Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Journalism on “our ABC.”

April 25, 2023

I’m entering grumpy old man mode. This could be part of a series.

Today the ABC runs a story under the teaser headline:

Uber, Coles and union strike deals for delivery drivers. Is the gig economy ‘going straight’?

The headline to story itself (as you will see if you click) is a bit more detailed:

Gig economy shifts as Uber takes on supermarket delivery, government pushes for minimum employment standards

But in the opening paragraph there is a reversion to the jaunty tone of the the teaser:

The gig economy — demonised for starvation wages, disempowered workers and eroding workplace rights — might be growing up. 

Then again, it might not be. Joellen Riley [as was, but now] Munton is a bit more sanguine about that.

But I’m still fascinated by the framing. Another obvious way of asking the original question is: “Is the ‘straight’ economy going gig?” And a supplementary: “Why are we letting it?”

From my piano

April 19, 2023

It is time to have my piano tuned. I’m waiting to hear back from the tuner.

Meanwhile, I’m putting away the sheet music which was piled on top of it and on the music desk. This is what was there:

  1. Schubert, Wanderer Fantasie
  2. Brahms Fantasien Op 116
  3. Gershwin preludes
  4. Shostavovich preludes op 34
  5. Brahms Schumann-Variationen Op 9
  6. Bach, assorted incl Italian Concerto, French overture and Goldberg Variations
  7. Mendelssohn, Songs without words
  8. Liszt, Twenty Piano Transcriptions
  9. Liszt Years of Pilgrimage 2nd year

Notes on each, respectively:

  1. Liszt edition from Con library with fingerings provided by him.  I love the bit where the first movement dissolves into the song but the figuration afterwards in the slow movement is a slog so far beyond me.  Any attempt by me at the last movement will never get me past bangy desperation.  I find I can pleasurably hop and skip along in the Scherzo even if at quite an objectively sedate pace.
  2. Played 3 and 6 as a teenager and others later.  Not sure why I got the music out. Possibly to check a detail in No 3 which subject to inaccuracies creeping in I find I can still play through “by heart.”
  3. Most recently fashioned a “Happy Birthday” variation emerging from Prelude No 3 (the e flat minor one) on the occasion of D’s birthday.
  4. Bought in1988 after hearing Lazar Berman play a selection or possibly the whole set.  Learnt some then (1,2,10,14-17, 24) with P (now my Australia-ensemble-going companion).  This year learnt No 5.
  5. The Brahms/Schumann variations have featured previously in this blog (1) (2). Last year I committed them to memory (though this is already fading in a way which Brahms Op 116 No 3 has not after many more years) and was glad to be able to play them through twice during exequies for R, husband of E, my former high school music teacher.  The set still constitutes my primary pianistic obsession.  The generally acknowledged favourite variation is No 14.  Jx, D’s 20-year-old grand nephew, who has been staying with us since the beginning of March, asked what it was when I had been playing it and looked it up on his device.  (Other piece so requested by him was Voi che sapete after a little Alberti doodling on my part segued into an approximation.) I also find No 4 (pictured above: the Allegro capriccioso at the bottom is for the next variation – see and hear here at 4:03) particularly poignant/wistful – both the tune and its accompaniment which manages to have a strumming feel whilst, for me, conjuring up the world of the cimbalon – which is contrary to reason in that the cimbalon, like the piano, is played with hammers, so any “strumming” must be entirely metaphorical.
  6. In lockdown I learnt quite a few of the variations. They are engrossing. Sustained playing of them becomes an immersion in G major, notwithstanding the G minor and E minor spells. I am far from the only person to have thought of tackling these during the recent great disruption – a bit like packing “War and Peace” when embarking on a long sea voyage. I have been following a youtube project by one “Dudadius,” a self-described “reasonably competent pianist.” Right now he is up to No 24, though the pace has been slackening.  Inspired by his latest instalments I had the music out again with a view to tackling the remaining unlearnt variations as an antidote to or at least sorbet between the rather glutinous romantic works I have lately been playing and a shift of the dial from the Brahms/Schumann F# minor.
  7. Loved these as a child/teenager but other than the ones imprinted on me by learning them at an impressionable age now find them emotionally unrewarding.  Not for the reasons claimed by Wagner, but (I suspect) because Mendelssohn’s aesthetic was formed in Berlin and did not really receive the influence of Beethoven.  (Schumann, on the other hand…).
  8. Great Art Nouveau NY edition.  I like to think of this as the Central European [transplanted] Songbook.  Includes 5 Schubert songs and a number of other total obscurities.  Most recently assayed: Schumann Fruhlingsnacht and Wagner Spinnerlied (from Flying Dutchman).  Rigoletto paraphrase quite beyond me but fun to pick through the easier bits.
  9. This is the easiest volume of the Years of Pilgrimage, the perelinage is to Italy.  I have never got into Il Penseroso and will never be able to play After a Lecture on Dante though it is fun occasionally to tackle certain passages.  I have been playing the Petrarch sonnets possibly too much lately.  The last section of Sonnet 104 (No 6) can be turned into a variation on Happy Birthday.  D’s favourite from this volume is No 3, the Canzonetta of Salvator Rosa.  We have long sung it when on jaunty expeditions.  If D is within earshot I only have to play the little A major flourish in the introduction pictured below (assume bass clef and A major key signature) to provoke him into launching into the verse.  One day we have to get him the words.


