A new project mounted by Sydney Living Museums is using music to make connections during lockdown.
House Music at Your House provides an opportunity for the public to explore 20 songs popular in the mid-19th century, but now mostly unknown, from the sheet music collection at Rouse Hill Estate, in north-west Sydney. Professional musicians have been employed to video their interpretations from home, while a mix of digitised scores, guitar chords, recorded accompaniments and other online examples have been added to inspire the public to share their own versions.
The genesis of this response to COVID-19 through music lies in the confluence of hardship and opportunity. The availability of SLM’s recently digitised scores from Rouse Hill Estate, the temporary closure of the house museum to the public, and the offer of a cultural sector resilience grant by the City of Sydney inspired Nicole Forsyth, PhD candidate researching Rouse Hill Estate’s music collection, to propose a radical idea.
Nicole suggested that SLM should highlight a selection of songs from the approximately 1500 pieces of music in the house to reflect on the musical lives of the members of one generation of the Rouse family. She wanted 21st-century music makers to not only think about the similarities and differences between our lockdown experience and those living in regional areas 170 years ago, but to respond to this domestic music of the past through new eyes.
Excited by the idea, SLM threw its support behind the funding application in late April and was able to launch the first song of the series, ‘Home! Sweet Home!, in early August. The impact of the pandemic on the arts sector in Australia has been devastating, and while the project could only offer a relatively small financial contribution overall, the musicians have taken up the challenge with relish and creativity. The singers, instrumentalists and composers worked through a large volume of sheet music bound by the Rouse family to pick their favourite songs.
Keen to remind audiences of both past and contemporary musical interpretation in its house museums, SLM has included recent performances from its video archive made at Rouse Hill Estate, Elizabeth Bay House and Vaucluse House.
As this collection of songs grows over the remainder of 2020, SLM looks forward to a deepening public engagement with the material on offer and the opportunity to share new interpretations of this little-known musical world.