I talk at every concert I play….. One of the things I always ask people to do is unwrap all the sweets they are going to ‘need’ for the next hour. It gets a laugh every time – but it’s a real hate of mine. I don’t understand why people do this, because everyone can hear them doing it.

I have numerous people contact me after concerts to say thank you – and they nearly always refer to this. They tell me about other concerts they were at, and how all they could hear were sweet wrappers going.

Last week I was contacted by Daniel, who emailed me something he’d written, which I loved…. So I have copied it here for you all. Enjoy!


“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House. Tonight’s performance is about to commence, so please ensure that your mobile phones are switched off. You are reminded that photography is not permitted in the auditorium at any stage. Please enjoy the performance.

If you are still in the foyer and are hearing this message, you have about 30 seconds to get to your seats as the policy has changed; you will no longer be admitted during the performance or during the break between movements. Future concerts will start dead on time. If you have trouble getting here by that time, leave home 30 minutes earlier or you will risk missing the first half of the concert.

[pause] Actually, tonight is my first night on the microphone and, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to get off my chest.

What I am about to say might be stating the obvious, but experience tells me it is necessary.

On the subject of mobile phones, please note that “off” does not mean “switched to silent” as, in the quiet of the concert hall, we can still hear the vibrations, and the light of the screen is very distracting, not to mention the fiddling around in your bag or pocket to get the phone out to read and/or reply to your text messages. Further more, electronic transmissions will interfere with our recording equipment. In case I have not been clear, “off” means powered down. Some of you may feel compelled to turn it on again at interval so I will be repeating this message, because mobile phones going off in the second half of the program are just as disruptive as in the first. Strange that.

Most obvious of all, do not talk or even whisper during the performance. No matter how softly you do it, you will be disturbing people’s listening. Other bodily noises such as sniffing, snorting, grunting etc are right out. Many people do these things unconsciously, so if you notice people glaring at you when you think you haven’t done anything, this is probably you.

Coughing is the scourge of the concert hall. Many people simply feel free to cough whenever and as loudly and unrestrainedly as they please. This is definitely not alright. If you are really sick, stay home. Otherwise be prepared to go to great lengths to avoid coughing. If there is any chance you may cough anyway, take out your handkerchief before the music starts and lay it on your lap so that when the cough does come you can muffle your mouth and nose and do it as quietly as possible. The same applies to sneezes. If an involuntary one cannot be suppressed, at least muffle it.

Enjoy the music by all means but tapping hands or feet, nodding your head or conducting are not going to impress those around you, no matter how much better than them you know the music. The wiggling of any body parts in time with the music, or out of time for that matter, is just not cool. Try sitting on your hands if your find it hard to restrain yourself.

As it happens I know a thing or two about acoustics and the physiology of the ear. If you have ever been exposed to very loud noise, including rock concerts in your misspent youth, you will have suffered permanent hearing loss, particularly in the very high frequencies above 15 MHz. Probably not badly enough for you to notice, but here is the thing. If you unwrap a cough lolly, move your arms while holding a plastic bag, turn the page on the program, fiddle with your bag, your clothing or just about anything, even if you hear nothing yourself, there will be people around you who do hear it, loudly and clearly. I have heard people unwrapping lollies across the other side of the auditorium. Unwrapping it slowly makes just prolongs the agony. If you must fiddle or are likely to need a cough lolly, get it out and unwrap it before the music starts. Plastic water bottles are another problem. The plastic crackles while you handle it; please take your swigs before the music starts; then put the bottle away. Eating of any sort is of course out of the question.

Items fall from people’s laps, usually with a thump. It is better to put all items on the floor under your seat where you won’t kick them. If you do drop something, don’t add insult to injury by then proceeding to make more fuss picking it up.

Please don’t clap between movements.  Check your program before the piece starts to see how many movements there are.  Usually the conductor will give you a visual queue by dropping their hands when the piece is done. Clapping between movements disturbs that magic moment of anticipation of what is coming next.

All this is common consideration for others. In short, sit still, absolutely still, do not move, do not make a sound. You may breathe, but only if you do so quietly.

At the end of the performance you will leave the auditorium having enjoyed every smallest nuance in the music because of the wonderful stillness and respect of the other members of the audience. You will have the music ringing in your ears. What a delight. A delight that is, until you have to walk past the Opera Bar where you will have all those lovely reverberations totally obliterated by garishly amplified noise being thumped out over their PA. Can one of those people who dash out during the final applause please “accidentally” knock the plug from the powerpoint as a service to the rest of us? Your lack of respect might as well be put to good use. The people who run the Opera House obviously think the noise is a good idea for a bit of extra revenue raising. One wonder’s what Jan Utzon would have thought of that: approach the Opera House steps like a temple with reverence; leave it swimming in aural pollution… The policy was probably signed off by some MBA who doesn’t know a bar of music from a bar of soap. When you get home, if all of you send the them an email and state the bleeding obvious, maybe some common sense might prevail.

