In May 2022, AYO’s Momentum Ensemble embarked upon a regional tour of Victoria and New South Wales. The second stop along this tour was the town of Mallacoota in the East Gippsland region. The year before, AYO’s Operations team connected with Padma Newsome, a musician and recording artist (and AYO alumnus!) who lives in Mallacoota.
Since the firestorm in the summer of 2019/20 and the Covid-19 pandemic, Padma has worked on several community projects making music and art in recovery in Mallacoota and is an embedded researcher on this topic at ANU.
In collaboration with Padma, Momentum Ensemble took part in two activities alongside their main concert: a chamber music recital at Mallacoota District Health & Support Services, and a workshop with students at Mallacoota P-12 College. It was a wonderful experience and a privilege to bring music to this community.
Padma was kind enough to spend some time reflecting on his time with AYO as a participant and the importance of music and art in times of crisis. You can keep up with Padma’s creative endeavours and community projects here
Could you please give a brief insight into your experience with AYO when you were a participant?
AYO is: young people making great music with young people. There is no analogue to this in the professional world.
My best AYO experiences are from several National Music Camps in the mid 1970’s, playing and developing Tchaikovsky symphonies under the esteemed violist and conductor, Robert Pickler OBE (1909 – 1984) and playing and learning Bruckner symphonies under Georg Tintner CM (1917-1999). The music camps were wonderful musical-social events attended by many great young players and musician/teachers.
In 1979 as an 18-year-old viola player I travelled to mainland China with the AYO under John Hopkins AM OBE (1927-2013). This was an extraordinary trip for me. The tour was part of a cultural exchange between Australia and China and occurred very early after the Cultural Revolution.
We were the first Australian orchestra to visit China and were treated to extreme hospitality, embedded within cultural differences, language, politics, economics, food, smells, and the sounds of bustling early Modern China. The food was great, the beer less so, the Maotai a vague but fond memory. Ganbei!
We were joined along the way by several young Beijing musicians and shared the stage with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing. We were lucky to perform some modern Chinese orchestral music.
How did the Momentum Ensemble performance at Mallacoota Golf & Country Club come about?
I am not sure when this concert was first imagined, however, my first interaction was with Warren Lenthall, who emailed me in December 2021, and asked about putting on a concert in Mallacoota in late May 2022: seeking advice about best venue, contacts, those kinds of things. We spoke on the phone the next day and also discussed the prior work I had done with the MCO and the MSO after the 2019 NYE fires, and I articulated the invitation for the ensemble to be more deeply involved with the Mallacoota community in addition to their proposed concert.
Of course this was a huge favour and ended up tripling the workload: Sunday’s concert, Monday’s concert at Mallacoota District Health & Support Services and a delightful workshop/performance at Mallacoota P-12 College on Monday morning.
When it comes to visiting ensembles and individuals, I am not shy to ask for some other interface activities beyond the honour of the proposed concert or event. I believe that there are strong opportunities for what I call ‘folding over’, a deeper interface with community, whereby visitors are invited to join community in a developed form of share-making. These events are heightened musical-social occasions and are opportunities for people to share their music, their playing, and to become friends.
This is of great benefit for people who live remotely and regionally and can bring all sorts of benefit to the fore: meeting people, playing with people, hearing their stories and the music that has come from those stories: tentative musicians finding a moment to express themselves and bring music further into themselves, sharing skills and culture, making up music, learning new stuff, and much more.
When I am involved with community music, I often take a moment just after we’ve finished, speeches are done, formality over, and I turn away and listen…
I know my work is done when I can hear people laughing, talking excitedly, young voices singing and speaking to older voices, snippets of music, someone showing someone something…
These are my favourite moments.
How do you view the role of music (that could be the performance of music or consumption of music) in assisting communities during difficult times?
There is no doubt that music is a very practical, effective, and valuable mechanism of recovery, but above all that, it can transport, it can ‘while the time away’, it can make us smile, laugh, cry, evoke introspection, and it can make us want to dance. Making and sharing music is very natural, but… we were not easily making music in Mallacoota, a community in recovery from the effects of the 2019 NYE Firestorm and the extended long-term Covid-19 isolation.
Early 2020, post disaster, Mallacoota was experiencing a heightened sense of social and infrastructural disruption. The old routes were unavailable, places to meet inaccessible and social groups disrupted. It was very hard to reach out to others and it was difficult to find places to make and share music.
In my work I have been trying to achieve two main things: to bring back what was before, continuity or ongoing-ness, and to respond to community needs. In June 2020, Robin Bryant, CHIRF, (Community Health and Resilience Fund) and I established a broad delivery platform, called Ashes to Music. The share-making was free, accessible to all, and had strong links to health advice.
For many months and during the varying stages of Covid-19, we made most of our music on the sand at Bastion Point Beach with the fire damage behind us and the seascape in our eyes. I would also and we’d sit outside to sing, come rain or shine. It was difficult, and it required tenacity, and a large dose of ingenuity.
A short film shows the scene: BeachUke at Bastion Point Beach, 2020.
Post-disaster responses vary and it might be better to talk about concepts of disaster, concepts of recovery and concepts of resilience. Dancer, researcher, Susannah Keebler states, “Art and music can be therapeutic without being therapy.” (Arts Responder Check List, 2020). My research suggests that event and outcome labelling such as ‘recovery’ or ‘healing’ are unnecessary and may actually be hindrances to normative share-making.
The AYO Momentum Ensemble came to Mallacoota some two years and five months after the devastating fire ripped through the forests and streets. My aim was to bring the ensemble closer to the community and musicians, young and old.
“People with people, and people with people making art.”