Residentie Orchestra trombone section in 2009 (L to R): Twan Dubbers, Arno Schipdam, Tim Dowling, Albert Zuijderduin
In 1998 I wrote an article for the Australian Trombone Education Magazine (ATEM), marking the ten years I had then spent in the Netherlands. Reading and scanning the article once again was a nostalgic moment since it brought back so many memories of my first few years here in The Netherlands, and also bought me back into contact with my 39-year-old self and my appraisal of the life that I had 16 years ago. Now as I “celebrate” 25 years of service to the Residentie Orchestra, as well as 25 years as an expat, I can look back with a lot of pleasure but also with great nostalgia for the life I left behind in Australia. I still love playing the trombone. Always have and always will! I’ve much to be grateful for. But I’ve also experienced some serious low moments in the cultural life of a complex and ever-changing political scene in this small, flat and oddly ill-at-ease country. 2013 was indeed one of the roughest years in my entire life, in which I saw 35% of my job disappear. Yet there has been much to keep me and my family buoyed up! I have a rich life of playing teaching and travel, which has been a blessing. Let’s start at the beginning, as Julie Andrews might have said!
It’s not my intention to give you a long-winded autobiography or rehash the 1998 article in any depth. All the same a short flash backwards through my 54 years of existence may be of some interest… (one hopes).
I was born in Melbourne, in May 1959. My late father was a former school teacher and church musician who was following his calling into the Anglican clergy. This meant that we moved many times as a family in my childhood, firstly in 1964 to Goulburn on my father’s mission to save the glorious but threatened organ at St Saviour’s Cathedral there, then to Wagga Wagga in 1968, and again four years later to Canberra. My parents had met in the choir of, and later married at St Peters, Eastern Hill in Melbourne (where I later returned as a member of the Elizabethan Melbourne Orchestra, now Orchestra Victoria, which rehearsed in the church hall in those days), and they were always very encouraging of my musical ambitions.
Ever since I can remember I had been enraptured by music and was desperate to learn an instrument. My first choice was already the trombone. I don’t really know why! I had seen a brass band marching with trombones at the front. Somehow the movement of the slides had impressed me, and the sound. In fact I was desperate to get my hands on one! So at the age of nine, cornet it was to be; at least until I had grown a bit. We lived in Wagga Wagga at the time, and I remember vividly my first lesson with Charlie Merritt, (a member of the church choir who was a decent trumpeter). After the unsuccessful attempt to get any sound out of the instrument at all during the lesson, I remember walking home many blocks and taking the cornet out of the case on every single street corner and trying to get the first notes to speak. By the time I got home I had played my first note. It was 46 years ago and I must have played most days since. After a while I joined the local Police Boys Club Band. In the Wagga Wagga band room lay my ultimate prize, a Boosey and Hawkes Imperial trombone, and as soon as I could get to 7th position I was allowed to switch to the trombone.
Wagga Wagga, January 1969
I’ve been so lucky to have been able to make my living from my passion for music. All through my adolescent years the trombone was my one true love… In fact almost to the exclusion of all else. Even the opposite sex had to wait! Somehow I managed to achieve a decent result at school and was able to choose any university I wished but after several years playing in the Canberra Youth Orchestra every Saturday morning, I was convinced that I wanted to study music, and if possible try to become an orchestral musician.
Canberra Youth Orchestra trombone section in Aberdeen in 1974 (L to R): Glenn Bardwell, Tim Dowling, Don Farrands, Edmund Davis
I was the only student to study HSC music at Campbell High School in Canberra, and my instrumental exam program consisted of Saint Saens’ Cavatine, Guilmant, and Hindemith. Where to study? Melbourne was the choice, and duly accepted as a student of the wonderful Roger Davies at the VCA, off I went at the age of 17 back to Melbourne with the serious intent of becoming a musician. It was the perfect place to be, under the stern, ever wise and totally committed direction of the late, great John Hopkins, and the excellent and challenging tutelage of Roger Davies. I was surrounded by so many passionate and gifted students at the VCA, many of whom remain my best friends, and with whom I have been able to spend many pleasurable professional moments in my orchestral career.