February 2, 2023

Today, at the funeral of George Pell, Tony Abbott is reported as saying that Pell was “made a scapegoat for the church itself.”

Maybe, but I reckon Pell did a bit of scapegoating himself (unless you consider that he was not responsible for the actions of others answerable to him) in the treatment of long time director of music at St Mary’s Cathedral, David Russell.

At the library 2

January 26, 2023

I am in Canberra just now. The library is closed for a public holiday as per the above screen shot. If you click through on the “Learn more” link you will eventually find out what holiday it is.


November 27, 2022

I was in a tight spot, on my hands and knees in my friend X’s bedroom, when I saw the bookmark.

“I [heart] books,” it read.

I laughed.

I was there because X, who is some years older than I, had lost their glasses.  They must have slipped somewhere behind or beneath X’s bed.  I had offered to go round and retrieve them.

At the point when I spotted the bookmark, I was vacuuming around and under the bed prior to peering beneath and behind it with the assistance of a handy bicycle headlight which I use as a compact torch.

I spotted the glasses but after I had vacuumed under the bed the pile of the carpet obscured my view.  The glasses were lying flat at an angle which resisted my attempts to coax them out with the aid of a “grabber” stick.  The obvious solution was to move the bed away from the wall.

Which brings us back to the books.  X must have thousands of them, far exceeding any available shelf space. 

I had already had to move some away to get a good angle to look under and behind the bed.  The bed was effectively wedged in by books and I would have to remove these to move the bed.

The problem was, where to put them?  Attempts to shift them to the top of teetering columns of books just led to further bookslides.  Eventually I gave up and piled them on the bed.

The glasses were retrieved, the bed moved back.  But where to put the books on the bed?

I suggested to X that we might make available some cubic space by disposing of various stacks of magazines and other printed matter.  Somewhat to my surprise, X embraced this proposal, and was soon on a roll.  I filled up a whole yellow-topped wheelie recycling bin (it started off empty), almost entirely with material from the bedroom (the other stuff came from the bathroom).  I could only just wheel the bin back to its proper place.  Glossy paper is very heavy.

Stable spots were found for the books heaped on the bed, though without much regard to any system other than their size and shape. The volume of matter disposed of exceeded that of the relocated books so the net result was also an improvement in access, as well as the removal of a not insignificant amount of dust and fluff.

I left exhausted, but also more than a bit self-satisfied with a good deed well done.  The situation reminded me of the mystery first encountered in my childhood, probably when I was aged about ten or eleven.  Our family lived in and out of the house of another family a few doors away and they in and out of ours.  The mystery was that I could quite enjoy helping my friend tidy up her bedroom when we were sent there together by her mother and charged with the task, even though my own room at home languished in a far worse state and I would definitely not have welcomed a similar command from my mother.

Meanwhile, while he still sallies forth for other items, D’s forays to salvage a free replacement TV have come to an end. None of the four TVs he sourced was adequate, for one reason or another.  D bought a factory second which may or may not prove satisfactory.  We now have five surplus large flat-screen TVs, or maybe four and a half if (as I would prefer) our original TV could be repaired (I prefer its picture to the new one, which feels more like an enormous computer monitor than a TV).

I also have more books than shelf-space, and plenty of other superfluous stuff.

Mote: beam.


October 19, 2022

As Adam Bandt would say, “Google it!”

On Saturday to the SOH to hear the Sydney Symphony, conducted by Pietari Inkinen.

On the way in the town was abuzz at the end of a rare fine day.  The warning was that wet weather would soon be setting in again.  Carpe diem!  At Circular Quay shorts-and-t-shirt-clad day-revellers crossed paths with those headed out for the evening, generally a bit better wrapped-up.

