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Hills Music Academy
Interviewee: Garry Clark, born 1969
Date of Interview: 22 Feb 2008
Transcription: Kevin Murray, April 2008
So what was the music scene like in the Shire when you were growing up - when you say you were in High School? In the Baulkham Hills Shire, I'm talking. Was there much music around everywhere?
I was probably a bit isolated from a lot of what was going on. There were a few school groups around at the time, but as far as community music, I think the Hills Music Academy was about the only thing happening in the Shire at the time. And I probably joined that about '83, '84 after I'd been playing for a few years.
So who started the Hills Music Academy?
The Hills Music Academy was started by Mike Butcher, a very well known Australian musician - a trombone player. He had already conducted the Airforce Band and the Police Band, etc. in Sydney. And he was connected with the Hornsby Band at the time and I think a group of them and himself split or broke away from the Hornsby Band and came to Baulkham Hills and set up the Hills Music Academy.
Do you know when that was?
That was in 1980, it was formed.
Right, so you were still 11 years old and in High School at that stage?
Yes, I would have been just starting High School around then and, yeah, I wasn't involved in the Academy at that time. I joined a few years later.
Right, just before we leave school, is there anything else that stands out from your school years that had an influence on you, do you think?
One of the experiences that I remember was Karen Carey, we mentioned before, who was one of my first music teachers. She was a very interesting character. But I do remember my Auntie. I used to go to the Mostly Mozart concerts of the Sydney Symphony and we went in there one year - we sat down for the concert and it started very late and they announced that the soloist had been in a car accident on the way to the performance and they had found someone practicing down in the Green Room out the back of the Opera House who was going to come up and play a solo. And it turned out to be Karen Carey who came out and did a Baroque recorder solo with the orchestra, on the spot - well, as far as we knew it was, anyway. And it was a big surprise for me to see her performing professionally in that sort of circumstance. It probably spurred me on to continue going in music.
So she must have been quite an accomplished player, then, was she?
She was, and I don't know that I knew that at the time. I knew a bit about her as the teacher, but I didn't think that she was at such a professional level of performing.
So were you thinking of making music your career, by the time you were leaving High School?
All I remember was that I was really late in making decisions on what I wanted to do. I just knew what I enjoyed. I enjoyed music. I think, because of my involvement with the Hills Music Academy I had met a lot of the guys from the Airforce Band and I was interested in the Airforce, and I had actually looked into becoming a pilot. And I was interested in becoming a pilot, but I suppose the reality of the need for the Physics and the Maths and the high levels of those subjects hit home near the end and I decided that, well, the RAAF's in my mind, I'll go with that. I know these guys and I'll go and join the Airforce and play in the Band.
Right, so you basically joined the Airforce Band straight after leaving school, did you?
Yes, pretty well. I applied just at the end of my High School time and I then got accepted and just had to wait to actually join which was Easter the following year, so about 4 months of "down time" between finishing High School and joining the Airforce.
Now tell me what you did after you left the Airforce.
Well, while I was in the Airforce I'd been doing a lot of conducting and teaching work - tutorials with school groups, etc. And when I decided to leave the Airforce and make that more my focus... so take away the Airforce and just didn't leave a lot of work to start with, but then after a while, built up the teaching and the conducting and took on a few more groups and built that up so it was more of a fulltime position.
So which groups did you join when you left the Airforce?
I don't think I joined any groups again. While I was in the Airforce I was playing. So I was still playing in the Hills Music Academy while I was in the Airforce. And I had been teaching at some schools at that time, so that just continued on.
So how far back does your association with the Hills Music Academy go?
Around '83, '84. I was probably in Year 9 or Year 10. Around that time that I actually joined the band as a young clarinet player.
So, it goes back a long way?
Yes, quite a way, now.
And it had only been going three years itself, hadn't it?
Yes. 1980 it started.
So who was in the Hills Music Academy at the time? Can you describe who the people were and what they were doing?
Well there were two bands. There was the Senior Band, which was more of the adults and at that time I was coming in as a student, so I was in the younger group, or the Junior Band. The Senior Band were a lot of professional musicians like members of the Airforce Band, working teachers, etc. And the Youth Band would have been the under 19's version of the same thing, so I started off in the Youth Group and probably only just caught glimpses of the Senior Band doing their thing. So, quite a mix. Lots of students in the group that I was in, but working professionals, etc. in the Senior Band.
Who were the driving forces in that particular Academy at that stage? Was it Mike Butcher and others?
