Good Reading : October 2009
Acouple of years ago Craig Munro, writer and for mer editor for the University of Queensland Press, went to a Souther n Cross Soloists concert. Afterwards, artistic director and clarinettist, Paul Dean, started chatting to Craig about literature in general, and the merits of David Malouf 's novel Johnno, in particular. A day or so later, Dean rang Craig to suggest that he help curate a series of concerts celebrating the intersection between the written word and music, to explore questions such as: How do words and music relate to each other? What are the ways in which literature, poetry and music can connect? 'We both wanted to showcase Queensland writers like Jessica Anderson and David Malouf, and I was keen on the idea,' says Craig. The series of concerts debuted last year and was named Music and Words, presenting poetry, literature or non- fiction as well as musical perfor mances in one program. This year's series began in April, with David Malouf reading extracts from his memoir 12 Edmondstone Street. After each reading audiences listened to wester n-European repertoire including the music of Ravel and Debussy. The connection here was that Malouf 's family had originally come from Europe. For Craig Munro, music has a strong emotional pull and writers like Malouf and Judith Wright manifest an equivalent intensity. 'Putting these art for ms together deepens the impact,' says Craig, adding that Queensland's 150th anniversary shaped the content for this year's program. The second concert this year was held in September, and featured vivid accounts of early expeditions, the new convict settlements and the brutality experienced at penal colonies such as Moreton Bay. In between these historical snatches recited by actress Carol Burns, the crowd heard several rare folk songs that Paul found in the State Library collections. Queensland's State Librarian, Lea Giles-Peters, is thrilled that the series is being presented at the library. She says, 'I think it's an amazing concept and obviously on the money for our purposes. Events involving literature, poetry, history or music draw together different audiences.' The final perfor mance of last year was also memorable. Twenty- three Queensland composers were commissioned to write a one-minute interlude inspired by Samuel Wagan Watson's book of poetry Smoke Encrypted Whispers. After a reading from each poem in the book, the Southern Cross Soloists responded with one of these interludes that mirrored the words. About this occasion Lea says, 'I was rapt, the music enriched the words and the text brought new meaning to the music. It was a heart-war ming occasion ... the crowd was keenly interested to hear how the various composers had interpreted Watson's prose.' For bestselling Queensland author Nick Earls, writing is often an aural experience. 'I can't write a new character until I hear them speak,' he says. 'If words are on the page I'm conscious of sounds as well as images.' In the November event, Earls will read from his novel Bachelor Kisses and each extract will be followed by one of Debussy's songs from Ariettes oubliées, which are set to the words of the 19th- century poet Paul Verlaine. When Earls was writing Bachelor Kisses, he listened repeatedly to a CD of Debussy's piano music -- part of his research for the character of hospital registrar, Marlon de Lisle, who frequently sits down to play Debussy's piano pieces. Nick is always glad to be involved in a project that pushes him into unfamiliar ter ritory. With this ensemble at the helm, he will get exactly the kind of artistic challenge he craves. In the second half of this program, an adventurous work by minimalist composer Stuart Greenbaum is to be premiered. The inspiration for this work stems from one of Earls's favourite short stories, All Those Ways of Leaving from the compilation of his work, Headgames. In this piece, Earls reads a section of the story and this is followed by a musical passage. The alternating pattern of text and music is repeated several times but, at a certain cue, Earls's reading fuses with the music. Combined in this way the text becomes just another strand in the composition's texture and Earls must read with rhythmical precision to keep in step with the musicians. 'Greenbaum's atmospheric sound world really captures the story's wistful mood,' he says. The final Music and Words concert for 2009 will be held at the State Library of Queensland on 29 November. 52 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2009 fully booked rhythm + melody GILLIAN WILLS talks to Paul Dean from the Southern Cross Soloists and finds out what happens when you combine a passion for literature with a passion for music.