Stanmore Music Festival honours legendary conductor Richard Gill
by GRACE JOHNSON
The legacy of a beloved music educator, conductor and long-time inner west resident, Richard Gill AO was honoured at the Stanmore Music Festival last weekend.
The Stanmore Music Festival, which took place on Saturday 18 November, was created in his honour.
Although Gill specialised in opera, musical theatre and choral music, he believed that music should be for everyone and worked tirelessly to bring music to wider audiences. In this spirit, the Stanmore Music Festival saw numerous pop-ups along Percival Road with all kinds of genres, from choirs to rock and young folk and acapella.
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Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne said: “After Richard’s passing, I received a request from his friend and fellow Stanmore local, Simon Chapman, to work together to create a music festival in his honour.”
“Five years on, I am so pleased that the collaboration between Inner West Council, Stanmore residents, and Richard’s broad network of friends and collaborators from the music sector has created something truly special.”
Following the success of the festival, Inner West Council has now supported a proposal from Deputy Mayor and Stanmore (Damun) Ward Councillor Chloe Smith to expand this model of music in the streets to festivals right across the Inner West, which will take place throughout 2024.
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A mural of Richard Gill titled “Maestro”, by street artist Ox King, was also unveiled, honouring the conductor’s place in Stanmore and his contributions to music.
A statement by the Inner West Council described the artwork, saying: “Surrounded by the native flora of area, he is part of the street as much as he is a part of Australian music. The instruments of countless musicians are effortlessly conducted to play the songs with which he was so passionate and delighted.”
Life of the legendary conductor
Richard James Gill was born in 1941 in Eastwood. A forceful advocate for music education for children, he started his career as a high school music teacher in West Ryde and later became a staff member at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
He conducted all the major Australian opera companies, symphony and youth orchestras and conducted numerous Australian works, including many world premieres.
Gill was known as an energetic man with an infectious passion for music and education. He made music accessible to a wide audience and appeared frequently on television. One time on Q&A he disproved a claim that not everyone is inherently musical by getting the entire audience singing. The message? “Everyone can do it.”
On the television quiz show Spicks and Specks, Gill talked about the history of classical music, frequently making the audience laugh as he poked fun at composers, while dressed up as Beethoven.
He also did talks at Happiness and Its Causes and TEDxSydney about the power of music and how music makes us happy.
In 2016, Gill was appointed an Officer of the Order Australia (AO) for his services to music. His contributions to music education had already been acknowledged in 2004, when he was presented the Classical Music Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Advancement of Australian Music in Education.
His passion for music education crystallised when he studied at the Orff Institute at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg.
The institute, established by Carl Orff in 1961, focuses on each child’s individual needs and how best to nurture the musicality of each child through the elemental activities of music and movement.
Gill then worked on starting his own music-based school in Muswellbrook, about 243km north of Sydney in the Upper Hunter Region.
The school was slated to open in 2020, but officially opened to the community in March 2021. The motto of the school is Musica motuque floreamus – through music and movement let us flourish.
Gill, sadly, never got to see the opening of his school. He died of colorectal and peritoneal cancer in October, 2018.
The day before he died, more than 70 musicians gathered outside his home in Stanmore to serenade him with his favourite music, including “The Dam Busters March,” reportedly his favourite piece of music.
After Gill’s passing, music writer and critic Bernard Zuel said: “Few – maybe no one – could be said to have introduced, touched and inspired as many people with music, and his passion for it, as Richard Gill”.
We teach music because it is unique and good. We teach music so that children can make their own music. We teach music because it acts in a unique way on the heart, mind, soul and spirit of the child, stimulating thought and imagination in very special ways. These are the real reasons for teaching music. –Richard Gill AO