Every year on June 21, cities and towns all over France celebrate the Fete de la Musique. Amateur and professional musicians invade areas designated for the fete. It is a magical day that galvanises community spirit and showcases both the extraordinary and very ordinary musical talents that live behind closed doors in every city, suburb and town.
In 2006, my wife and I lived in Lyon, France’s third largest city, for seven months. We lived a few hundred metres from the old renaissance town, Vieux Lyon, just adjacent to the Sonne river. From mid-afternoon till about 10 at night, musicians occupied strategic doorways, corners or small squares. There were also several large stages in more open areas, each with different emphases (classical, rock/pop, jazz).
There were acapella groups, adult and children’s choirs, Django Reinhardt guitar trios, African drummers and kora players, string quartets, jazz bands, barbershop quartets, school rock bands, and bathroom baritones and sopranos. Old pianos were placed here and there, and anyone could sit and play whatever they chose.
The spirit of the event was communal and participatory, with many sounding like they’d never performed in public before. The stages hosted amateurs earlier in the program, building to name acts who volunteered their performances in the spirit of the festival.
Australia’s most loved conductor and musical educator, Richard Gill, who has died, lived two streets away from me in Stanmore. In 2016, I suggested to him that our suburb might be a great place to pilot an Australian Festival of Music with a view to getting it spreading around the country. In Stanmore (we joked that -with the addition of a full stop, it was of course Sydney’s French suburb – St.Anmoré – we have Weekly Park, three schools with extensive grounds and halls, a shopping and railway precinct, all ideal locations. He was immediately enthusiastic. “I know lots of musicians in Stanmore and the nearby suburbs. I’ll get them all behind this” he said with his irrepressible enthusiasm. I knew a few well known performers and people in Sydney radio whom I thought would love the idea. We had several conversations and a meeting where we mapped out a proposal we then floated with Marrickville Council.
But we immediately ran smack into the dead hand of form-filling and stumping up deposits. We’d need to advise every resident within a sound zone around the proposed festival boundary. Any curmudgeon who objected would see months of delay as it worked its way through Council. Without drawing breath, the officer told me we’d need the requisite number of portable toilets, public liability insurance, security staff, torturous applications for street closures and private contracted rubbish clean-up. Each of these would involve substantial time and finance that neither of us had. In our innocence we thought the council would grab it with both hands
So the idea died.
With Richard’s death, his astonishing legacy and the massive outpouring of love for him that has been seen, an annual festival of music named to honour and celebrate his love and vision for music might be a perfect, lasting tribute. It would be an apposite legacy to a remarkable man. Jacqui Smith’s phone recording of the flash mob of musicians who gathered outside his house as he lay dying inside has been seen by over 185,000 people. Richard’s life touched many thousands of people. An annual festival in his name deserves government support to make it come to life.
Simon Chapman is an emeritus professor in the School Public Health at the University of Sydney.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald