My parents didn’t play musical instruments but there was always something playing on the stereo, and it would be The Beatles at one time and then maybe Schubert. It was always quite eclectic.
When you are surrounded by music all hours of the day, you can’t help but have an interest. I just used to play stuff on the piano that I had heard on the telly.
The Muppets theme and the theme from M*A*S*H were my favourites when I was about eight, and I think my parents got sick of it and decided to send me to have piano lessons so they’d get to hear something different. So I started to play classical stuff.
I did things the back way around, because a lot of classically-trained piano players start when they’re five and practice eight hours a day, but I started lessons at 11, but had already been playing for years.
At school in Canberra, I also took up the bassoon and started playing in orchestras, because my school had a really big music department with lots of ensembles, bands and musicals .
I think your instrument chooses you, in a way. The piano chose me. I suppose it’s because it’s very versatile. You can play so many different styles on it. Because I like to play classical music, as well as pop and old songs of the 1930s like Noel Coward, I needed to have an instrument that I could do all those things with. I don’t quite know how Noel Coward would work on the bassoon!
After a Bachelor of Music at university in Canberra, I came to Sydney and did a Graduate Diploma in Accompaniment.
I didn’t want to be a solo piano player -“ they live lonely lives. It’s all very glamorous to be a solo pianist and go around the world playing RachmaninoffÂ concertos with orchestras, but at the end of the day, you just go back to your hotel on your own. It’s like you’re separate, even when you’re playing with 100 people. But playing chamber music or writing shows with other people, that’s different. That’s a true ensemble.
To make a living while I was studying, I worked as accompanist. One of the freelance jobs I did was with the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir. I came in and the first song that we did was called When We Are Old And Gay and I thought, I like these people. They’re sweet, and kind of camp and funny at the same time.
They offered me a job as accompanist and I stayed. That was in 1997, and then we went to Gay Games in Amsterdam 1998. I only left them in March last year – you know when its your time because they needed new blood.
I also accompany Sydney Children’s Choir. People usually say to me, Oh, children. Is that like Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree? And I say, No, it’s not, actually. The children do really extraordinary stuff -“ very contemporary, difficult music. I don’t even know adults who could do what they do.
I also perform as part of the duo, une fois seule!, which I formed a few years back with singer Nadia Piave. When I was at the Conservatorium, I was looking for a singer for a recital. I told my teacher I didn’t know who to work with. He said, You could always try Nadia. He gave me her phone number and we got together for our first rehearsal. I decided I wanted to do all these songs that were children’s songs.
She had all these ideas. She was going to make me wear pyjamas at the concert and do all these other things that I’d never thought of doing. And I thought, This could work. I’m always up for something new. And it did work. We performed in our red and green pyjamas!
Then the next year, we did a German cabaret from 1930s. I hadn’t discovered this repertoire before, and it appealed to me because there’s something dark and a bit other about it. There are also a lot of queer references in works of that time, and a lot of it is quite risqu?
We have kept doing that sort of thing, and it has evolved, and we now trust each another. We have been working together for about eight years.
For our last concert, I said to her I think we should do this Paul Simon song, and Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, and this Japanese pop song that I really like. She looked at me as if I came from another universe, but trusted me on it, and it was a hit. People came up to me and said, I never thought I would hear Japanese pop in the Government House ballroom!.
I absolutely know I will still be making music in 10 or 20 years. I can’t think for the life of me what else I would be doing. It hasn’t occurred to me that I would ever do anything different. And I’m happy with that.
Interview by Ian Gould