Morphew masterclass inspires at eisteddfod

Adjudicator Richard Morphew delights and inspires young pianists with animated advice at the Taree and District Eisteddfod at Manning Entertainment Centre.
Adjudicator Richard Morphew delights and inspires young pianists with animated advice at the Taree and District Eisteddfod at Manning Entertainment Centre.

IT BEGINS with a bell. The hand of adjudicator Richard Morphew strikes it and the bright, light sound resonates in Manning Entertainment Centre.

It is the cue for a nervous young pianist to take a deep breath, walk on to the stage and sit at a grand piano to play a piece of music in the 43rd Taree and District Annual Eisteddfod.

This year, it is Mr Morphew's expert ears and eyes that will listen to the music made by young hands. He watches each performance and speaks quietly to the scribe seated at the desk next to him and his words will illuminate areas for improvement and commend when deserved.

On Monday Mr Morphew heard 187 pieces of music and his day began around 9am and ended around 10pm. For three days he will work in the dimly lit centre and watching will be the family and friends of the children performing on stage.

Hours pass, sections come and go and it is then that Mr Morphew stands and calls the children to gather to the stage area. He rises slowly to dress in his jacket and walks to the stage to announce who will take home trophies and that is when the most beautiful lesson begins. A masterclass for the children and their parents.

Mr Morphew smiles to speak, to clap, to question, to laugh, to sing and even illustrates 'groove' with dance. The children giggle, respond to his questions, laugh and most importantly, learn as they listen to the lessons that he delivers.

"When we read a book, we don't read word, word, word, word. That would be boring, you would not want to continue reading. Instead, you read those words with rhythm and sound them in a way that lets your imagination create emotion," Mr Morphew said.

"I could speak to you like a robot, in one tone at the same speed. It would be so boring that you'd be going to sleep in no time!

"Notes on a page are just like words. They are just images and we need to turn them into sound, to create emotion, to do what we can to give the music meaning.

"Musical feeling needs to be encouraged and a way to encourage that when you play is to not read your music. When you are reading, you don't listen to the music, but playing from memory makes you listen and so if you can get through without the music then try do it.

"There was some very fine playing. There were some slips and we can forgive those because they happen in life, like walking on a pavement and slightly slipping on the concrete. But with more attention and practice you can work to avoid it happening again.

"Music is beautiful and it's really important that you work to refine your playing, to practice and work towards excellence. Keep playing and keep practicing."

Mr Morphew challenged the children to practice with the words that "anyone could achieve great things" as he hinted at his skill and experience.

"I have conducted at the Sydney Opera House and if I can do it, anyone can!"

That humble hint represents a career of more than 40 years that began with study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with the legendary Alexander Sverjensky for piano, with the equally legendary Elizabeth Todd for singing and Errol Collins for violin.

According to the Australian Music Examiners Board, Mr Morphew also taught music in several NSW secondary schools before travelling to the USA and England to further his musical studies. He returned to Australia to take up a position as lecturer in music and music education at Alexander Mackie Teachers' College and later at Sydney College of Advanced Education and the University of New South Wales as well as part-time lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Mr Morphew has also taught singing and piano and performed in both these disciplines on national radio and television and is respected internationally in the field of vocal and instrumental pedagogy and has presented papers relating to his research at international conferences in England and America.

He has been a guest lecturer at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And so it is with that depth and breadth of experience that he visits Taree to listen, teach and guide hundreds of young pianists from the Manning Valley.


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