The program was:

RAVEL La valse
RAVEL Piano Concerto in G (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, soloist)
CHLOÉ CHARODY My Australia (50 Fanfares Commission)
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique

These days I’m a bit ambivalent about the Symphony fantastique, especially in prospect.  Am I too old for it?  Is it already irretrievably consigned to the museum of adolescent enthusiasms?  As Gordon Kerry put it in his program note, referring to Harriet Smithson, “Reader, she married him.”  As adults, we know that this didn’t work out so well.   Otherwise, it is a question as to whether the (ooh, naughty!) opium-attributed March to the Scaffold and Witches’ Sabbath can arouse the same excitement they did when one was aged about fifteen.

Happily, these misgivings proved to be misplaced.  It was a cracking performance.  We even had an ophicleide (Nick Byrne) though only one, which meant that its distinctive tone was at some points masked by the more common tuba.  I also liked the way that, when Shefali Pryor left to play the off-stage oboe, David Elton (principal trumpet) moved a row forward into her place to form part of the dance band for the ball scene (it’s actually a cornet obbligato – a bit of a thing).

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet gave a great performance of the Ravel concerto, which also is a bit of a woodwind showpiece.  Famously, it starts with a percussion slap.  In the last movement there is another slap, which comes just after a solo passage.  Flamboyantly, Bavouzet spun away from the keyboard and clapped his own hands.  At interval afterwards I still didn’t quite believe what I thought I’d seen.  “Did he really clap his hands?” I asked a friend at interval as we took in the harbour view from the northern balcony, now very accessible via the tunnel which runs through from just outside door 13. “Yes, he did!” confirmed a total stranger likewise enjoying the fresh air.

Encore was Debussy, L’isle Joyeux, generous if not a patch on C Tiberghien playing all of Gaspard de la nuit back in 2007.  (CT’s coming back next year to play the Ravel left hand concerto.)

As for the other two items, La Valse was a high-octane curtain raiser.  The double bass opening especially benefited by the improved acoustic. “My Australia” was agreeable if also corny/Korn[gold]y. The program notes told us nothing in advance about the music and all about Charody’s involvement in various circus projects which makes me think the conspicuous triviality was part of the aesthetic. Traces also of John Williams. If you are in that territory that’s a difficult influence to escape. Even if you weren’t thinking of JW at all, your audience probably will be.

Comprehensive review in Limelight by Phil Scott (and a bit fairer than I have been to Charody in the above) here.

Somewhere in my computer are a number of still-born posts about my other visits to the Concert Hall since its re-opening in July.  A combination of Simone Young hitting the ground running as chief conductor of the SSO and the revelatory impact of the new acoustic has imparted a buzz.  To this I should probably add my own rediscovery of the excitement of live performance and a crowd of people gathered to enjoy it after the recent years of relative deprivation.  Maybe before the great shut down I had unwittingly become a bit blasé about that.

There may also have been a bit of a turnover in the audience.  A friend who sits in the rear stalls keyboard side tells me that he has sensed an absence this year of what he terms “the diaspora” – meaning Jewish people (mostly in their eighties and older).  I myself wonder if, as well as the habit-breaking effects of the shut-down, Frank Lowy’s Aliyah has had something to do with this.

So far the concert which made the greatest impression on me was Simone Young conducting the Eroica and Javier Peranes playing the third piano concerto, with Brett Dean’s Testament as a kind of Beethoven-ward pendent. 

There was a spectacular French horn moment in the Eroica. “Wow!” I thought,  “I’ve never heard that bit like that before.  This acoustic is really fantastic!”

Later I checked the list of musicians.  “Guest principal horn” was Stefan Dohr, which was probably also a factor. (He will be back next year to play the Strauss second concerto.)

On the verge of a nervous breakdown

October 16, 2022

Hopefully that’s an exaggeration.  But definitely the verge has got a lot to do with it.

Alternative title: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

“Don’t tell people we pick up things from the street!” D said to me the other day.  “Other people won’t understand.”

Fortunately this blog is pseudonymous, if not really anonymous for determined doxxers.

We have plenty of things found on the street in our house.  Twenty years ago, when we moved to Perth and found a house in an area in the throes of an annual hard-rubbish collection, we practically furnished it from the street, and we didn’t even have a car to pick things up.  D managed to hitch a (found) trolley to the back of his bike to take bulkier items.

Recently, D has latched onto a facebook group devoted to tip-offs about items abandoned on the street. 

