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Hear Canberra’s Secret Jewel

Catherine Russell

We are what we listen to and what we don’t.

It’s one of those go-to questions on any dating site: ‘What type of music do you enjoy?’ and there is good reason for asking it. Imagine your favourite movie without a soundtrack or your life without a single piece of music.

The sounds we profess to love conjures up a mental stereotype.

Country: all boots and twang, Heavy Metal: black t-shirts, long hair and loud music, Pop: a kind of ditzy dancing teen or a mum in a mini van; Retro: a tragic who may still have shoulder pads; Jazz: a wine/latte sipping former hipster and classical tweed jacket wearing academic type.

Yet ask someone the more direct question “What is your favourite song or piece of music?”, take the time to listen and you’ll immediately open a window to their soul.

“We played this at our wedding,” “This was the piece my team sung at the top of our lungs after we won the grandfinal” “We chose this for his funeral because he was always whistling it” “It reminds me of …”

Each piece is a reflection of the human experience of love, of loss, of hope and joy, of beauty and betrayal, of quiet reflection or commemoration of a connection or a boisterous celebration.


This emotional imprint is within any genre, it transcends time and this is the appeal of listening to the symphony (minus the tweed jacket) and sharing that with someone special. It is the reason I took my six year old along to hear the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. I wanted to open the door to exquisite time travel and give her the opportunity to hear the emotional currents inspired by a time we will never know. I wanted her to see another human being share a gift with an audience for accomplished musicians should be as celebrated as our professional athletes as their game is to play what has been played before – a unique challenge in itself. And we, in Canberra, are lucky to have a secret jewel in the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, with principal musicians that are in demand throughout the world.

Just this month, principal trumpet Rainer Saville was approached to join the New York Philharmonic and violist Alexina Hawkins to join the German Chamber Orchestra. It is this calibre of musician which this week reimagined Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor.

It may never have occurred to Jean Sibelius that this piece would be played to a full house in Llewellyn Hall on the other side of the world, in another century, creating a moment in time where a silent audience shared the experience of human talent and layers of emotional expression gifted to us 110 years before. Miss Six enjoyed it and it was memorable listening in wonder to the violinist as he lured and lulled the audience through to interval and us into the pathway of a young usher – a composer by day.

“Perhaps one day this hall will be filled with your music,” I gestured and he sheepishly nodded. I hope we will. Music in all its forms is not necessary for survival or reproduction but it is part of the pleasure of being alive and is now being seen as just as therapeutic for depression and anxiety as exercise. Music is the opportunity to know that what we feel in this moment has been felt before and to signal, through the talents of those that are not yet born, that we are not alone in the way we feel.

That is why music speaks to all of us, sometimes without saying a word. The symphony is an experience to share, on a date, an opportunity to hear something new or to introduce a child to a wealth of gifts they play throughout their life.

To find out more about the upcoming concerts, educational programs and the brilliant musicians of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra visit their website.

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell is enthralled by public affairs in Canberra and the world at large; the issues that impact people from all walks of life; start memorable dinner party debates; fuel politics; create our advocates; and drive social media commentary. Consultant, mother and partner Catherine presents the HerCanberra perspective on the headlines. More about the Author

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