I am sorry, I seem to have strayed somewhat from my original brief but in short, please have a good evening and enjoy the concert in utter peace and quiet.


[pause] Clearly by this time tomorrow I am going to be unemployed, but it was worth it.  So if anyone has a job for me…”

I have had a completely MAD August. I have felt like a headless chicken for most of it. And it hasn’t finished yet….

Here’s what has been going on.

There have been ‘Bach in the Dark’ concerts with the choir of St James, and their director, Warren Trevelyan-Jones. They have been wonderful concerts. I have loved them all. The repertoire has been fabulous – one piece in particular by a young Australian composer, Joseph Twist. But each of these concerts have needed enormous amounts of admin – from setting up on-line ticketing, to getting enough wine (or, as my Timorese friends would say ‘wime’) from my wine sponsors to moving furniture in each venue (and a bloody chamber organ!). They are not only physically exhausting, but mentally draining.

I have been working on an Australia Council Grant for a CD recording I’d like to do with my dear friend and former teacher, David Pereira. This has involved all sorts of writing descriptions, getting letters of support, editing sound tracks, uploading things etc etc. HUGE amount of work, for a lottery if we’ll get the money. It’s just been submitted now. As in, 30 minutes ago. HUGE sigh of relief.

I have been teaching in schools – and third term is the hard slog. Kids are mostly sick. Teachers are sick. Halls are cold. One of the schools is gearing up for a concert – and that’s hard work, with a lot of organising. To make it even trickier, I have to work around school excursions, camps and stuff, where I lose groups of kids every so often. I hate getting kids ready for concerts – it’s stressful.

I have had an article on the concert series in the Sydney Morning Herald. This was a great honour, and a huge validation of what I do. I was delighted. It has meant I’ve felt I needed to put on extra concerts – more on-line ticketing and artists to deal with. Yes – I know. I chose to do this. I say it to myself a great deal. You don’t need to tell me too….

The CD I released last year has just started to be in profit. Yes! It’s all paid off! But this involves a new way of accounting, to keep Mr ATO happy.

My lovely friend who does all my website is re-doing my website for me – but this involves extra copy-writing blah blah blah.

Don’t think I am complaining about all this. I am not. Not at all. I lead a wonderfully fulfilling artistic life. I love all the things I do… well, most of them.

I am writing this for two reasons.

One is to justify why I haven’t had any social life. If you are a friend I see for a quiet glass of wine, or a meal every-so-often, I’m sorry I’ve been absent. If I haven’t replied to a text or email, this is why.

The other is to acknowledge all the help I get. Help from friends who pour wine and move pews for me in concerts. I can’t say thank you enough. Another friend runs the front-of-house for me at every Bach in the Dark concert. She does this, always cheerfully. She drives for miles to be there. Again, I can’t thank her enough, either. Another dear friend is re-doing my website, for no fee. I am so incredibly appreciative of her looking after me and my career like this.

But most of all, my complete rock through all of this is Ben. He spends hours tweaking websites for me. He edits sound files. He does all the heavy lifting in concerts. He deals with my tired snappiness. He cooks. He smiles through it all. I couldn’t have the career I do without him. He drives to get me my favourite hot drink, from my favourite cafe. He won’t like me writing this, and publishing it on line, but I’m not sure that anyone reads this. And I’m not going to tell him.

Roll on September!!

I’ve had an… umm…. interesting four weeks.

I have learned a lot over those four weeks. I think a lot of people would call the last month ‘character building’. I don’t really want any more character. I think I have enough character already, thank you very much.

This is what I’ve learned…. in no particular order.

1. There are more children sent to school without breakfast than one would think.

2. Some really famous musicians are incredibly generous, lovely, great fun and giving.

3. People don’t like to be told they have made a mistake.

4. Very few people own up to the mistakes they have made, even if it’s really obvious.

5. Then people get abusive.

6. There is an excellent dumpling restaurant by North Sydney station.

7. Practising with a metronome is very important.

8. More people like the combination of ‘cello and accordion than one would think.

9. ‘Character building’ is a euphemism for ‘really awful time’.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me through. The hand-holders, tea-makers, yoga teachers, drink-pourers and joke-tellers.