As D is not very confident about his navigational skills, I am a necessary participant.  It’s all a bit like being stationed at Biggin Hill in the blitz.  The call to scramble can come at any time.  You can imagine the recriminations if we get somewhere only to find the desired object has already been taken.

We’ve driven to Enmore for a worm farm and Tempe for a double-barrelled compost tumbler.

On our back lawn four found chairs now surround a wonky table which we were given to go with the worm farm.  One more thing (well, five more actually) to move before mowing.

Then something went wrong with the HDMI inputs to our TV.  D is a great TV fan and the TV also serves as a big screen for his laptop on which he watches all sorts of online material.

A whole flat had been emptied at Hurlstone Park and we recovered a 55 inch TV.  D had to take the back off that in order to attach a replacement power cord as the ubiquitous electric cord scavengers (who ruthlessly and selfishly in my opinion cut the flex off otherwise likely as-not functioning appliances) had already struck. 

Unfortunately, you need a remote to unleash the full range of functions of this TV.  D has ordered one online.  Meanwhile D found another TV about the same size .

Together with the one-metre square coffee table we collected from Annandale (handsome but too large for the space available) and our original TV or a similar size, our living room is now jampacked.

Not everything comes from facebook.  A few weeks ago we brought home one of those enormous folding clothes racks which are particularly usefull if you need to dry things flat.  It was a bit broken in one joint, but D was able to effect a satisfactory jury rig.  Then he found two more, so now we have three.

I keep hoping we will reach peak scavenging.  On Friday I drove D to an appointment in nearby Campsie.  He was running late, but not too late to command that I stop when he spotted one of those rather attractive folding ladders sitting on a street corner.  I backed up.  D looked around for an owner but, finding none, had it in the car quickly enough.

In the remaining minute or so before I dropped D at his destination, I was instructed to return and leave a note giving D’s mobile number and inviting the true owner to call him. (Call it a retrospective scruple.)

It was but a short drive back, where I immediately clocked a tallish bloke in blue overalls on his mobile phone.  “Are you looking for anything?” I asked.  “A ladder.”  As I could now see from the insignia on his overalls, he was a council inspector of some sort – there was some building rubbish on the verge and this may have been what he was investigating.  I doubt if a private tradesman would have been quite so relaxed about leaving his ladder unattended.   Obviously he was happy to see it again and took my explanation in good sport.

Today D enlisted me on an expedition to Redfern and then Summer Hill in search of other items.  We were there too late.

D is sure that “professionals” are swooping before he can get there.  We know such people exist because you can see them out in force in more prosperous areas which still run periodic general hard rubbish clearups.  Why should they not also be scanning the facebook page?

Of course D also blamed me for not scrambling quickly enough.  He has declared that in future he will just go on his own.  I hope he keeps to his word.


At which point I was interrupted. We have just been to Hurlstone Park for a “reproduction antique” desk. The discarding couple came out to speak to us – they are getting ready for a move but in fact the desk came from a storage facility that the man had been cleaning out this morning. The woman told us it was her first move-out-of-home desk. It didn’t quite fit fit in our car though if we’d had ropes I wouldn’t have put it past D to work something out. The man kindly brought it back to our place on his roof rack..

Number Nine Number Nine

August 3, 2022

On Sunday before last, having learnt that my neighbour at the SSO concert the Thursday before that had been suffering from covid, I was not optimistic about my own prospects.

On Monday I took a PCR test for which on Tuesday I received a positive result.  A mandated 7 days’ isolation at home ensued.

But how to isolate from D?

As it happened, uncharacteristically sunny weather allowed us to keep the house open and well ventilated.  I kept to my bedroom or the “study room” (this is D’s term: a translation from the Chinese: 书房; the piano is also there) and kept excursions to common areas to a minimum.  We ate apart.  D reverted to sleeping in his own bedroom rather than (as is his wont) the living room.  I used the outside facilities.  We no longer shared the bathwater.  (Usually I go first because I am fatter and like hotter water; D goes second because he likes a much longer bath.)  TMI?

Cut off from the world and each other, it was a strange time.

The seven days (now more) up, D seems to have survived unscathed.

Meanwhile, left to my own devices, I had a breakthrough playing Brahms’ Variations Op 9 on a theme by [Robert] Schumann.  The Variations are part of a famous story. In June 1853, Clara presented Robert with her own set of variations (op 20) on the same theme, No 4 from Schumann’s Bunte Blätter Op. 99 .  When Brahms sent his set of variations to Clara next June, Robert was already in Endenich.

