Listening Back exhibition and symposium at the Conservatorium Library

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music Library is currently hosting a new exhibition, Listening Back, that highlights the works of past and present students.

Centring on historical Conservatorium staff members Cyril Monk and Phyllis McDonald as well as student Patrick Moore MacMahon ‘The Flying Fiddler’, Listening Back is comprised of relics and resources that reveal information about the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s significant history.

Curated by violinist and PhD student Julia Russoniello in collaboration with artist Victoria Monk (who is related to featured violinist Cyril Monk), the show features various ephemera that give voices to long forgotten echoes from the Conservatorium of Music’s past. The exhibition celebrates the deep, rich history of the Conservatorium with a familial touch.  

This exhibition will be celebrated with a launch event on Friday 15 September, where Julia Russoniello and Victoria Monk will activate the research exhibition through a symposia on the works of Cyril Monk and his peers, Victoria’s memories of her grandfather and her creative process in creating the exhibited sculptures, and Julia will play excerpts from Monk’s historical music scores on violin to reimagine his musical works.

Listening Back will run from 10 August – 6 October 2023 at the the Conservatorium of Music Library. 

Sculptures of three renowned female musicians on display 

The sculptures of three renowned female musicians are now on display at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Made of ceramic, brass and other elements by Sydney-based artist Anna-Wili Highfield, the sculptures depict Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO, Hildegard von Bingen and Nina Simone.  

The sculptures are located in the Library at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which is open to the public on Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm.  

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO 
b. Yuin Country (Nowra), 1964 

Deboarh Cheetham Fraillon AO describes herself as a “21st century urban woman who is Yorta Yorta by birth, stolen generation by government policy, soprano by diligence, composer by necessity and lesbian by practice.” 

Professor Cheetham Fraillon is the inaugural Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies, joining the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 2023. A graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium, she has forged a dynamic and trail-blazing career as a multi award-winning composer, soprano, academic and activist.  

Her operas, ballet and orchestral works have been commissioned by Australia’s major companies. She was appointed Composer in Residence with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2020 and First Nations Creative Chair in 2021.  

Professor Cheetham Fraillon has established several flagship companies and projects devoted to the development of Indigenous voices in the performing arts. These include Short Black Opera, Dhungala Children’s Choir, One Day in January and Ensemble Dutala.  

She is the first Indigenous composer in this country to write an opera, Pecan Summer (2010), and the first Indigenous person given the honour of ‘Chief of Parade’ at the Sydney Mardi Gras, leading the Dykes on Bikes in full leathers in 2006.  

Her pioneering, innovative leadership and distinguished service in the arts was recognised with her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours. 

Professor Cheetham Fraillon is the first subject of the three busts made by sculptor Anna-Wili Highfield. This bust was commissioned by the Composing Women group on the initiative of Bree van Reyk and presented to the University of Sydney Library in March 2021 in a gesture of ‘gift activism’. 

At our first meeting in person Deborah presented ochres from Mt Gulaga as a gift to her portrait.  These precious ochres, ground from the rocks of the mountain now colour her ceramic form. The possum pelt that lines the inside of her head was also chosen by Deborah as a material to symbolise and celebrate her First Nations identity. Framing her face is the shape of a collar inspired by one of her gowns, this is for Deborah the diva, a powerful soprano and magnificent presence on stage.

Anna-Wili Highfield, sculptor 

Read more about Deboarh Cheetham Fraillon AO on ABC News and hear her music on ABC Classic

Hildegard von Bingen 

Hildegard von Bingen was a visionary 12th-century Benedictine abbess, visionary and polymath, who was chosen for this sculpture to reflect the legacy of women composers who were also nuns. She is one the first identifiable composers by name in the Western Art Music tradition. 

The contradiction that she represents—a woman presiding over the earliest stages of the male-dominated Western canon—has had a galvanic effect on contemporary female composers, who see in her the shape of sound to come.

