Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellowship

It is a huge honour, surprise & delight to have been awarded the inaugural Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellowship, announced at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on 7 October 2015.  The application process was rigorous, and the quality of applications from emerging NSW musicians was surely very high; this must have been a difficult decision for the panel.  I would like to offer sincere thanks to the adjudicators, to Arts NSW, and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for recognising the potential in the program I proposed, and greatly look forward to making this a reality in 2016.

Peter Sculthorpe, as I knew him.

This news is quite bittersweet  – for this award to exist, Peter is gone.  I want to acknowledge Peter’s lifelong contribution as a composer and academic who broadened the possibilities for Australian music, and importantly also his influence on the music community as a teacher, friend, counsel, and inspiration to many, continuing far beyond their student years.

I was lucky enough to know Peter quite well and work closely with him.  While I hadn’t ever studied with Peter, I was employed as his music assistant for a number of years, working at his home studio most Thursdays, starting in 2005 when I was 24 years old, he 76.

We gradually formed a special connection, but in the flurry of tasks at hand this wasn’t something we had time to reflect on together. I was touched to see this one day in writing:

Peggy Polias who typesets my music studied with Anne Boyd, Matthew Hindson and John Peterson, all of whom were students of mine, so she’s like my spiritual granddaughter. This connection is very special.
– Julian Day in Limelight Magazine (May 2013), Peter Sculthorpe: The Sound of Home

As such I laboured over whether or not to apply for the Fellowship, and in my application invited the panel to disqualify me if it was felt I was “too close” to be considered.  I didn’t take the application process lightly, nor do I now take the responsibilities in the coming year lightly: to work hard as a composer, push my craft to the next level, to get out there and “get amongst it,” especially after hibernating somewhat as a new mother in 2013-2014.

I’m determined to do Peter – and the people around me – proud.  I learnt so much from Peter about the day-to-day realities of being a composer: whether in the primary role of delivering score and parts to make sure he met a commission deadline, filing and maintaining his sizeable archive of past works, helping to find just the right word for some urgent correspondence, or showing up to work to be unexpectedly asked to re-tune the television or take Peter shirt shopping.  This was someone who maintained creative focus by inviting others to help relieve him of the distractions of daily life.  At the same time, Peter readily offered support to the people around him – a sympathetic ear and some well-timed and sensible advice, and the ability to steer people in discovering their own potential and become sure of their own voice.

What an individual artist could do with this kind of support.

In 2015, at the federal level of politics, we’ve seen George Brandis’s proposal of a National Program for Excellence in the Arts, which his successor Mitch Fifield looks to be proceeding with in some form.  This would redirect a significant portion of funding away from the Australia Council for the Arts, and the original brief specifically excluded individual artists from seeking support from the NPEA as they are able to from the Australia Council.  In the light of this, I commend the decision by the NSW Government to establish the Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellowship, alongside various other major grants offered to individual artists.

It’s important to reflect that an opportunity such as this will allow me to support the work of many other musicians. My proposed program is as follows:

  1. To record an existing workPicnic at Hanging Rock Suite (2009) – for digital release, in partnership with Kammerklang.  It is likely that several pianists will be engaged to record this 12-movement, 45-minute work.
  2. To compose a new workHive, for clarinet, viola and keyboards (piano/synth/laptop) – workshopped and developed closely with The Nano Symphony.  I plan to compose 20-30 minutes of music which can be presented incrementally throughout 2016, and hopefully work towards a live performance and/or recording in the later part of the year.
  3. Professional development – Some time and funds will be allocated to develop the Making Waves listening project begun in January 2015 with Melbourne-based co-curator Lisa Cheney.  We hope to meet properly for the first time (as we have been working together remotely for all of 2015!), to brainstorm intensively and explore the various possibilities for Making Waves in 2016 and beyond.  Also, I’m enrolling in various short courses/workshops (on matters as varied as copyright, music business, social media, and/or audio/electronic music) to polish and broaden my skills in a number of professional areas.

So, directly or indirectly, the fellowship will not only support my own work, but in fact the great portion of it will be invested in the activities and expertise of instrumentalists, producers, piano tuners, venues, other early-career composers, students, educators and organisations facilitating workshops.

Watch this space! I take a great interest in the possibilities for composed music in the online space, and for live documentation of one’s artistic processes. Much of the journey of 2016 as Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellow will be documented here on the blog, and hopefully readers can also benefit from the stories, musical adventures and knowledge shared.

4 thoughts on “Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellowship

  1. Anne Boyd says:

    Beautifully observed and written. Such an accurate portrait of our beloved Peter. He would be thrilled to know that his ‘spiritual granddaughter’ was the first recipient of this Award. He would also have loved the inclusiveness of your program. Thanks for sharing this Peggy. May the years ahead be especially blessed ❤️🎼🎶🎻🎺👏🏽

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