Bridging the Great Divide: An Exploration of Musical Style in the Guitar Works of Nigel Westlake

 ...what a mouthful that title is!

I started my PhD at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2013, and completed it this year. This degree challenged me in so many ways... there were times when I felt confident in my abilities, and times when I had crippling self-doubt and thought I'd never finish. It's a shared experience though: ask anyone who's done a postgraduate degree and they'll tell you that 'it's all part of the journey.' Thankfully, I've made it through, and I'm just a little bit excited that I've earned the title of 'Doctor.' I'll admit that it's still a little strange when people call me 'Doc,' but I like the ring of it! 

My research explores the tension between ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ musical styles in eight significant guitar works by Nigel Westlake; namely AntarcticaSongs from the ForestThe Hinchinbrook RiffsSix FishShadow DancesShards of JaisalmerJovian Moons, and Mosstrooper Peak. Through detailed analysis and recorded musical performances, consideration is given to the extent that these works bridge the aesthetic divide identified by Adorno, Jameson, Huyssen, and others; exploring their potential conformity to notions of postmodernity in music. The argument is advanced that Westlake has created a musical language that simultaneously combines sophistication and mainstream appeal. Illumination is made of many significant details of Westlake’s guitar music—including rock guitar techniques, harmonic formulations from popular music, and the extensive use of the more esoteric idiom of octatonicism—which provide a foundation for future analysis, evaluation, and performance of Westlake’s music.

In addition to writing a weighty dissertation on all of Westlake's guitar works, I gave a live recital in 2014, and audio recorded the same works with Perth Recording over the course of 2015-2016.

The dissertation is available for download from ECU: http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2000.

Due to copyright and licensing I cannot publish the full audio recordings online, however, some videos from my live recital and several short excerpts from my studio recordings are available on my media page.

Melissa Fitzgerald
Sound from the Ground

In 2015, the National Trust (WA) approached my husband, Dr Jonathan Fitzgerald, and asked him to create two concerts which would form part of the National Trust's 2016 Heritage Festival. His goal was to curate a program which provides a musical narrative about the collection of graves at this historic cemetery site.

For years, I have been driving past the East Perth Cemeteries. I had never known of the incredible history held within the grounds, or how strangely peaceful and quiet the cemetery is considering its proximity to the CBD. As part of Jonathan's research process, we were able to spend time wandering the cemeteries. I discovered names of important Western Australians who have shaped our state. As a Perth girl, it was fascinating to learn more about our history.

Using the information gathered, Jonathan created a varied concert program which both told the stories of the early Swan River colonists, and reflected musical tastes of the time. In addition, Perth (now Brisbane-based) composer and classical guitarist, Duncan Gardiner, was commissioned by the National Trust to compose a suite for guitar quartet (Stone, Shell, Bone and Feather), which was his response to the collection of graves and physical elements he discovered while spending time at the cemeteries.

The end result was two sold-out concerts in April 2016, held on site in the cemetery's old mortuary chapel. Most of the program featured the Perth Guitar Quartet, and we were lucky to also have Jenna Robertson (soprano) join us for several pieces.

This year, the National Trust (WA) won the 2017 Museums & Galleries National Award for Interpretation, Learning & Audience Engagement Level 2. The judging panel described it as:

"A complex and multi-layered project which unearths much early WA colonial history through the gravesites. The innovation displayed by the musicians in undertaking research, composing music, threading old musical scores and then producing a quality performance night shows a commitment to excellence and innovation in this new National Trust environment. The filming, tv exposure, blogging and very professional program ensures the project is well documented and hopefully the music will be used again in some other context. An impressive and original public program to enhance and promote the stories associated with an unusual collection."

Sound from the Ground was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing projects that I've been a part of. It was an experience that I'll never forget!

The official program can be viewed here, and more information can be found on the National Trust's website.

The opening night's concert is on YouTube.

Other award winners in the 2017 Museums & Galleries National Awards can be seen here.

 

Melissa Fitzgerald
Minimalism and the Guitar

In 2011 I completed my Honours year at WAAPA. My research topic was centred around identifying popular minimalist-inspired works for classical guitar, and exploring various elements used in the works' construction.

My dissertation provides a selection of what I deemed to be significant minimalist works for guitar, with broad analyses on minimalist techniques that can be found in them. Composers of interest to this study included (but are not limited to) Leo Brouwer, Terry Riley, Nigel Westlake, and Phillip Houghton.

If you're interested in reading the dissertation, it can be downloaded here: http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses_hons/35/

Melissa Fitzgerald