Kendall-based singer, teacher and choir director Rose Wilson has a passion for opera, a deep-set belief in the power of song, and harps called Esmeralda and Gwendolyn.
When did music start to be a part of your life, Rose?
That always strikes me as an odd question, because it seems like it was always there. Mum used to drive us from Singleton to Newcastle for early childhood music classes, which was no mean feat, because it was about an hour and a half each way. She has a cassette tape of me singing a nursery rhyme when I was about three, already in tune! We always played lots of instruments at home, and always sang, and looking back I really appreciate the utter good fortune and gift of that, because it meant that as a teenager I had a thing that I loved and that I was good at. I started a little ensemble at my school with other music geeks, and then I went to the Newcastle Conservatorium and got all opera-nerdy!
How did opera influence you?
When I say opera, I basically only really mean Mozart – that’s my passion. I don’t like all the romantic opera, where the tenors and sopranos just sing in unison and the soprano dies of consumption; I find them overdramatic and terribly dull!
In July 2006 I had just one final performance subject left to do in my music degree, but it was Mozart’s 250th birthday party at the Salzburg Festival and they were putting on all 22 of his operas, so I decided I would defer, go overseas, watch lots of opera and learn German! I spent five wonderful weeks hanging out in a youth hostel in Salzburg and going to the opera at night.
Then I went on to Bremen, where I met up with (Australian composer) Gordon Hamilton, whom I knew from the Con, and ended up touring Spain with his choir. We’d sing in these little churches in tiny villages, and the whole village would come out and listen and then give us dinner afterwards!
Did you have ambitions to sing and tour with an opera company?
No, because I think I would absolutely hate the lifestyle! I’m nowhere near competitive enough, and I’d be incredibly miserable if I did do it.
But what I do really love is when I perform arias in recitals and people come up afterwards and tell me they’d never really thought about opera that way before. I’d really like to be able to do that here, to sing and explain the arias to people and break down the barriers that stop people connecting with opera. It is sometimes a bit overly hoity-toity!
How did you come to settle in this area?
I met my husband, Scott at a mutual friend’s party not long after I came back from Germany. We were living in Scone, and then we went off to Melbourne and did our turn in the city for a year, and then were done with it! Scott grew up in Wingham and had always liked the area, as I did; it seemed so incredibly lush and green compared to where I’d been before.
So we moved, and then I had two children and went very, very deep into baby-land; I stopped all the teaching and performing and became a full-time mum and a counsellor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
For a while I was totally uninterested in music, couldn’t imagine ever doing that again, but gradually that changed. Scott and I started thinking about what we wanted our life to look like, and I began to ramp up a little bit of work, with the hope that he could scale back. That went OK, to the extent that he and I kind of “swapped jobs”, and Scott stopped work last May. He’s now at home with the kids and establishing a farm, and I’m out there giving singing lessons, performing with the harp at weddings, and playing and singing anything from jazz to pop and opera at events and parties.
Aside from performing and teaching, you also direct choirs, Rose?
Yes, I’ve got four at Saint Columba Anglican School, two primary and two secondary, and I’ve just started another at Saint Joseph’s Regional College. And then there are my adult community choirs, two mixed groups in the evenings in Kendall and Wauchope, and two women’s choirs on Friday mornings. They’re very joyful and relaxed – I understand that for many people coming to a choir can feel incredibly scary – but at the same time we learn to make a lovely sound. Singing is as natural to our bodies as breathing and speaking, but we’re often blocked by fear and past experiences of being told we “can’t sing”.
With every creative process in our culture, a lot of us have been wounded – have been made to feel that we’re not good enough. And, that’s just wrong! For the world to be functional, it’s crucial that people are in touch with being able to be creative, to make something. A choir is beautiful, because you get to make something with other people, and you really do get something greater than every individual part.
Tell me about your new project.
It’s called SingaMamma – it’s a choir for women who want to sing with others, and who need to bring their kids with them to make that happen. I want to create a safe, warm and space where kids and bubs are welcome, but this is not a session for kids – it’s for women to sing together. The music we sing is a cappella – unaccompanied songs – in two or three part harmony, but you don’t need any experience or music reading skills to join in.
There’s no child-minding, but we sing in a circle, and the bubs can be wrapped on mums, or wriggling on a mat, sitting in strollers, playing at a table, whatever works for them and their mum. We accept and acknowledge the little ones, and the various interruptions that come with them, so it’s just a 45-minute session, but with time for a cuppa and a biccy on the lawn afterwards.
Where can people find out more?
SingaMamma is on Fridays, 9:15 – 10am at Innes Lake Community Centre; $8. Full information about my choirs, teaching and performance is at www.rosesong.com.au
Interview: Ruth Allen.