PAUL Dyer may have won many awards for his talents, but there is one occasion that sticks out in his memory.
“Ruby Rose was giving me the award,” he said, referring to one of the five times won an ARIA Award for Best Classical Album.
The two then had a chat about pop music meeting classical, which Dyer was delighted about — it has always been his passion to make classical music as accessible as possible.
This year marks the 25th year of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO), which Dyer founded with general manager Bruce Applebaum in 1990. Dyer was only 24 at the time, relatively fresh from finishing his studies at both the Sydney Conervotorium of Music and then the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague.
The idea to create Australia’s first professional baroque music orchestra playing instruments of that period came to him as he was on a plane from The Netherlands, heading home for his sister’s wedding. He realised Australia had not yet caught up with the US and Europe in establishing a market for baroque music, and he felt he could capitilise on that.
“So we launched it in the Sydney Opera House in the Concert Hall, which was scary in itself, to walk out on the stage of one of the most iconic buildings in the world for music,” Dyer said.
He went on to say he was so nervous during that performance he felt like his knees were about buckle in and make him collapse.
“Looking back, there were a few stage entries for me that were really, really important. My first concert in the Sydney Opera House, how I walked on stage for a final bow, the whole of the Sydney Opera House stood, it was packed,” he said.
“I walked off stage and I collapsed,” he added, laughing.
Since that concert, the ABO has built a subscription audience of over 35,000, and its musicians hail from all around Australia. Dyer highlighted the diversity within his orchestra — a mix of straight, gay and lesbian musicians.
“I’m really proud of that,” he said.
While it is based in Sydney, the ABO often tours Australia. It has also performed in some of the most iconic concert halls worldwide, but Dyer said it was touring regional and rural Australia that has been most worthwhile.
“I love going into country towns and taking music there,” he said.
“That’s my role in life, to bring happiness to people through baroque music. That’s my joy.
“People love [baroque classical] music because it’s engergising, it’s shorter, it’s not long, panned-out music.
“I also wanted to make it passionate, because I’m a passionate man.”
Dyer said throughout his career, he has been lucky to have not experienced any major obstacles just because he is gay — something he never takes for granted.
“I’ve been able to just be Paul, Paul Dyer. No labels. I’m not afraid to be who I am when I am on stage,” he said.
He admits that working in the generally-accepting arts industry may have made that easier, but this didn’t mean his coming out journey was smooth.
The middle child of three, Dyer grew up on Sydney’s north shore and attended St Ignatius Riverview, a school run by Catholic Jesuits.
“I knew the whole indoctrination of people’s thoughts… and that made me sad because not only was I oppressed, I was scared, and I was frieghtened,” he recalled.
“I also was not truthful to my parents.”
Dyer said that “everyone knew” about him at work and in his social life, but it wasn’t until his 30s that he worked up the courage to come out to his parents.
“It was due to religious pressures of being Roman Catholic, but it wasn’t them, it was me,” he said.
“There were a few wonderful moments when I got my parents together where I said ‘I’ve got something to tell you’. My mother was worried because she thought I had a terminal illness or something, so I said, ‘I’ve got two things to tell you: the first one is that I am happy, I’m a really happy man and I didn’t have a choice in the matter’.
“I didn’t say ‘gay’, because gay to them had a different meaning, the traditional meaning of the word.
“My mother then turned to my father and said: ‘Darling, your genes’,” Dyer added, laughing.
“My father was the quiet reserved one, and he went to the local library and got a book called homosexuality.
“So, I came out in my 30s but there was no drama.”
Dyer counts Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and SBS managing director Michael Ebeid as some of his friends, and like them, he has used his position to advocate for LGBTI rights and visibility.
“I feel like there’s a hedge, and we’re all running towards the hedge, and we’re just about to jump over the hedge,” he said.
“What I mean by that is that I think it’s heading in the right direction.
“There are more and more people like myself — and even people who identify as ordinary Australians — who are able to be advocates in all parts of our society and say ‘it’s okay to be who you are’.”
**This story was first published in the June edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.