Music for all
By Roslyn Hames
God Save the Queen was only the beginning for local music teacher, Debbie Podbury. Now, with her mission to bring music to all, not even Debussy can stop her. Roslyn Hames drops by for a tune.
So, teacher, am I ready yet? Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes to make it? Any student who studies single-mindedly, especially in music, and dares to dream, looks to their mentor for acknowledgement, a sign that makes it real. Debbie Podbury studied piano at Sacred Hearts when she was growing up and learned music from the nuns, and her drive to know was fuelled by her obvious gift for music. Still, what might have become of Debbie if she had not been allowed to play God Saved the Queen at assembly?
‘You knew that in year seven or eight that by the time you got to year twelve you would be up there playing God Save the Queen,’ she tells the story. ‘I would often say to my teacher, "Why can’t I go up there. You keep telling me I’m the best."’ Debbie was told that she was outspoken. "Well it is not you dear, it is the Principal. You’re outspoken. She can’t leave you up there in that position. But I promise you one day before you leave, I will make sure you play God Save the Queen." Finally, it was the last day of school and I got up there, and I thought, I’m going to do my own style – Vaudeville. I knew I was going to be in trouble,’ she laughs, and then spins out a snappy rendition whilst clicking her fingers: God (snap) save (snap) our gra-cious Queen (snap, snap). ‘And then, when I had finished, the Principal walked over and said to everyone, "And that is why Debbie is only here today".
Music roared underneath and above it all. Debbie was told it didn’t matter if the Queen is coming to the school, ‘you will not miss a music lesson. If I were late for whatever reason, my teacher would go to the PA and say "Debbie Podbury we are waiting for you in the music room." She was at my wedding, and I played the music at her funeral. She was pretty much a grandmother image for my kids and me. For the people who didn’t have talent, she was a real scare. The only time she would do something to me was she would compare me to someone. And then I find out 25 years later they were doing the same thing as I was.’ When a great mentor passes on, the influence becomes keenly outlined so that pieces of life lifted to reveal construction. Still, am I good enough, teacher? Can I make the grade?
At the Melbourne Conservatory, music lost its magic in a world of ‘eat, sleep, drink music and dog eat dog. I remember being in a tute that there was this beautiful pianist who played something for us, and the lecturer said to me, "now what did you think of that", and I said that I thought it was beautiful, and he said, "Well, you’ll never make it, will you". And that was when I decided that performance is not what I want to do.’ Crushed, but undeterred in her love for music, she went on to work at Allen’s in Melbourne, where she met a primary school teacher. ‘She sold it to me, so I went on to teaching college and never looked back. That’s the age group that I really work well with.’
For Debbie to rise upon a stage and perform is something that is ‘not me’. She prefers to be amongst her audience, rather than above them. She needs to be close to make the connection and share, like playing the organ at the Anglican church - ‘I like to use my music in church. I feel that it is definitely a gift I got from God’ - or teaching children at Barwon Heads Primary School and Kindergarten. Debbie has been a vital part of the local and regional community for many years, introducing children to the joy and language of music. Her youngest pupils are part of a toddler music group. ‘I only ever had 8 at a time and I’ve had a few that have gone right through to school and they are just like putty in my hands now.’
Ultimately, music must be shared – it has taken until now to be able to share the music,’ she says, referring to her recent performance at Barwon Heads hall where she played a selection of music, including her own composition. When the day came for her to finally play, she moved her grand piano from her house around the corner so she could lift the lid for the children could see the piano working. And she placed her piano in the centre of the hall, rather than on the stage, so her audience could surround her. And at the commencement of each piece, she talked about the music and what it meant to her.
Debbie found herself with Debussy, easily painting portraits with the music. Debussy is highly interpretive and allows the classical pianist with virtuoso tendencies to splash colour across the canvas and create their own images as they play. For the lucky audience, Debbie at once danced cheekily down the keys like a monkey with the ‘Golliwog Cakewalk’, and then later touched a field of wheat with the long fingers of a waning sun with ‘Girl with the Flaxen Hair’. The afternoon was a delight.
‘I am nervous, because I don’t see myself as a performer.’ And yet she is well and truly good enough. Her objective for the afternoon was to incite discussion about a music society, or rather a society for music, for those in town, whether performers, dabblers or appreciators, who find joy in music. ‘The music society is not really mine. It is what everyone else decides it to be. I just want to see a group of people in this town who love classical music to be able to get together and see and hear music and then be able to talk about it. Who knows what is waiting.’
To find out, the society will meet the fourth Saturday of the month, after market. Contact Debbie Podbury on 5254 2757 for details of the next gathering.