Despite the challenges of the past year, communities in Canberra have been staying connected and supporting local artists through a growing program of chamber music salons facilitated by Musica Viva. Thanks to the initiative of Canberra couple Richard and Judith Manning, and the support of their community, Musica Viva has been able to present a number of intimate chamber music salons at the Goodwin Retirement Village in Crace, ACT, for residents and their guests.

After relocating to Canberra from their home on the Central Coast of NSW last year, Richard and Judith were seeking ways to connect with their local community. Fortuitously, the couple participated in a webinar facilitated by the University of the Third Age (U3A) where Musica Viva ACT Manager Christina Cook, spoke in her capacity as representative of the Arts about the effects of Covid-19 on the industry. In these discussions, Christina referenced the ways in which Musica Viva was supporting Australian artists through the pandemic, in particular by means of small chamber music concerts being hosted in Canberra homes thanks to the altruistic vision of a generous benefactor.

Inspired by this idea, Richard and Judith contacted Musica Viva about the possibility of donating funds for a Salon at their new home, as a pre-Christmas gift to their community and a way of bringing people together. Delighted to be able to facilitate this generosity which aligned so well with the organisation’s vision of making chamber music accessible to all people regardless of circumstance or location, Musica Viva set about bringing music into their home, and arranged for Musica Viva In Schools ensemble Dr Stovepipe, to perform a special program tailored to the residents’ musical preferences.

The response to this first Salon was enormously positive, with guests thrilled at being able to share in the joy of live performance. As one happy audience member put it, “I want to tell you once again how much I enjoyed our first Musica Viva concert. It is great to hear some classical music in person, as opposed to radio! Nothing like a live performance is there?”

Such was the success of the initiative, that Richard and Judith decided to take things one step further by proposing concertgoers form a collective to fund a series of salons throughout the year. The response was overwhelming. After mooting the idea to the community by email late one night, Richard recalls that by the time he woke the next morning, there were already enough responses from residents to underwrite the project.

Thanks to this generous grassroots funding, Musica Viva has used the unique opportunity to put together a package of seasonal Salons for Goodwin Village at Crace – a model which Musica Viva hopes to be able to refine and facilitate on a broader scale in future. The most recent Salon provided additional artist support for the saxophone and guitar ensemble, Duo Histoire, by linking the Salon in with their regional concert touring schedule. The event quickly sold out with every spare seat at Goodwin village being used, and guests being treated to a thrilling combination of musical influences from Argentinian tango to Bossa Nova to Classical repertoire. “The Duo were terrific, and I do love Piazzolla,” said one audience member, and another commenting after the performance, “We really enjoyed the recital and thank you for having us as your guests. Almost as impressive as the music was the event’s organisation.”

As concert activity has grown, so have the aspirations of the Village community. Recognising the various benefits a piano could provide for residents, in consultation with the Village manager, Leanne Thompson, Judith and Richard approached the Goodwin Sales Officer. Their idea was that it might be possible to locate a suitable piano that needed a good home from among prospective new residents. Amazingly, two days later, and in another altruistic piece to the puzzle, their call was answered. A new Goodwin resident who had to downsize generously offered a five-year loan of their 1896 Bechstein grand piano while it awaits re-housing with other family members. Goodwin Aged Care Services have agreed to take responsibility for the instrument whilst it is in their care, and it now sits proudly in the Lifestyle Centre Lounge ready to be enjoyed by one and all.

The piano will also feature in the next Salon with gifted pianist and local Canberra resident, Edward Neeman, performing a rich program of Romantic music to highlight the instrument’s particular antique sonorities. The program promises to be a delight and something which the community is keenly anticipating: “could I say how much I enjoyed Sunday’s concert and really looking forward to the next one” and another guest commenting, “The Concert was a great success, and I am sure you will get even more annual subscriptions. Looking forward to the Winter Concert in June.”

It is heartening to see the positive ripple effect that Richard and Judith’s first generous gesture have had on the Goodwin residents in Crace and wider Canberra. What began as a small seed of an idea planted during the pandemic, has now grown and flourished into a venture connecting the community through the power of music. Long may it continue!