My first ‘cello teacher has recently passed away. Just like the euphemism ‘passed away’ (I’d much rather use the word ‘died’, but people seem to find that confronting), I have very mixed feelings about this woman.

She was a very well-known ‘cello teacher, who produced a lot of really well-respected students, many of whom have become professional ‘cellists. She was very kind to me when my dad passed away (there’s that euphemism again. I really hate it.) – I remember she gave me my first ever Du Pre recording, which started a life-long love of Jacqueline’s playing. She played at my dad’s funeral. She gave me extra lessons at no charge. She coached my first string quartet. She was really important in my life, and fostered a great love of music making.

But there were a few rocky moments in our relationship. Although she was very kind, I was mostly terrified of her. I wasn’t a good practiser. I hated scales. I hated being compared to other students, and she did that a lot (in particular, another ‘Rachel’ who she taught). And since her death (sorry – I can’t write ‘passing’. That is too twee for me.) I have been reflecting on our relationship.

It all went very sour when I told her that I didn’t want to do a 7th grade AMEB exam one year – instead I wanted to play the ‘cello in two musicals, tour with an orchestra and sing in the school vocal ensembles. In short, I wanted to make music with others, and learn everything that goes with that, rather than memorise a pile of scales and Bruch’s ‘Kol Nidrei’ (having used that piece as an example, there’s nothing wrong with it. I love it. But I remember it being held up as something I’d never ‘manage’….). I was completely dressed down by her. I still remember it. Years later. Where it was. When it was. And being told by her I didn’t have the ‘persistence’ and ‘dedication’ I needed to amount to anything musically.

Now, I’m glad I don’t have to teach someone like me. I would have been hard work. I deliberately pushed buttons of teachers, and questioned things and always wanted to know ‘why’. But if I loved you, and admired you, I would go above and beyond, if I could, in my high-school blundering ways.

And now, as a teacher myself, I look at what happened. Why couldn’t she see that I wasn’t going to always do what I was told? That being given a bunch of things to practise wasn’t just going to cut it with me? I needed to know why I needed to play these scales. Couldn’t she see that every time she told me that Melissa/ Karella/ Cathy / Rachel did something better than me, I wasn’t going to rise up to her challenge and try to play things better? (I would refuse to practise whatever piece I had been told that someone else played better….. in hindsight, I missed out on a lot of good music. But that was the only line of defence I thought I had!)

Why must teachers humiliate their students? Is it a power trip? Is it frustration boiling over? Did I really need to be ‘told’ in such a damning way by someone who had been a huge part of my life?

I still, after three days of musing this over, can find no real explanation of why she did what she did. Possibly I was just too much.

I won’t go to her funeral. I will remember her though – both as a great inspiration, and also as a warning to enjoy the ‘square peg’ children as much as I can. And to allow them to be as odd as they want.

Today, though, I did play a whole bunch of scales in her memory. And also ‘Kol Nidrei’. It seemed fitting.

I was sent to instrumental lessons as a young girl to some very good teachers. They taught me some really good things – but they never taught me specifically how to practise. My mother would say ‘Go and do your practise’, but I wasn’t really sure what to do. Actually, if the truth be told, I was a terrible practiser. I didn’t practise enough, and I didn’t practise carefully enough. That’s probably why I didn’t get really good until someone actually taught me how to do it.

I help run a string program in a disadvantaged school, and over the last few years we’ve hit a few bumps in the road. The teachers say to me ‘So-and-so hasn’t been practising well/ carefully enough / consistently’ and then there are tears (from the student) and sometimes aggressiveness (from the parent) and me having to be diplomatic (which is exhausting). Finally I realised I was going to have to get a bit controlling here and set up some structures, and try and teach all the children how to practise, and get some very experienced teachers to try and change their teaching habits a bit.

And today, I’ve had another conversation with someone about how to teach someone to practise.

Really, it’s not very hard. The way I do it is really methodical. It’s worked for every child I’ve ever taught, and some adults too. It works for me. If I was going to be unkind about my method, I’d call it ‘anal’ or ‘too prescriptive’ and ‘not allowing children to think for themselves’. But unless you show children structure first, they don’t think for themselves at all. They just wander around a bit lost in the big practise-room of life.

Having seen all sorts of not-very-good teaching in my years, I can now appreciate why parents used to think I was such a good instrumental teacher because I put this system in place. The child practised regularly, They knew what to do. No dramas. No tears before bed-time.

Luckily, after some gentle persuading, the experienced teachers I manage said they’d give things a try. Books and charts were printed for all students in the program. And it seems to be working.

So why don’t more instrumental teachers teach their students to practise properly?

Is it because they don’t know how themselves?