by Neville Cohn
He has turned 80 but he brings to his life in music an energy that would wear out many half his age. “I can’t imagine retirement in conventional terms. As long as my mind remains clear, I’m sure I’ll be using it in one way or another”, said this most amiable and industrious of dons.
Emeritus professor David Tunley, steeped in the musical tradition, is hard at work on his eighth book – on that most celebrated of all Australian pianists, Eileen Joyce. “It’s not so much a biography as a study of her artistic development since her childhood in Kalgoorlie,” explained Tunley who is collaborating on the book with colleagues Victoria Rogers and, for the first chapter, Jean Farrant “who has researched the musical life of that city in considerable depth.
“While researching Joyce’s early days in Kalgoorlie, I discovered that before little Eileen came to Loreto Convent in Perth, one of her piano teachers was a brilliant pianist Rosetta Spriggs. And while looking into this, I discovered to my surprise that Leah Horwitz, a fellow student in my days at the Sydney Con, was the daughter of the very same Miss Spriggs who was later to marry, becoming Mrs Horwitz. A telephone call to Brisbane, earlier this year, got Leah and me talking together for the first time since student days of 60 years ago”.
One of Tunley’s most vivid recollections is of hearing Eileen Joyce perform when he was a music student at the Sydney Conservatorium.”Years later, I met her when she came to Perth for the National Eisteddfod and again when she received an Honorary Doctor of Music (for which I wrote the citation) from UWA”.
In the most positive, indeed indelible, ways, Tunley has made his mark on music in W.A.. The much loved York Winter Music Festival was his brainchild as was the Terrace Proms which on one Sunday in the year brought vibrant life and music to an otherwise drab weekend wind tunnel. Tunley also founded the University A Capella Choir which was later renamed University Collegium Musicum.
Much of Tunley’s life has been devoted to the music of France. “I have a special love for baroque music, especially the French baroque”. His book on the French Cantata has been internationally hailed. Indeed, Tunley’s work in French music has been so distinguished that France has honoured him by appointing him a Chevalier in the Napoleonic Order of Palmes Academiques. Closer to home, the Order of Australia and the Australian Centenary Medal have also come his way.
“I’m afraid I spend much more time at the keyboard of my computer than on that of the piano”, said Tunley. “As for writing, I take advantage of what time is left from what seems to be an endlessly busy life, for I am also involved in voluntary work and, of course, time with the family is more important than ever”.
One of Tunley’s dearest wishes is that UWA School of Music and the music department at the W.A.Academy of Performing Arts “pool their wonderful resources to create a single institution that could meet the varied needs of the many gifted students we have in W.A.”
Another of Tunley’s hopes is for greater government support “to underpin the extraordinarily fine achievements in recent years by our orchestra, opera and ballet companies.
“These and other artistic resources are the very life-blood of our cultural community. Yet the WASO still lacks a home – and the opera and ballet companies need more room. It may be difficult to convince hardheads that it is not money that makes a city great – there are plenty of rich but soul-less cities around the world to confirm this.” Tunley points out that a much stronger underpinning of our cultural life is needed by governments and philanthropists to transform our boom state into Australia’s cultural centre.
At an 80th birthday tribute concert for the Royal Schools Music Club at Callaway Auditorium, a small army of musicians gave performances of works from Tunley’s pen as well as a bracket of French vocal delights from the 18th and 19th century, music typical of the material that Tunley has researched and written extensively about with a distinction that has earned him international plaudits.