Go-it-alone Judith’s musical feast

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JUDITH Clingan has been in Canberra for 50 years, so she’s throwing a party – a three-day feast of music and culture.

Judith Clingan… After a thunderous silence from the Centenary of Canberra, she decided to go it on her own.
Judith Clingan… After a thunderous silence from the Centenary of Canberra, she decided to go it on her own.
Inspired by composer William Byrd’s assertion that “singing is so good a thing… I wish all men would learn to sing,” she’s packing the three days with exhibits, small concerts, workshops and talks and three nights with concerts of 700 years of Western music, Christmas music from the last 50 years and music by Australians, including local composers Stefanos Malikides, Liam Waterford and David Cassat.

Who in Canberra doesn’t know Clingan? As the founder of the Canberra Children’s Choir, the Summer Music Schools for Children, Gaudeamus, Voicebox Youth Opera, The Wayfarers, Imagine Music Theatre and The Variables, she’s written the music for her operas, made and painted the sets, conducted the choruses and the instrumentalists and sent out the publicity. In fact, when it comes to music, there is little Clingan hasn’t done, and she’s involved the community.

She’s been noticed, too, honoured as a Churchill Fellow, Australia Council Composer Fellow, ANU Creative Arts Fellow, artsACT Creative Artists Fellow and Artist of the Year.

I caught up with her last week commanding a team of volunteers laying out visual memorabilia for the coming show.

It tickles Clingan to think that her time in Canberra is exactly half that of Canberra’s official age.

Imbued with a love of choirs from her time at Hornsby Girls’ High, she arrived with her family in 1963 and headed for the ANU to study French, German, English, and Icelandic literature and joined other choir lovers, including Prof Hans Kuhn, who’s still singing.

Then, one day “someone” turned up at her dad’s bookshop in the Monaro Mall and instructed: “You sing, come to a meeting”.

Soon SCUNA, the ANU Choral Society, was born and Clingan began to compose works for the choir and to conduct them – somebody had to.

She also started a children’s choir.

She sang, played around on the recorder and after joining the teaching profession, insinuated herself into every school choir she could.

Clingan studied bassoon at Canberra School of Music and with composer-musicians Donald Hollier and Larry Sitsky.

It wasn’t enough. She headed to Hungary with her young daughter to take out a diploma at the Zoltan Kodaly Pedagogical Institute of Music.

Back in Canberra, figuring she could “get to kids through drama,” a huge outpouring of operatic composition followed, including her seminal works “Nganbra: a Canberra canticle,” her 1988 tribute to the original inhabitants of this region and “The Grandfather Clock,” based on a book by Anthony Hill, which she workshopped for years and eventually staged in 2001-2.

After a thunderous silence from the Centenary of Canberra, to whom she had pitched the idea of an augmented revival of “Nganbra” at Tidbinbilla for the 50th/100th anniversary, she decided to go it on her own.

Initially, she thought to focus on her own portraits of Canberra music-makers, but that has expanded to become a mixture of exhibition, concerts and workshops bearing intriguing titles such as “Voice Workshop for Anxious Singers” with tenor Chris Lincoln-Bogg.

“I’m just doing it,” Clingan says defiantly.

“So Good a Thing: Judy Clingan Remembers 50 years of music in Canberra”, Albert Hall, 10am-10pm, Thursday, December 17 to Saturday, December 19. Tickets at the door, bookings and all program details at judithclingan.net.au.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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