Yes, Mike Butcher ran the whole thing. His wife ran the music library. There was a committee with some parents and an Administrator, etc. Involved with the Band. Ron and Shirley Hamilton were two people that worked very hard to see the Band through. They had some of their kids come through the Band at the time, and they stayed on for many years to make sure that the Academy kept running. I think, especially in the early days, Mike Butcher wasn't all that comfortable working with committees, people trying to steer things the way they wanted when he wanted to do what he knew how to do best, obviously. So it was more run by individuals than a group of people.
What sort of venues did the Academy play in?
I can remember performing at the races at Randwick and Rosehill. That was a regular thing at the time. They used to pay community bands to come in and play. So almost every second weekend you'd be off to one of the races, and sometimes the bands would alternate and you'd get one on Saturday and another one on Sunday, etc. Manly Corso was a popular venue at the time. They used to have lots of bands in there on the weekends. Hyde Park in the city, around the Opera House, any sort of outdoor work around the place. There were plenty of places that the band performed.
So the people in the Hills Academy who were playing there, they were being paid for their services, were they?
No. The Band might have received some support from some of those performance, but the member actually paid a membership fee to be part of the group.
Doing it for the love of music?
Yes, doing it for the love of it. As a hobby sideline, if you like.
So what was the focus of the Academy in those early years? What were they hoping to achieve in terms of recognition and so on?
I'm not sure what they set out to do, but I know that competing in State and National championships was a big deal at the time. And for most of those early years the Senior Band was the National A Grade champions. So they'd travel around to all the National championships in the Capital Cities each Easter and perform, and they won most of those, they were very popular. The Youth Band, the Junior Band, also did a lot of that in the early days as well.
Did they win the National Champiomships at any time?
Yes, quite a number in those early years, yeah.
Right, excellent. Now you became an apprentice conductor with that band, didn't you? Tell me when that happened and how it happened.
That would have happened during my time in the Airforce, probably around '87. I approached the current conductor at the time, which was Karl Hammond, and I said I'd like to have a go. So, under his sort of mentorship I stood up every now and then and just took a piece, or worked on a piece with the band and he encouraged me to continue on with that and I just kept working and building and learning as I went until eventually taking over that job.
Right, and when was that, when you took over?
Just after I left the Airforce. Part of the reason of getting out of the Airforce and moving to other things was to take over the leadership of that group, and build on my other work as well.
Was Mike Butcher still involved at that stage?
No. When I first joined it was just near the end of his time. He had just been asked to go back into the Airforce after leaving years before. To go down to Melbourne and run the band down in Melbourne. He started out trying to work with our band in Sydney and then go down to Melbourne and work during the week and come back to Sydney a few times, but it didn't work out over the long term. So he left the Academy probably not long after I joined. Probably about '85, somewhere around there.
Now you rejoined the Academy after you left the Airforce. That would have been about 1992?
I left the Airforce in 1992. I had been a member of the Academy, still playing and working with them through that time...
But you became a fulltime conductor with the Academy then?
What was the assistance or recognition that the Academy received from Council at that time?
In the early days the Council supported the band by giving them the venue to rehearse in, for free. And then, obviously Councils change and the rules change, etc. Then there was a little bit of rent, then a bit more, etc. And it's changed over time. Council got the band to perform for them on numerous occasions, at various different functions. From things like Australia Day, the Orange Blossom Festival, which is the big fair/festival time around Baulkham Hills Shire. Citizenship ceremonies is the current one we do. Over the years the Council has changed focus. Rather than just giving you a venue, they would support financially a little bit, but then you'd obviously have to pay your way in rent, etc.
Right. So the Hills Music Academy, it sounds almost like a school, but it isn't really, is it?
It's not a school. I think from my memory, it was going to be set up in a way that it could develop into that if it wanted to, so I suppose that's probably where the name came from originally. But it never developed in that area, so it's just kept the name. It is a little deceiving, yes.
So it's still a group of dedicated amateurs, is it, or are there professionals, now?
There's always a bit of a mix. We have a few people who are music teachers, students studying music or studying other things. But mostly they're people who have music as a hobby. We have some people in the band who are nurses. We have a bus driver. We have a wide variety of different job descriptions in there who just enjoy playing music as a hobby.
Interesting. Now, what are some of the highlights of your time with the Academy since you got involved with them? Like what are the main venues, or prizes you have won?
