Auditions, Accordions and Harp Serenades: A Musical Memoir

As a farmer's daughter living in country Tasmania in the 1960s, there were limited opportunities for learning to play music. But all that changed when we moved to the city.

Growing up on a farm, I had limited opportunities for music lessons during my early years.  Despite that, we were surrounded by music because my parents both loved music and they played records constantly on an old turntable. They had hundreds of “vinyl 78s or were they shellacs” ? and later started buying just as many cassette tapes. When I was 13,  due to my mother’s health, we had to leave the farm and relocate to the city of Hobart.

The piano accordion

In this new chapter, my parents recognised my passion for music and bought me a piano accordion. Finally I had the opportunity to have music lessons  in playing the piano accordion. I loved this instrument because I thought it was very Italian and  I love all things Italian.

The electronic organ

A few years later, my parents bought an electronic organ with pipes, a two octave keyboard and two octave foot pedal boards. Mum loved playing the organ. We bought it from a family business music shop in North Hobart. I ended up working there for about two or three years, teaching the organ, working  in sales and running keyboard  classes for both children and adults. One of the things I really enjoyed was going to the shopping centres and playing the organ there for different occasions.

The piano

Later my parents bought a piano because my youngest brother was showing real musical talent. I decided to start learning piano as well. I got really serious so then I decided to take a few piano exams. My brother Sam was the real musician though. He won eisteddfodds and various other piano competitions and became quite a well-known classical pianist in Hobart at the time.

“Are you Sam Leishman’s sister?”

In fact one of my piano teachers, who once suggested I give up playing the piano, looked at the cover of one of my music books. It had my name Annette Leishman written on the top right-hand corner. The  teacher had only known me by my married surname but when she saw the name Leishman on the cover, she said “you’re not Sam Leishman’s  sister are you?

I felt so proud of my little brother and said “yes”.

She replied,  “Sam is such a wonderful musician. Such wonderful technique. Not sure what’s wrong with you”.

The audition

But I continued with my classical piano lessons, despite her negativity towards me. Shortly after sitting my Grade, 8 music exam, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Music at the University of Tasmania. To be admitted into the course, I had to undergo an audition. Having recently passed my exam, I was well-rehearsed. However, nervousness got the better of me on the audition day.


As I entered  the audition room,  I scanned my surroundings. A panel of darkly suited judges, were perched on a raised platform, like a flock of wedge tailed eagles surveying their prey. I positioned myself at the Bosendorfer Grand Piano installed in the middle of the large dimly lit room, I felt their gaze from above pierce my body.

Someone from the platform announced my name and said,” You may begin:.

One eagle descended

Shaking with anxiety, I began playing, somehow managing to follow the notes on the first two pages without a stuff up.  Unexpectedly, one member of panel who had introduced himself earlier as the Dean of Music, descended from the stage, stood beside me, and turned the page. This caught me off guard, I stopped playing and ran out of the audition room in tears.

Giving it another shot

Not to be put off, I gave it another shot a few months later but the result was similar to my first audition.  I left the audition room halfway through my rendition of Hayden’s Keyboard Sonata in E major. The piano notation suddenly became one big black dot on the page. I couldn’t keep track of the notes  and my memory wasn’t good enough to continue.

Stuff you lot

Instead of crying this time, I thought ‘stuff you lot’. I got up from the piano, turned my head towards the panel and said “thankyou” as I walked calmly and graciously out of the room.

Change of course

That’s when I decided to change my study path and pursued a Bachelor of Education. This path allowed me to take a music elective without the need for  an audition, creating a more relaxed and enjoyable learning environment.

No audition required

However, one of the most enjoyable musical experiences I had as a younger person was playing the piano every Saturday night at hotel in Hobart . I was my own boss. I invoiced management every week and actually got paid. . Sometimes the manager would take time to sit in the lounge area just a couple of meters from where I was playing the piano. I was aware of his presence and often thought he was going to give me my marching orders. . But that never happened. Instead he always offered me some additional work such as playing for a corporate function or a cocktail party. I continued playing there for a couple of years until management changed hands leading to my departure along with the grand piano. It was a sorrowful moment, not so much for me, but for the fate of the grand piano.

Along comes the harp

A few years later, I was at Salamanca market in Hobart.  George Callaghan, a well-known harpist, harp  maker and artist from Hobart was playing the harp. It sounded so beautiful. Intrigued, I approached him and after a short conversation, he sold me one of his harps. The next week I eagerly went to pick it up from his home workshop.

During the first few years of owning the harp, my playing was limited because my children were very young. Being a single parent, finding time was challenging, especially with the additional commitment of pursuing my teaching degree..

Black Velvet

Eventually, I met Lyn, a talented flautist. Together, we formed the duo ‘Black Velvet” and began our musical journey by busking at Salamanca Market. Lyn often said it was like the blonde leading the blind. Lyn’s blonde. I’m blind.

It wasn’t long after that, we became professional and played  at  weddings, funerals,  corporate functions, parties, gallery openings and other things. .  We got a lot of work in southern Tasmania because at the time, there were no other harp/ flute duos.  Our only mode of advertising was a listing in the Yellow Pages. Eventually Lyn  wanted to pursue other musical options, so Black Velvet came to an end.

A relocation

In 2018, I moved to Melbourne from Tasmania. The extended lockdowns during the pandemic gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my harp. I spent many hours practising before applying for a volunteering position at a palliative care home in Prahan. These days I play regularly at the home. The residents have described the music as heavenly!

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of playing at diverse events, such as an art exhibition opening and, more recently, at the Braille Choir Children’s Christmas Concert. I provided background music as attendees enjoyed refreshments after the concert.



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