Stars in classical music are not usually recognisable household names, but conductor Richard Gill is someone who has broken through that recognition barrier.
With his white woolly hair and joie de vivre, Richard could be dubbed the king of music education in Australia. And it seems that the powers that be agree, as he became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his lifetime’s work earlier this year.
Currently musical director of the Sydney Chamber Choir, he was the founding music director of Victorian Opera, former dean of the Western Australian Conservatorium of Music and chorus director for Opera Australia.
Richard began his career as a music teacher at Marsden High School in Sydney, where one of his duties was to coach sport, and, after victories, he soon had the team singing operatic choruses instead of the traditional sporting ditties.
His passion for music led him to many different positions, and he introduced the concept of youth opera, with primary and secondary school singers auditioning and being selected for chorus or principal roles of short operas, including Benjamin Britten’s The Little Sweep, The Snow Queen, and Noye’s Fludde, which launched the new Victorian Opera in 2006.
As any teacher knows, working with children has its own set of challenges, and that gets taken to a new level when you are training children to perform opera in a professional setting. But Richard was never deterred; embracing both the delights and difficulties and marvelling about what some of his young stars are doing now.
‘The challenge was trying to accommodate all the children who applied to take part—the interest was phenomenal,’ he tells Warcry.
If you have been an avid viewer of the ABC television music trivia show, Spicks and Specks, you will be familiar with Richard’s many appearances on that show. He insists that music belongs to everyone, and appearances on shows like this expose musical concepts to a whole new audience.
Richard was also the driving force behind the riveting four-part 2006 ABC series Operatunity Oz, which uncovered operatic talent in people whose career was in other fields.
Richard is passionate about the importance of music in children’s education, and is a committed crusader for his cause.
‘Music has been part of the lives of human beings since the beginning of time,’ he says.
‘It is an essential part of a child’s education because it acts on the mind, heart, soul and spirit of the child, and is a powerful force in uniting communities, and provides children with great joy when they learn to sing and make their own music,’ he insists.
So you can see that this is one conductor who jumps out of the pit to share his passion for music at any opportunity, which the Bible also advises Christians to do.
‘Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to each other; sing to the Lord and make music in your heart to him’ (Ephesians chapter 5, verse 19).
Seeing students succeed and go higher than he could have imagined is a major delight in Richard Gill’s life. So what would he like to have on his gravestone when the time comes?
‘He was a pain, but he did try to help people,’ he chuckles.