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HomeLifestyleEvents and ExhibitionsYoung Balgowlah musician in Opera House concert celebrating pioneering Aboriginal activist

Young Balgowlah musician in Opera House concert celebrating pioneering Aboriginal activist

Northern Beaches musician Jack Peggie, a former St Luke’s school student, has been selected to perform in the orchestral concert Ngapa William Cooper at Canberra’s Llewellyn Hall and Sydney Opera House on 9 – 10 July.

Jack, a member of the Australian Youth Orchestra (AYO) since 2021, is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who is studying a Masters of Percussion at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The 24-year-old also performs with Salut! Baroque.

Salut! Baroque is a chamber orchestra of up to 12 members that celebrates Baroque music – post-Renaissance classical music composed between 1600 – 1750 – and has released 10 albums of music.

Jack Peggie

Manly Observer caught up with the Balgowlah prodigy.

At what age did he discover his talent for music?

“I started playing the saxophone when I was in year 3 in my primary school band in conjunction with some piano,” he revealed.

“It wasn’t until my early high school years that I realised I had a real passion for music. It was around this time that I started to explore more classical repertoire which became more prominent as I progressed through my AMEB [Australian Music Examinations Board] grades on the saxophone and started studying with Christina Leonard [one of Australia’s leading saxophonists who performs with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra] who really inspired me to explore this music.

“Because the saxophone is not traditionally in the orchestra I picked up the bassoon specifically so I could join an orchestra. I received a lot of great opportunities through the Sydney Youth Orchestras and the Northern Sydney Symphonic Wind Ensemble and I studied with Matthew Wilkie who at the time was the principal bassoonist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

“I remember thinking a lot about my career choices in year 12 at St Lukes and the conclusion I reached was that I wouldn’t be happy if music was not a part of my future.

“I remember thinking a lot about my career choices in year 12 at St Lukes and the conclusion I reached was that I wouldn’t be happy if music was not a part of my future. So I went to great lengths to ensure it would be and that I would play music for a living.”

Ngapa William Cooper – concert writers Nigel Westlake, Lou Bennet and Lior.

He continued, “I didn’t pick up percussion until I was about 19 and I had already started studying my undergraduate degree in composition. It was at this point that I decided that percussion was definitely the instrument for me and I transferred to a percussion degree when I was 20.”

Cooper Concert

Jack will be playing timpani in the Ngapa William Cooper concert, which celebrates the life of Uncle William Cooper, an Aboriginal activist who, in 1938, led the Australian Aborigines’ League through the streets of Melbourne in the only non-Jewish protest worldwide against the Hitler’s Nazi regime’s pogroms against Jews in Germany.

William Cooper was a mobilising force for the rights of Indigenous Australians, decades before they were acknowledged as full citizens and given the right to vote in elections in 1962.

In 1936 the 75-year-old Cooper co-founded the Australian Aborigines’ League, which, on the 150th anniversary of the First Fleet’s landing (26 January 1938), held an ‘Aboriginal Day of Mourning’. Cooper and the League’s advocacy directly inspired the annual NAIDOC Week, (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples).

The Ngapa William Cooper concert coincides with the 2023 NAIDOC week and is performed in English and Yorta Yorta, Cooper’s native language.

Will Jack be playing other percussion instruments in the Opera House performance?

“For this concert my duties as principal timpani have me strictly playing the timpani for this program,” he said, “but my colleagues in the percussion section will be playing a huge variety of instruments; more so than a traditional orchestral concert.

“These pieces call for up to five percussion players (in addition to myself on timpani) and feature a huge array of percussion instruments. Each percussion player might play 8 – 10 instruments in a single piece. These instruments range from marimba, crash cymbals and tubular bells in addition some other exciting instruments such as the waterphone, gum leaves and I’m relatively certain there’s an EDM [electronic dance music] track to be played in this piece too.”

William Cooper (1937), Secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League, Sept 1933 – Feb 1941.

Creative compositions

Jack is also a composer, and he told Manly Observer he has written some incidental music based on Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, a competition composition for a guitar quintet, and various other pieces.

“A lot of what I write comes from extra-musical ideas and part of the fun for me as a composer is to either enhance or conjure these ideas in my music as convincingly as possible.”

Does he write Baroque-influenced pieces for Salut! Baroque, or compositions to play with other musicians?

“At the moment a lot of what I write is very much for my own enjoyment. I originally came from a saxophone background and a lot of my earlier compositions were for saxophone quartet. Now that I play percussion I’m now looking for avenues to write more percussion music.

“This is really exciting because there isn’t a huge volume of standard repertoire for percussion. Four-mallet marimba is still very much in its infancy compared to the violin which has hundreds of years’ worth of repertoire written for it.

“Whilst we [classical music lovers] play a lot of transcriptions of violin or cello music (Bach tends to come up quite a lot) it would be great if the library of marimba and percussion music could continue to increase in future. I would love to make my own contribution to this by writing my own music for this or arranging pieces by the great composers into interesting percussion combinations.”

Rehearsals for the Ngapa William Cooper concert. Photo: supplied

What other concerts has he performed with AYO (which he joined in April 2021 for their National Music Camp in Melbourne)?

“This year, in April, I had the privilege of playing timpani in Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony in Perth, which is one of the most exciting timpani parts ever written. During the symphony Shostakovich spells out his name in musical notation, D, Es, C, H, (which correspond to the musical notes D, Eb, C and B).

“At the end of symphony the timpani enters quite obtrusively with these notes as they are repeated over and over again in quick succession. It is a fiery display of the virtuosic quality of the timpani and provides a fierce conclusion to a symphony which explores very dark themes about Shostakovich’s experiences in the Soviet Union under Stalin.”

Jack enthused about his participation in the forthcoming Australian Youth Orchestra concert at the Sydney Opera House on July 10.

“I really encourage people to attend the concert. The repertoire is really unique, dramatic and exciting and the flagship work of this program Ngapa William Cooper is based on really interesting and relevant events in our nation’s and world history.

“If you’re a fan of all things percussion this concert will blow you away with its vast array of instruments and colours…”

The concert, composed and written by Nigel Westlake, Lior and Lou Bennett, includes three works: The Glass Soldier, (from the play dedicated to Nelson Ferguson, a WW1 veteran and artist); Beneath the Waves, from the movie Blueback, adapted from Tim Winton’s 1997 novel; and the main production, Ngapa William Cooper.

Ngapa William Cooper

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Monday 10 July at 8pm. Tickets: https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/classical-music/ngapa-william-cooper

 

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