NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Vale Richard Gill AO

In late October we heard the sad news that conductor, composer and Sydney Conservatorium educator Richard Gill passed away. We thank Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney for their kind permission to share their moving acknowledgement of the contribution that he made to Australian music. 

A lifetime championing music education

Maestro Richard Gill has passed away at the age of 76, leaving behind a legacy of contribution to Australian orchestras, choirs, opera and music education.

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music community mourns the loss of celebrated conductor, composer and educator Richard Gill AO. On Saturday 28 October, over 70 musicians, including many from the Conservatorium, gathered on the street outside his inner-west home to perform his favourite song, The Dam Busters March. Richard passed away the following day.

“It is with great sadness that our musical community has heard of the passing of Richard Gill,” Conservatorium Head of School and Dean, Professor Anna Reid stated. “There is not a staff member, student or musician from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music that has not had a stunning and positive musical encounter with him.”

Richard came to music later than most, taking his first piano lesson at 13. After deciding to pursue ambitions to become a concert pianist, he auditioned for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music only to be told he needed to complete Grade 6 theory before he would be considered. He did it, and this time he got in.

“It was like mecca; the Conservatorium was the ultimate in music training,” he told the ABC.

“My first day there was truly amazing, I had my lesson at two o’clock with Dallas Haslam, who was a fantastic teacher and that was truly one of the most terrifying experiences in my life. At six o’clock we had choir and we did the Plague Chorus from Handel’s Israel in Egypt. I had never held a piece of choral music in my hand before … all my music had been learned by ear … so that was my first sight-reading lesson.”

After graduating with a music education degree in the early 1960s, he went on to study at the Orff Institute of the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He then returned to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music from 1975 to 1982 to teach, leaving many within Australia’s music community with fond memories of their time as his student.

“I always considered him the best teacher I had when I was a student – without him I would never have been able to walk in two, clap in three, move my head in five, and sing in solfege all at the same time,” Professor Anna Reid said.  

She continued, “We have all experienced his passion for music and education and he has formed us into who we are today.”

He went on to become one of Australia’s leading authorities in the Orff Schulwerk method of music education. Richard believed all children should have access to music education and championed this teaching philosophy, which breaks down the barriers between learning and play.

Among many other significant leadership positions, Richard was made Dean of the Western Australian Conservatorium of Music in 1984 and Director of Chorus for Opera Australia in 1990. He founded Victorian Opera in 2005 and in 2014 he was appointed as Musical Director of Sydney Chamber Choir.

Richard Gill has gifted generations of musicians with his infectious passion, and the Conservatorium endeavours to continue supporting his vision for all children to have the opportunity to learn from a qualified music teacher. 

“We can only give our thanks for the time we have had with him and celebrate the simply incalculable contribution he has made to music,” Professor Reid said.

Reproduced with permission from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney. (https://sydney.edu.au/music/news-and-events/2018/10/30/vale-richard-gill-oam.html)

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