25 October 2022

Gunning set to scale music heights with grand new arrival

| Sally Hopman
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Woman playing piano

Gunning Focus Group treasurer Sonya Duus couldn’t wait to try out the new grand piano in the Gunning Court House after it was delivered by Upper Lachlan Shire Council crew Ted Alchin, Mick O’Brien and Jack Carn. Photo: Gunning Focus Group.

The Goulburn Penny Post of Saturday, 23 January, 1886, was nothing if not gushing in its praise for the inaugural Gunning Court House concert on 18 January, 1886. “The concert in question was a most decided success financially and, as regards, a treat of high-class music, our little village, rarely, if ever, had its equal.”

The concert was a fundraiser for the Anglican Church, and was staged about six months after the court house opened for more serious business. The Reverend Johnstone, who was in charge, received special permission from the Minister for Justice at the time to hold the concert there.

Local legend has it that the Johnstones, many of whom are still in the district today, were Gunning’s equivalent to the von Trapp family. They sang and there were a lot of them, everywhere.

The “little village” was Gunning, a community that many, back then, simply drove through en route to Melbourne or Sydney. Hume Highway bypasses, or even Canberra, weren’t even a twinkle in any developer’s eye.

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On 6 November, 136 years later, same place, (some of the) same music will be reprised for a special occasion: the first performance of a (mostly) community-funded, grand concert-grade grand piano.

It will also be a long day coming for members of the Gunning Focus Group, a collection of like-minded locals who, for the past 20 or so years, have been working hard to bring cultural equity to the region. Sick of having to travel hundreds of kilometres to hear live music, theatre or other entertainment, the group has been working over the years to bring the entertainment to them, rather than the other way around.

Through spirited fundraising and the support of like-minded individuals and arts groups, they now have a Kawai GX2 concert-grade but modestly sized piano, specifically designed for the intimate venue that is the old Gunning Court House.

Coupled with a rejuvenation of the court house, including improved seating, the venue can now hold 75 comfortably.

Old newspaper clipping

The gushing review of the first musical performance in the Gunning Court House, back in 1886, which made Page 6 of that publication of note, the Goulburn Penny Post. Photo: Supplied.

Gunning Focus Group secretary Bob Spiller added that, with the venue’s reputation for excellent acoustics, the group was looking forward to presenting great entertainment to the community.

“We’re confident we’ll grow as a venue thanks to this wonderful addition,” Mr Spiller said. “It’s perfect for our venue – we couldn’t fit a huge Steinway in here. We took advice from musicians about what would be best and we were successful in obtaining a modest-size grant from the NSW Government, and we also had some private contributions to the project, including an anonymous donation of $1000 and a significant amount from our president Michael Coley in memory of his wife, Wendy, who did so much for the Focus group and the community.”

Mr Spiller said thanks to the Upper Lachlan Wood Guild, a special box had been created to protect the piano when it was not in use.

“It even looks like the judge’s bench in the courtroom … when we’re not using the piano it can be covered by this protective box with hinges so ageing roadies like us can roll it around on casters.”

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When the piano arrived in Gunning recently, council workers Ted Alchin, Mick O’Brien and Jack Carn were given special advice from a professional piano mover on how to get it into the court house, making for a seamless arrival. And Gunning Focus Group treasurer Sonya Duus was given the honour of being the first to try it out once it was unwrapped from protective covering.

Her verdict: “This is an awesome piano. I’m not much of a pianist but I can hear and feel how good it is going to be in the hands of a skilled professional. It is such a gift to music in our district.”

Two pieces by Beethoven, the same two played back at the inaugural concert in 1886, will top the bill at the special concert on 6 November. They will be performed by international pianist Arnan Wiesel, who is now based in Yass, and Crookwell-raised professional musician Katrina Rivera. The program includes both solos and duets.

Tickets are now available for the concert at $40 each, $30 concessions, $20 for members and under 18s free. Book here (fees apply), or call 0429 906 834 or email [email protected].

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