1 MAR 2018
"The music gets under your skin it’s so haunting," says Wagner devotee Dr Colleen Chesterman. "And the intellectual depth of the operas is considerable – because there are so many ways of interpreting it, it means you can have a society like ours."
Since the 1970s, Dr Chesterman, president of the Wagner Society of New South Wales, and her husband try to see a Wagner opera somewhere in the world at least once a year.
Maybe because he has his fair share of detractors, it’s hard to find a more passionate lot than Richard Wagner admirers like Dr Chesterman, pictured, who think nothing of travelling the globe to see the latest production of the composer's most famous work, The Ring.
Members of the Wagner Society NSW, of which there are around 300, get together to discuss the German composer, watch DVDs, listen to visiting experts or singers, and have a program to assist Wagnerian singers. Their newsletter includes a list, compiled by a member, of Wagner performances around the world. “That involves a lot of research,” says Dr Chesterman.
Some members have seen dozens of productions of The Ring. The Chestermans are not in that league, she says. “We haven’t seen it a huge number of times – perhaps in the low teens.”
While it’s possible to listen to music or play an instrument at home alone, music is generally a social art. It’s also a way of bringing people together, in societies and clubs, to not only listen to and play music, but also to promote it, talk about it and, in the case of endangered genres, to ensure it’s still around in the future.
Another composer with a strong following is Franz Schubert. Since 1953, the Sydney Schubert Society has been dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation of his work, and the music of his time. The emphasis is on music, with regularly staged informal concerts (Schubertiades) aimed to revive the spirit of those staged during Schubert’s lifetime.
It’s not just dead composers that have fan clubs – Sydney had its own Bob Dylan society for more than 20 years. They met every month in Chinatown; however, since the troubadour nabbed the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, things have gone strangely silent on that front.
As well as community orchestras and choirs, there are also ukulele societies, set up mainly for learning the instrument and playing with like-minded folk. The newest, Northside Ukulele Team Sydney (NUTS), guarantees “you will be among forgiving and supportive people who share your passion for” this modest little instrument. NUTS is probably the biggest ukulele club in Australia as its regular monthly meetings have an average audience of 85 to 100 people.
Talking of folk, the NSW Folk Federation “aims to present, support, encourage and collect folk music, folk dance, folklore and folk activities as they exist in Australia”. It’s a genre that doesn’t get much of a look-in via regular channels, but its importance shouldn’t be underestimated – it has influenced many of the greatest composers.
The lack of live music venues in Sydney is nothing new – people have been complaining for well over half a century. The Sydney Jazz Club (the world’s third oldest, apparently) was set up in 1953 to promote traditional jazz at a time when “venues and concerts were in decline”.
And for those who don’t want to make music themselves, there’s always the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House for a Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert – you don’t need to belong to any club to come along, but you’ll definitely be surrounded by a whole bunch of people who share your passion for great music played by one of the world’s best orchestras.
Buy tickets to watch the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform highlights from Wagner's The Ring on 14–17 March at the Sydney Opera House.