There's quite a lot over a number of years. Things that spring to mind for me are some of the Band Championships that we've attended. We won the Band Championships in '99 in Sydney at Abbotsleigh, which was a very good victory for us in the B Grade division. I organised a tour to Tasmania in '99, I think it was. That was a really good trip. No, I'm sorry, it was in 2000 that we went to Tasmania. And we performed in the Championships down there and travelled around for about 10 days, I think, performing in different places in Tasmania. We make trips to the Nationals every now and again when we're up to it... we've been to Brisbane a few times. And many different venues all around - Sydney and elsewhere.
When you travel to other states, who pays for your airfares?
Generally the band just supports themselves, the band members pay their own way, or we might fund raise - sell chocolates or bulbs or something to pay our own way. Sometimes you can approach Council for some support in that area, and recently we've been able to approach other Councils as well for people who live in other areas, and ask for assistance. But generally the members do it for love, and support themselves.
So what's your present position with the Hills Academy?
I'm the Musical Director of the Academy and I conduct the bands.
Is it an onerous job? Lots of administration, and so on?
There is a fair bit of administration. We do have a committee working alongside helping out with things, but I suppose a lot of it comes down to what I want to do, and the way I want to do it, so it is more that I give it the drive and the direction, and others tag along and help out and do what they need to.
I'm very impressed by the dedication that you people have towards it because they're not professionals, most of them aren't. It must be wonderful to have such a group of volunteer musicians doing this. What is the feeling within the band about all that?
It's a fun hobby get-together. The band has developed over the years into not so much as competitive as it was originally, and more social. So we'd go out for pizza after rehearsal, or something like that. We'll organise a day when we'd go bowling. We'd go away together... we had a camp last weekend, so some of the band went away for three days and just rehearsed and did workshops and split into small groups and worked in teams, etc. Yeah, it's good. It's people who want to do it because they want to do it. There's no need for them to be there - if they don't enjoy it they leave...
Are there regular venues that you play at on particular days, or...
We do our own concerts in the Harvey Lowe Pavilion which is in the Castle Hill Showground. Harvey Lowe was a Councillor originally and Connie Lowe was a great supporter of the band over all her life, basically, that I knew her. So we regularly perform there - two or three times a year for ourselves. We will perform for Council in the Hills Centre or at Council Chambers for Citizenship ceremonies. Outdoor concerts for the Orange Blossom Festival. We do perform regularly for the Hills Relay for Life, which is (a fund raiser for) the Cancer Council . They have a big walk over two days, where you're raising money for awareness of cancer and the band performs regularly at one of their candle lighting ceremonies. And wherever we're asked to, basically.
Not so much performing. We rehearse on Friday nights in Baulkham Hills, but our concerts come up when we want to organise them... they might be a Saturday night or a Sunday afternoon. We've more recently moved to Sunday afternoon concerts, just for the availability of venues and people coming to be in the audience, etc. Other than that, as it comes up.
I believe that the Academy also plays in the City of Sydney Wind Ensemble. Is that right?
No. I perform myself in the City of Sydney Wind Ensemble. There's a few members of the Academy that are also members of that group. That's just another level of band again.
What happens on Australia Day? What's the band asked to do on that?
Over the last few years we've performed for the citizenship ceremony inside the Hills Centre. So the band will play as people come in and during the handing out of the certificates, etc. And just provide musical support for that event which Council runs. In previous years we've done outdoor entertainment performances as well, but no so much recently.
Right. Now what happens at Christmas time?
Christmas time... there's many carols events that go on around the Shire. We used to regularly play for the Bella Vista Christmas Carols, which is run by the local Lions Clubs. It got rained out last year, so we didn't get to play last year. They had to call it off because they knew the weather was just going to be attrocious for that week. Other ones come up and down. Sometimes there's one in Castle Hill that we've been asked to play in. Sometimes local churches get together and they want a band to support the carols. We've had some years when we've done none at all, and other years where we've got three or four in a row, just running from carols to carols.
OK. When you select the music that you want to play at these venues, do you do any rearrangement of the music at all? Do you do anything to it?
We try not to, as it's quite time consuming, and I don't do that sort of thing. I have to ask other peoples to give me an arrangement of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, or something like that. There's always copyright issues in music if it's current, as to whether you're allowed to arrange it without permission or needing to get permission. But if possible we try and just purchase the pre-written arrangements that are already made up for the band.
Where does the Academy practice?