Alex Ross, The New Yorker 

Hildegard von Bingen’s accomplishments included her composition of Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (a cycle of 77 sacred songs pushing the boundaries of Gregorian chant); three major volumes of writing: Scivias, Book of Life’s Merits and Book of Divine Works; a medical treatise Causes and Cures; a discourse on science and healing Physica; and a musical morality play Ordo Virtutum. Her legacy also includes hundreds of letters in correspondence with popes, emperors, and religious leaders.  

She is also known for her invented language Lingua Ignota or ‘Unknown Tongue’ which she used in her writing and compositions.  

Her face is open for the mystic and visionary she was. She wears gold leaf like armour, as a radical activist within the church. Inside her head is sage. Hildegard was a herbalist and said that sage was for the voice.

Anna-Wili Highfield, sculptor 

This artwork was commissioned by the University of Sydney Library on the advice of Composing Women.

Nina Simone 

Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon) is one of the most extraordinary and iconic artists of the twentieth century – she was a singer, pianist, songwriter and civil rights activist.  

Simone released the quintessential protest song Mississippi Goddam in 1964 in reaction to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama and the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Other classic releases included My Baby Just Cares for Me; I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free; Sinnerman; I Put a Spell on You; Feeling Good; Four Women; I Ain’t Got No/ I Got Life; To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Baltimore. Simone published her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You in 1991. 

She said ‘an artist’s duty is to reflect the times’ and famously, ‘I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear’. 

Simone took up the classical piano at the age of 6 and specialised in playing the works of J.S. Bach. She earned a scholarship for a one-year program at the Juilliard School in New York. She also auditioned for the Curtis Institute of Music who denied her admission which she later understood to be due to racism. The Institute later awarded her an Honorary Doctorate in music and humanities in 2003 (two days before her death).  

In 2008, Rolling Stone named Simone to its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and, in 2018, Simone was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Ebony piano keys make up her hair. She was a classical and jazz pianist, composing, songwriting and performing at the piano. Hair was often in her lyrics, referencing her race and pride but also as a motif for difference and racism. In Nina’s eyes I placed diamonds, for the diva and for the woman with a vision. The vintage diamonds were given by Liza Lim, composer and integral person in this project. Nina’s face is ceramic mixed with iron oxide; iron and oxygen represent strength and life.  

Anna-Wili Highfield, sculptor

Commissioned by the University of Sydney Library on the advice of Composing Women. 

‘I Conduct, Therefore I Am’ Research Exhibition

Illustrations by Maggie McMahon

9 August – 9 October | Conservatorium of Music Library 

Playing on René Descartes famous expression ‘I think, therefore I am’, Nicky Gluch’s PhD research contemplates what it means to be a conductor. 

Gluch explores this question by interrogating the influence of Descartes’ philosophy on Western society alongside the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, opening up an alternate way of thinking about the relationship between the mind and body, and leaders and followers. The aim of Gluch’s work is to show that leadership does not need to be hierarchical but can rather be relational – an idea of relevance both on and off the podium.

A challenge of theoretical research is that it is often highly conceptual and as such Gluch commissioned illustrator Maggie McMahon to depict 10 key concepts from her work. These illustrations encapsulate five themes, paired with five figures, to tell a story about music leadership:

  • Text Descartes
  • Breath  Adam (Genesis)
  • Bodies Felix Mendelssohn
  • Space Richard Wagner
  • Unity Spinoza.

The five figures will be brought to life with examples of scores and other texts from the Library and Rare Books & Special Collections. 

Learn more about Nicky’s research through this recent article published in Fine Music Magazine, July 2022

You can also be part of the conversation about what it means to be a conductor by following #sydneyconresearch #orchestralconductor through August and September 2022.

A selection of illustrations by Maggie McMahon

Exhibition Talk with Illustrator
Maggie McMahon

The Conservatorium of Music Library hosted a conversation between Nicky Gluch and illustrator Maggie McMahon to discuss how Nicky’s research was translated into these illustrations for the exhibition.

You can watch the entire conversation on the Library’s Instagram Live here.

