing in a child’s life. They are joined by Kathryn Sadler, one of Melbourne’s leading singing teachers and choir directors.

3: Instruments Download
In Part 3 Graham and Richard discuss why learning an instrument is good for children. They are joined by Alastair McKean, Director of Border Music Camp in Albury, NSW.

4: The Mind Download
Graham and Richard conclude their discussion on the importance of Music Education for children. In this program they focus on the proven benefits of musical experiences for a child’s intellectual and social development.