We rehearse in Thompson Hall, which is a new building in Balcombe Heights Estate, just off Seven Hills Rd in Baulkham Hills. We're there on Friday nights.
Is it a good venue to rehearse in?
It's a very nice venue. It's actually the one that was rebuilt to replace the one that burnt down many years ago. So, effectively, we're in the same building that we were in since 1980. It got burnt down about 11 or 12 years ago. The back half of the building. And it took quite a number of years for the Council to get around to rebuilding and putting a new building on the site. And that's what now is called Thompson Hall and we're very happy to be in there. We have some storage set aside for us for our heavier, bigger equipment that's safe for us to put in. Yeah, it's coming there on Friday nights, pulling out the chairs, sit down and play. It's quite convenient, very good.
Right. You've had some recognition from the Council - They've made the Academy official music ambassadors to the Shire. So that must be a bit of an honour, isn't it?
Yes, it is. And it's good to be recognised by the Council for the work that we do in the Community and in the Shire. Not just training the musicians, but also in performing in the Community and playing for the Shire.
What's been your involvement with teaching music to school students?
Well, since I was in the Airforce, and probably a little bit before that as well, I have been tutoring and helping out around some of the school programs. Crestwood Public School has had a band program for very many years. It was going when I started there about 21/22 years ago, when I started tutoring, and it's one of the programs that I'm now in charge of as well. So there probably were not a lot of schools at that time, but now it's very common to find several bands at each school in the area.
So which are the regular schools that you teach at?
I run the band programs at Crestwood Public School, Matthew Pearce Public School - they're both in Baulkham Hills Shire - and King's Langley Public School, which is my local area school as well.
Right. How do you find teaching children who don't know much about music?
I enjoy it very much. It's very gratifying to be able to share a love of music with young people, especially when they've been playing for a couple of years and they're getting very proficient and they really amaze people at how great they can sound at the age of 11 and 12 playing in a large group.
It must be gratifying, sure. Did you discover any particularly gifted students?
Over the years there have been many students go through. There would be some along the way... there are a lot of people who have gone on to become music teachers and move on to do other things... go off into bands and tour around and do many things all over the place. But there's quite a number of them I would say, rather than looking at individual gifted ones, yeah.
I believe that Steve Williams was discovered amongst your students, was he?
Not so much my students. He was more in the band when I was in the band. He was a young trumpet player in the band when I joined and he sticks out particularly because he is one of the best band conductors working in Australia these days. He's the head of conducting for the Department of Education for the Performing Arts Unit, so he's a name that certainly sticks in my mind because I met him as he was probably 14, 15 years old as a child trumpet player and he's gone onto some very fantastic things.
Now, are there any benefits for school children in learning music? Are there any benefits to their other academic performance?
There are very many. Over the last hundred years or so there has been a lot of research done in the area of music education and almost all the statistical reports show that either students are better at Maths and English and Reading and Writing, etc. because of music, or the better students end up gravitating towards music. But they've taken studies where one class learns music and one class doesn't and the average scores on all their other academic work have increased for the ones that have studied music.
Right, so there's a definite benefit there?
Definite benefit. They've shown for quite a while now that learning music from a very early age, like learning piano or violin or something when you're 3 or 4 years old, starting then, helps to fix the pathways in the brain in a certain way that just enhances learning in general for the future.
Of course they say that music and mathematics go together, don't they?
They do, yes. I think so. I think, again, it's wiring the brain in a certain way that just enhances those areas, yes.
Do parents understand the value and benefits of teaching music?
Some parents do. Most of us just think it's a good thing to do, and we'd like our kids to be involved in something... it's social, it's learning, it's teamwork. It's all the good things that we really want to develop in our children. But probably we don't really understand how much benefit it does have in other areas of learning as well.
The standard of music, has that improved over recent years when you look at it overall?
Yes, I think so. Looking just in the Hills Shire, as I said, Crestwood Public School was going more than 22, 23 years ago. It has been established for a very long time. There weren't a lot of other school bands around then. When I was studying in High School, I left my school early one day a week to go and play in another High School band because there wasn't one at my school. Whereas nowdays you'd find most schools have got 2 or 3 bands at various levels, especially the Primary Schools. It's very common to find 2 or 3 bands at each school working quite hard and doing lots of really good things.
It must be gratifying that it's having such a high profile?
It is. And we do have a very great reputation in the Hills District for having some very very good bands, consistently good over many years. And there's lots of good people working in the area.
