1998 Musica Viva CountryWide and the Across the Top tour Part 1
GOING ACROSS THE TOP
Access to services and events by regional and remote communities has become the mantra for Australian governments today. However, decades ago Musica Viva realised the importance of a regional presence, setting in place a network of excited and faithful volunteer presenter organisations to underpin a touring circuit for both visiting and Australian artists.
This was a win/win scenario for both the communities and the artists. Musicians have historically been peripatetic, willing to go anywhere as long as audiences were to be found. In Musica Viva’s case, It took no convincing the artists to agree to a strenuous itinerary, mostly self-driving, peppered with performances in often less than ideal acoustic environments and in all weathers. What was lacking in professional facilities was more than compensated for by the goodwill and hospitality of the organisers.
It was no accident that the first English words acquired on a long road trip by two visiting Portuguese-speaking artists from Brazil were ‘red wine’. The vocabulary had considerably expanded at the end of the five weeks, during which all they required to deliver spellbinding performances were two stools, warm hands and an attentive audience. Randomly, ‘red wine’ became the code words – on the first tour and subsequent tours – between them and Musica Viva staff for ‘I think very soon we need to make polite goodbyes and rest‘.
An additional reward for the hard work required by these volunteers in organising a successful event was the opportunity to invite the artists into their homes for marvellous suppers and to be enriched with a lifetime of anecdotes. For the musicians, whose lives were a continual parade of venues and faces, some quality time in someone’s home instead of a sterile and often lonely hotel room left indelible impressions.
BEHIND THE SCENES
No concert tour takes place – then or now – without a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes planning. The seamless artistry presented from the stage often belies the work below the surface, which is of course the goal of everyone involved in concert presentation.
Having a network of presenters in place was the first step and selecting the ensembles that would tour in a particular year was the next. Marrying the two was a matter of often protracted discussion and at this point the jigsaw pieces needed to be laid on a very big table, metaphorically speaking.
Once we learned the artistic preferences of each presenting body, we then needed to determine whether a viable tour could be shaped. In the regions, consideration had to be given to harvest, shearing cycles, weather patterns (at a time when there WERE such things), avoidance of school holidays, regular community gatherings and other scheduled events. Everyone, without fail, wanted a Friday or Saturday night, which of course was simply not possible, so the art of diplomacy was a most valuable tool.
However no-one could go anywhere without funding being available. Presenters were able to cover the presentation costs and the artists’ fees, and could often provide some sponsored accommodation. Beyond that, funding applications had to be made – and be successful – in each state a tour would visit, in order to cover the costs of getting the artists from home base to each centre and back again. Musica Viva traditionally submitted applications to the federal and each state government, with results being required in sufficient time for the touring to be planned and the presenters to advertise their annual seasons. If funding wasn’t there, even if all the other pieces of the puzzle fitted snugly, the tour simply couldn’t happen.
Providing presenters with high quality publicity materials was a major component of touring. It was extraordinary how many artists did not have suitable photographs or audio materials, which dictated a further level of involvement.
Once all this was in place, the small matter loomed of preparing detailed and thoughtful travel itineraries and contracts with both artists and presenters.
Patricia Ludgate worked as the CountryWide and Export Manager for MVA from 1983 to 2003.