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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | June 27, 2022

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Day in the Life: Enoggera Ensemble's Duncan Gardiner

Day in the Life: Enoggera Ensemble’s Duncan Gardiner
Claire Matthews

How are creatives adapting, innovating and reinventing amid COVID-19? The Creative Issue had a chat with composer, performer, educator Duncan Gardiner, from classical-folk quartet Enoggera Ensemble, to find out.

The Enoggera Ensemble recreates Australian colonial music for a modern audience, led by guitarist Duncan Gardiner with mandolinist Marissa Carrol, banjoist Joel Woods, and guitarist Dominic Ward. 

TCI: What does your daily routine look like, juggling your research, teaching, performing and composing?

Duncan Gardiner: I’m doing my doctorate, so my priority lately has been the research. I wake up at five and study for three hours, writing my thesis. Then, I take a break, do some exercise for about an hour, then hit the books again for another two-three hours. Then I’ll do about an hour or two of instrumental practise. I focus on which materials I will be performing the soonest.

After that, I’ll have students in the afternoons, four days a week. I teach all day Saturday, at the Conservatorium. Then, in the evenings I either have rehearsal with Enoggera Ensemble or Griffith Guitar Ensemble, or spend time on composition. My most recent commission was for the Classical Guitar Society in Western Australia. I pretty much worked on that every evening throughout January and February.

TCI: How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

DG: It has had a direct impact on my teaching. From last week I’ve had to, very quickly, work out how to teach online. I researched into the best method of delivering lessons online. I looked at articles, posts, videos, on how to set up a studio from home, using webcams and microphones. I’m pleased to say that I swiftly learned the ropes, and now I’ve moved my entire studio online.

The virus has also impacted on our ability to meet, to rehearse. Not only is it tricky to find spaces big enough so we can still adhere to the social distancing measures, but also some of our ensemble members don’t want to meet, because they are isolating voluntarily. I am looking into ways I can keep the ensemble community feeling like a community online. I might look into Zoom meetings, so we can kind of come together.

We’ve cancelled rehearsals and performances throughout April and May. I think it’s just touch-and-go at the minute as to what might be happening in June, July, August. Enoggera Ensemble has quite a few performances coming up, which may be in limbo. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

TCI: Tell us some of the challenges and rewards of being a composer?

DG: Mostly, it feels rewarding. I get great satisfaction out of creating something new. I used to just compose, compose, compose. Throughout my adolescence I spent every weekend and evening writing music. Even in my undergraduate, I was always composing. I just had ideas that I wanted to get on a page and perform.

Now, I fear that because I am busy with writing this thesis, that it’s sucking up all my creative ability. Since I have been merging the research and the composition, I’ve actually got unlimited ideas for new works. The inspiration comes from the history, the research.

The challenge is finding the time. If I didn’t teach or perform, I would probably devote my life to writing music, but I enjoy teaching and performing. It’s just trying to balance it all.

TCI: Where do you find inspiration for your compositions?

DG: The inspiration comes from history, especially local. I’ve carved a niche for myself in that setting. For example, I’ve composed music inspired by lakes and wetlands in Perth that were covered over in the late 1800s to build the city. I researched old newspapers to discover where the lakes used to be, and the music was a lament for the loss of the wetlands.

I was then invited by the National Trust of Australia to compose a piece of music inspired by the Colonial Cemetery in Perth. Recently, I composed a piece of music inspired by an abandoned farmhouse in Wallumbilla, near Roma, in Queensland. I went out there, gathered artefacts and took photos, and that inspired the music.

Most recently, the piece that I wrote for the Classical Guitar Society of Western Australia was inspired by a Women’s Weekly article from the 1960s, about how the guitar society in WA was established. I used those stories to inspire the music.

I’m not sure where the music comes from, it just comes from within. The catalyst for the works comes from finding something from history that resonates with me.

TCI: What is the story behind Enoggera Ensemble?

DG: I started my research in 2017, looking into the history of the guitar in Queensland, since earliest colonisation. I was organising some concerts of historical guitar music in Queensland. Looking through the newspapers from the late 1800s to the 1920s-30s, I found the guitar was often paired with other plucked instruments, like mandolin and banjo. Queensland was home to many, like 20 or 30 or more large banjo, mandolin and guitar (or BMG) clubs, mandolin orchestras, guitar ensembles, and even Hawaiian groups with ukuele.

I wanted to put on a recital of music for guitar in an ensemble setting. I knew many guitarists, and I found someone who could play the banjo and mandolin, so I gathered the group together. We just went to do one concert, but it was so successful that everyone was telling us to form an established group and keep going. So, that’s basically how it started.

TCI: What do you think of Brisbane’s classical music scene?

DG: I think it’s thriving, diverse, interesting. I’m comparing it to Perth, as that’s where I grew up. In Brisbane, I’ve noticed that we tend to get many international, touring artists. I think there’s creative young people doing interesting things as well, like supporting emerging composers. It seems really dynamic.

I am always interested in collaborating with organisations, artists, schools and youth orchestras. I welcome any people who are interested in working with me or who would like to commission me to write music inspired by their own history.

Connect with Enoggera Ensemble. Have a listen here.

If you are a musician who is struggling due to COVID-19, or a music-lover with the means to donate, please visit the sites below.

Support Act
Sound of Silence

Images: Supplied.