So what's the hardest thing to cope with when you're teaching music to school students?
I think trying to get across to the students - and more the parents at some times - the importance of teamwork. I always discuss with the students and the parents that in a sport team you can always get a reserve to fill in for you if you can't make it to the game, but when it comes to music there is no way to substitute someone else in your place if you're the only person playing an instrument or you've got an important part on your own, so it's important that everyone's putting in 100% effort all the time and that everybody's on deck. So that's probably the most frustrating part when people don't quite understand the importance of teamwork. But it does develop and the kids get a lot out of playing music when they do play together and can enjoy making good music together.
So, going back to the Academy now... does it put out any CDs?
No. I don't think we've actually recorded anything over many years, which is a shame - something that we'll have to rectify soon. I do have some tapes of some of our concerts from many, many years ago. We did used to put a few microphones up at our regular concerts in the Harvey Lowe so we'd have a few things on tape, but no, we haven't done anything like that in a long time.
So, how does the Academy finance the purchase of new instruments? That must be rather a big problem because things wear out, don't they?
Well the Academy doesn't own a lot of instruments as in the band - the woodwind and brass instruments. We would own a few of the bigger more expensive instruments like tubas, bassoons, things like that. And yes, they do age and they need to be replaced. But more so it's the percussion equipment - the big drums, the timpany, etc. that we need to purchase and replace. Lots of it is fundraised. We've been very fortunate recently to have some financial support from local clubs like Rotary, Lions, the Country Club in Castle Hill supported us with a new drum kit only 6, 7 months ago. And one of our local clubs put in $2,000 for a new concert bass drum a little bit over a year ago. So it does gradually turn over. We're now looking at trying to replace a set of three timpany, which is like $15,000 worth of equipment, so yes, we're on the lookout for some support in those areas as well.
I wish you luck , then.
Looking generally at music in the Shire, is there much interest from the public in music in the Baulkham Hills Shire?
I think there is. It's always difficult, most of what they see is bands getting out on Parade Day and marching down the street or supporting events, performing on a stage at Orange Blossom Festival, etc. It would be nice to see more band music, or any sort of performing music in the Hills Centre, for example with crowds of people coming to see. It's a little bit of "It's always been there, so we know that it's there, so we don't have to worry about it" sort of attitude, I think. Whereas it could certainly do with a lot more support, but there's certainly a lot happening - it's a very active area. It's just probably a matter of focussing the efforts a little bit more.
And do you have much competition from other bands in the Shire?
There's always other groups around. We have a couple of groups. Castle Hill RSL have a very big Senior and Junior band and they're probably in a lot of ways like the Hills Music Academy was in the early days - they set out to try and win championships and play very high level music, etc. I'd prefer not to look at it as competition, but we just do different things - we serve a different purpose. There's plenty of musicians in the Shire and there's lots of people who want to play so there's no need to compete as such.
Now, talking about the Academy, what are the hurdles that it has to face in the upcoming days?
Well the main focus is always making sure that the membership stays at a good level and we've got the right instruments. With community organisations, people come and go for various reasons... leaving the area, moving in, moving out, changing focus. So it's always hard when you've got not enough of one instrument and too many of another, that's always an issue trying to keep things balanced. And as we mentioned, the big thing now is trying to replace a lot of aging equipment and get the money together to get good quality equipment for everybody to use.
So how important is the Academy in the Shire's community life, would you say?
I think it's very important. We've got a lot of work to do to develop the focus in the Shire and in the community, but we do what we can when we can, working with the Historical Society. Working with the Cancer Council. Working with Baulkham Hills Council. And just trying to develop that focus and get out into the community and play because we enjoy it and it gives the community something as well.
Do you find some feedback from the community? Do you receive any accolades and so on?
Yes. It's very difficult these days to get much coverage in the press, so newspaper articles and things don't come very often any more. But yes, there's always people who saw you at this performance or heard you at this performance and come up and talk to you and talk about the band or pass new members onto you, etc.
So if you had to project yourself 10 years forward, how would you see the future of the Academy?
I think the Academy has a very bright future. We've got a lot of wonderful young musicians coming through, and even in the schools that I run I start a lot of young musicians every year. So there's a lot of people out there who can play and would love to play and enjoy themselves. So it should only go from strength to strength. And just, hopefully, we can develop a few more partnerships, get in with some funding with some local businesses, etc. And just keep developing that focus within the community.
Looks like a good future, doesn't it?
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