Brahms’ variation 9 adopts the key and figuration of another work in Bunte Blätter, Albumblätter II.

The edition I play from suggests by fingering indications that the moto perpetuo semiquaver triplets be redistributed between the hands so that sometimes (not always – the suggestion is not maintained for the middle section) the first note of the bar is played in the left hand. After the first bar this is done by playing the first note of the bar as the last of a descending group of 4 notes.

I’ve been playing this piece, on and off, for more than twenty years.  My breakthrough was to realise that I could practise the triplets in three different ways, with the accent falling on the first (the normal way), second or third triplet.  I also rethought the fingering of the third last bar which has its own moment of cross-rhythm over a contrary motion broken arpeggio.

It didn’t have to be fast to be quite engrossing.  And soon it was even quite fast, at least compared to what it was.

There’s still one other passage in these variations which I expect always to need to work on.

At the library

July 5, 2022

Sent to me by a friend.

Our brush with history

June 24, 2022

It was just before 7pm last night.  “I’m going to the library,” I said to D.  “Are you coming?”

For some reason D likes to come on these little excursions with me. 

I had two reserved books to pick up at Marrickville Library.  The library shuts at 7.30pm, so this was a trip in the car. We got there at about 7.15pm. Time enough, if not much to spare.

Usually at such an hour you can park with ease right in front on Marrickville Road.  This time, there were no spots to be had.  There was curb space a bit further down just in front of the fire station (pictured above) and Marrickville Town Hall (to its right) and I pulled in there.  D hopped into the driver’s seat and I headed back on foot to the library.

I noticed a few people talking to each other outside the Town Hall.

I borrowed my books.  This didn’t take long.  By the time I came out of the library D had found a spot in the carpark for St Brigid’s Church across the road from the library.  The church and school were all shut up and quiet.

“There must be something on at Marrickville Town Hall,” I said to D.  D was doubtful but it seemed that now we were out and about on foot he was keen to make something more of our being there.  We decided to go and see.

The street was very quiet.  There was no longer anybody standing around at the front of the hall. As we got closer we could see the lights were on and we could see a bit of action in the kitchens.  “Maybe it’s a private function” said D.

The doors were open and we went in through the empty vestibule.

I opened the double doors to the hall itself.  It was a magical moment – a bit like a surprise birthday party, a Thomas the Rhymer or Venusberg moment, or (odd literary memory to surface and I haven’t checked if it is accurate) the assembly of rebel animals in Prince Caspian.  The hall was full of people. At the far end on the stage facing us was Anthony Albanese giving a speech!

It turns out this was a civic reception put on by Inner West Council for AA as the new prime minister.  I guess you had to know about it.  We just got lucky.

There was food.  For free!  I made a beeline for that while the speech continued.

At the end of his speech, Mr Albanese did his selfie thing.  We are in this picture – D thinks we are the two figures just in front of the rear door. I think we might be closer to the food [back left in the picture].

I found the bar.  The drinks were free as well.  Mr Albanese came down to the floor of the hall and circulated, at first followed by a bunch of media.   After they left you could still spot AA by the clump of people waiting to speak to him. 

Not that there was much of an opportunity to speak.  There was a band and it started playing.  I had been minded to get close enough to put in a word for Julian Assange but I soon gave up on that. 

Politicians no longer have to improvise anything much by way of small talk when they “press the flesh.”  A joint selfie does the trick.  The AA caravan meandered round the room in a kind of slow Brownian motion of mobile-phone photo opportunities.

Last year we were walking near Marrickville Golf Club on a Sunday afternoon when we spotted AA.  He was alone, on his mobile phone (of course), accompanied by his (now but not at that stage so famous) dog.  My usual rule with famous people encountered on the street is to give them a break.  D did not share my reserve and went up and offered generic words of support.  D was pleased to commemorate that with a couple of phone pix, one of which he posted to Facebook.  The picture was almost deleted when Labor voted for Morrison’s religious discrimination bill in the Reps and against the Green amendments (at D’s insistence we joined a small crowd of very unhappy transgender people shouting rude slogans that Saturday outside AA’s electoral office) but it survived when, as things turned out, AA was saved by the bell and the “Christian” Lobby’s dummy-spit.

D got into the spirit of things and sought out AA.  D was a bit miffed when AA insisted on taking the requisite selfie (on D’s phone) himself.  It came out a bit blurry.

If that’s the biggest disappointment we face with the new government we’ll be doing well.

Postscript: topical reference at the fire station (spotted that night; I took this picture by daylight on a subsequent trip to the library):