Henry Zehr






Words and Music

Speakers’ corner

 I found a Speakers’ Corner in Sydney where anybody could spruik about their philosophies, preferably whilst elevating their stature by standing on a butter box or a chair or even a ladder. It is situated in the Domain, close to Farm Cove. Some truly amazing ideas are being aired and some are available in print.

 One, who proclaimed himself to be a Viennese migrant, announced that he came to Australia in 1905 and “there was

“No workers’ constipation” in Australia and the “boracic wage” was two pounds ten.

He further advanced philosophies, such as referring to military matters – where

The only fighting to be done on weekends was to be done by officers” and – that

“There should be light beer for light drinkers and heavy beer for heavy drinkers”.


Music – the serious stuff

Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture is a favourite of mine and when I read that it was going to be performed in Centennial Park in Sydney I could barely wait. There were two conductors present: the first one was Eugene Goosens an Englishman (who did a lot to advance classical music in Australia) and a local boy – Joseph Post. The first one was the Chief Conductor and the second one hung around the back of the music shell and indicated to the Australian Artillery Regiment when to let a cannon loose. The composer included the use of the cannon in his original score. It was quite majestic – and dare I say it – awesome.

Words of George Bernard Shaw

The height of my cultural endeavours in Sydney was the membership of a small group practicing play-reading. We never got any further than GBS, whom I regard as being next in stature to the Bard. The favourite play was “Pygmalion” later immortalised in the more popular culture as “My Fair Lady”. Liza Doolittle, a Cockney, bravely practicing her proper English, forgot herself for a moment and said “Not Bloody Likely”. It is hard to imagine the following – but it is quite correct. The Great Australian Adjective was not to be displayed in print (let alone spoken in public) and that little group of words was articulated for the public as “Not Pygmalion Likely”. How utterly Victorian, by Jove. Would that the 21st century English limited itself to that “Pygmalion “word.



Operas were on the way out in the 20th century, but half way through that century we had a real proliferation of musicals. They probably commanded as much attention as the operas did in the previous two centuries and they had a lot of vitality and were very melodious.

The main authors and creators of the words and music were Rodger & Hammerstein, Rogers & Hart, Roger & Lerner & Loewe, Leonard Bernstein and others.

The popular musicals included:

 South Pacific, Carousel, Oklahoma, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and Sound Of Music, Westside Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins and others. Later in the 20th century and into the next we have a monopoly by a British composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and his Cats, Phantom of the Opera.

John Cargher is an interesting figure. English born and of Rabbinical heritage, he came to Australia in 1951 with the intention to introduce the musical ”Brigadoon”. He stayed and became a presenter of 2 radio shows: “Singers of Renown” and “Music for Pleasure”. His were the longest ones on record – 42 years – and he died 4 days after his last show in April 2008. He used his own record library and the ABC allowed him to continue broadcasting on Radio National, long time after they transferred all classical music presentations to the FM network. He also published a number of books on musical themes including “There’s Music in my Madness” – an excellent little book which gives backgrounds to operas, singers and composers.


Words by Tom Stoppard

I saw a number of his plays on stage in Brisbane: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” “The Real Inspector Hound” “Travesties” (he builds the story on the fact that Lenin, James Joyce and a Dadaist Tristan Tzara all lived in Zurich during the First World War). He later scripted a number of films, one of which received an Academy award (Oscar) for script writing – “Shakespeare in Love”. He also received 4 Tony awards. He has become “invisible” but is very much in the presence of contemporary British writing. Spielberg was quoted as saying that although no official credits were shown for his work on “Indiana Jones” and “The Last Crusade” he was responsible for almost every line of the dialog of those films. He also translated books from Slavic languages into English, including one of the playwright’s and later first president of the freed Czechoslovak republic – Václav Havel. Tom was born in Zlin, then in Czechoslovakia, his father was a doctor for the international firm of shoe manufacturers Bata, was evacuated by the company in 1939 just before the German occupation and finished up in the UK after a short stint in the East and Australia. When widowed, his mother married a British army major, who had no hesitation in stating that to be born an Englishman was like drawing the first prize in the lottery of life (taken from a quote of Cecil Rhodes) and although he was excluded from this privilege by birth, Tomáš Straussler became Tom Stoppard.   


Harmonica by Larry Adler

Before youthful musical activities became obliterated by computers the harmonica was a cheap and easy instrument to squeeze a tune out of. You would not think that complex classics could be performed on it, but yes, you could and one man to do it was Larry Adler who preferred to call the instrument a mouth-organ. He wrote his own score for the harmonica for various compositions including those of Vivaldi, Debussy and George Gershwin.  I missed his Brisbane performance in 1997, but caught up with him in the Gold Coast Arts Centre. Larry was blacklisted in the US McCarthy’s anti Communist drive in 1950, where people had to testify under oath in order to dob-in possible suspects and also eliminate or damage rivals in the artistic or any other field. Rather than succumb to that he left the USA for the UK where he lived till his death in 2001. He obtained a written permission from Ravel to perform “Bolero” on the harmonica without paying any royalty and certainly put some life and variations into “Bolero”, which otherwise sounded quite dreary when played at the start of any movie session at Hoyts theatres. (Incidentally – so was the ode to our monarch, where I first encountered some rebellion by a minority of people who would not be upstanding for it.) 


Gilbert and Sullivan

My first (dinky di) wife and her mother tried to talk me into seeing one of the “Savoy Operas” of Gilbert and Sullivan. I resisted this pressure as I considered that “genre” to be too British and I did not fancy to have my intellect totally submerged in that culture (yet). When I eventually succumbed I went to see “HMS Pinafore” and “Pirates of Penzance” and was very pleasantly surprised – I liked it. Probably, it is as English as Johann Strauss is Austrian. I read that Queen Victoria was not very pleased with some of the text and urged Sullivan, the musical composer part of the duo, to start on his own. Apparently he did but was not very successful. If you remember that all of their drama took place some 150 years ago you realise that politics have not changed much since.

As the hero says in H.M.S. Pinafore:-

“When I was a lad I served a term as office boy in an Attorney’s firm

I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor and I polished up the handle of the big front door

I polished up that handle so carefullee that now I am the ruler of the Queen’s Navee,


And later

I grew so rich that I was sent by a pocket borough into Parliament

I always voted at my party’s call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.


(Just substitute faction leaders of both employers’ and employees’ groups to bring you up to date).