A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

What would Peggy do?



Portrait by Joyce McGrath

The New Music Network presented their annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address last Monday, given, this year, by clarinettist, festival director and deep thinker Nicole Canham. Canham has just been awarded a doctorate from Queensland University. As someone who’s grappling with academic research at the moment, all I can say is, it shows. The pressure to think inside the box, ring-fencing a wild party of ideas within a fully-referenced framework is something all research students have to deal with. That Canham articulates a keen self-awareness of this pull between chaos and structure, creativity and productivity is probably no coincidence, but a triumph nevertheless. Her entrance, for example, was via a hole ripped in a billowing silk parachute, on which there were projections of art works. Holding a clarinet. (Of course. One expects no less of a New Music Network event.) Followed by a closely argued, cogent address which kept a room of smart people frowning and blinking and, occasionally, shifting uncomfortably as they listened to ideas which they didn’t necessarily want to hear.

Peggy would have been delighted.

She would also have been delighted at the announcement of Jon Rose as Peggy Glanville-Hicks Fellow for 2017. Rose is a composer, a performer, an inventor… He plays and thinks and thinks and plays. He is, in fact, just the kind of character that Canham defends in her address. A renegade. A maverick. Someone who doesn’t address key performance indicators, doesn’t fit the relevant criteria and doesn’t measure their output in sales. But is nevertheless quite brilliant at simply being an artist. And if I interpreted Canham  correctly, that’s the crux of what she thinks Peggy would have us foster. It’s not about doing art, or writing words or producing products, but being an artist.

Someone else who is brilliant is lawyer Shane Simpson, who has chaired the Peggy Glanville-Hicks trust for  many years. He’s now handing over to Mary-Jo Capps, but not before setting  in motion a string of other composer residencies in historic houses including Bundanon and Gallop House in Dalkeith, WA via a new national network, Prelude. As Jon Rose said in his delightfully brief acceptance speech, it’s a genuinely life-changing opportunity, and now more composers will get to have a go at just being for a bit.

What would Peggy do if her newspaper cut its coverage of classical and art music to a mere 350 words a week? She’d probably write fearsome letters, move to Greece and compose operas. None of those options are available to me so I’m just keeping on writing, but if you like reading my reviews, please support my work. Following this blog or liking my posts on twitter, facebook and wordpress all helps. Best of all, I’d love you to look, share and support my forthcoming book, Sanctuary, a history of Dartington International Summer School in words and pictures.


  1. Great to have your thoughts and writing available here Harriet. Very much looking forward to more.

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