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1 July 2010

Lindsay Aked, NSW's 'Mr Chips of Music' (1930-2010)


Lindsay Aked Image: Lindsay Aked  

Music teachers come and go. Some create an impact and leave a worthy legacy; others, though competent, struggle to make a lasting impression. One distinguished teacher in the former category was Lindsay Aked. Indeed, his contribution to music placed him among the most respected members of his profession, and his lifelong love and command of the English language and poetry was just one other facet within a rich academic and professional career. He introduced the delights of good English to countless people, including the author and raconteur, Clive James. As well as being an accomplished poet himself and an art aficionado, Lindsay loved motor bikes, his long-serving VW Kombi, aeroplanes (he was a pilot), and he was essentially a practical handyman. With all these accomplishments, he was a true Renaissance Man.

I first met Lindsay Aked in 1978 - 32 years ago - when my family and I came to Sydney to begin my new post with the ABC, as its Federal Conductor-in-Residence. At the time, one of my briefs was to work closely with the NSW Department of Education's Music Section, with the object of developing the ABC's Schools Orchestral Concerts given by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the National Training Orchestra. Lindsay Aked was the Department's main contact with whom I worked, and I think our collaboration resulted in a number of improvements in School Concert presentation. From then on, the programs, instead of being a general all-purpose, all-ages, panacea-type format, became more attuned to various age groups within the school system, e.g. Years 5 and 6; 7 and 8; 10; and Electives. Additional innovations included annual, alternating Young Performer and Young Composer competitions, with a later Young Conductor category. Through all of those, many gifted students appeared with the SSO. Successful conductor, Nicholas Milton was one.

But it was as a prolific composer that Lindsay Aked will be remembered best. Over the years our friendship developed and recently, I felt honoured when he set to music some of my poetry. I felt this gesture symbolised our work together in earlier times. His prolific compositions, produced over the course of five or more decades, exemplify his natural gifts and technique as a composer, as well as his instinctive empathy with language. But perhaps more important was that this gifted composer directed his considerable talents and energy towards imparting the joys of music and the insightful secrets of fine musicianship to two generations of school children within the Public School system in NSW.

Lindsay Aked was a true 'Mr Chips of Music'. As just one instance, it was due largely to his persistence and determination that the Department's Secondary Schools' Symphony Orchestra, bands and ensembles became such successes as educational tools and springboards for aspiring players. Also, as a senior member of the NSW Education Department's Music Branch, he inspired untold thousands of school children, often through his own compositions, especially his choral song cycles. These clever creations reflected Lindsay's wit and humour, as well as his warm humanity. They were also focal points of the annual Massed Choral Festivals held in the Sydney Town Hall and Sydney Opera House.

His compositions and music teaching skills also brought the recorder into the lives of school children with enormous success. To my mind, his school responsibilities actually made him far more resourceful than many 'bigger name' composers, and his ingenuity and sheer inventiveness really worked! Although Lindsay Aked's efforts were primarily directed to students in general, his magic also touched talented ones who went on to take their place in the upper echelons of the music profession with conspicuous success. Just two examples were Paul Curtis and Alan Vivian, who later served respectively, as the SSO's Principal Flute and Principal Clarinet. But one story Lindsay loved to tell concerned another eventual ABC Principal Player.

One day, this lad wandered into the band room at one of his schools and said he'd like to join the orchestra. Lindsay asked him what instrument he played. Oh, I don't play an instrument. Well, responded the unfazed Lindsay: there's a double bass over there. Have a try at that, and see what you think. Years later that player, Stephen Martin, became the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra's Principal Double Bass and held the position for years.

The philosophy, standards and ideals of such an inspired teacher rub off on students, yet there was so much more to this man, who in his down-to-earth way, understood music better than most. What's more, he had the knack of communicating his insight and enthusiasm in the most productive and influential way. Right to the end he had a musical mind like a steel trap. Nothing escaped him. Above all, my family and I will long remember Lindsay Aked's valued friendship and presence, as doubtless, too, will the wider community in respect of his immense musical legacy.

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