Ripple Effect Band: Music from the Top End

On stage at Darwin Festival with Dr. Shellie Morris, August 2020. Photo Credit: Benjamin Warlngundu Ellis

29 March –29 May 2020 | Conservatorium of Music Library 

Be inspired by the music of the Indigenous all-women rock band
Ripple Effect from West Arnhem community.

Join us to explore the research of PhD Candidate, Jodie Kell and the role of women in music-making and the dynamics of gender in music performance. The Ripple Effect Band is an all-woman band from Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The exhibition documents their musical journey from their album recording at the Conservatorium in 2018, and how this relates to Jodie’s PhD research and thesis: Ngarra-ngúddjeya Ngúrra-mala: Expressions of Identity in the Songs of the Ripple Effect Band. Through photographs, scores, videos including a performance with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra and more, you are sure to be inspired by the diversity of their new musical works.

Performing at the Maningrida AFL Grand Final in 2019. Original band members L-R:
Tara Rostron, Jolene Lawrence, Rona Lawrence, Stephanie James (drums), Rachel Thomas,
Marita Wilton, Jodie Kell. Photo Credit: Tanja Bruckner

Whether you’re a researcher in music, language, Indigenous studies and gender studies or just enjoy Australian music, we look forward to seeing you at the exhibition. You are invited to join the conversation about Jodie’s research on Twitter.

Image above: Performing at the Maningrida AFL Grand Final in 2019. Original band members L-R: Tara Rostron, Jolene Lawrence, Rona Lawrence, Stephanie James (drums), Rachel Thomas, Marita Wilton, Jodie Kell. Photo Credit: Tanja Bruckner

Visit the Ripple Effect Band’s website and explore all their fascinating music and media!

Ripple Effect Media

Live Performance at Alice Springs Bush band 2018
Education resource for young children – Nabárrdja (The Little Crab) 

‘Ripple Effect’ – Event launch

The exhibition will have a launch on Tuesday, 19 April 2022 at 3pm, as part of the SCM Research Day.
A performance will be held by band members, Jodie Kell and Tara Rostron.

Light refreshments will be provided for in-person attendance; for catering purposes, in-person attendees must register by Friday, 8 April 2022.

Please register through Eventbrite via the link below.

Australian Piano Music 1850-1950. Our Cultural Legacy Exhibition

Australian Piano music is Associate Professsor, Dr Jeanell Carrigan’s ongoing research area and this exhibition coincides with the publication of her new e-book, Australian Piano music from 1850-1950. A performer’s guide, which includes published piano music examples with recordings.

The exhibition includes newly published piano music scores written by Meta Overman, Iris de Cairos Rego, Una Bourne and more, as well as CD covers.


Join us for our exhibition opening event

Date: Wednesday 7 August 2019

Time: 3:00pm

Location: Conservatorium Library

Register your attendance online

You can also visit the ‘Australian Piano Music 1850-1950. Our Cultural Legacy ’ Exhibition 5 August – 5 October 2019.

Listen to recordings from the exhibition on Dr Jeanelle’s website
(if required, select ‘advanced’ & ‘proceed’ to be redirected to the site) or visit Dr Jeanelle’s researcher profile page.


Visited this exhibition? We would love your feedback in this short survey.

Rising from the East: Opera in China Exhibition

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music Library presents PhD candidate, Jing Cai’s research exhibition: Rising from the East: Opera in China.

The exhibition showcases an operatic snapshot of China today; in particular how Chinese practitioners revive western classical operas and invent new contemporary Chinese operas.

The exhibition will feature three key themes: reviving western operas in contemporary featuring: Turandot, Die Fledermaus, Rigoletto, Aida and Der Fliegende Holländer; Chinese New Commission – Jinsha River composed by LEI Lei; Operatic Data and the NCPA.

When: 27 March – 27 May 2019

Where: Sydney Conservatorium of Music Library

Cost: Free

For more information on the Exhibition launch,
Wednesday 27 March 2:00pm, visit the Sydney Conservatorium of Music website