Old Quad: The Multivocal Exhibition

May 3, 2021

By Annalyce Wiebenga

In my third year of studying music at The University of Melbourne, I am still learning things about its campuses. For some reason, I never realised that the Old Quad at Parkville housed a museum space, open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday while an exhibition is active.

The Multivocal exhibition “celebrates the creation, performance and experience of music at the University of Melbourne, past and present.” Situated on the ground floor of the Old Quad, curator Dr Heather Gaunt, as well as the Museums and Special Collections team, have put together an immersive experience of memories and music. I had a quick chat with Dr Gaunt about Multivocal, and some of her comments are interspersed throughout this piece.

Permeating the space is an original composition by VCA graduate Imogen Cygler titled Spaces Places. This is a compilation of practising musicians, sounds fading in and out as doors open and shut to give the impression of walking down the hallway of a music building. Students who have spent time around the practice rooms at Parkville or in the Music building on St Kilda Road at Southbank will be familiar with the filtering and layering of music as students in their own little worlds practice their craft. Dr Gaunt is a graduate of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, which informed the idea of this piece. She is proud of the way Cygler engaged with the “emotive embodied memory of what it was like to be a music student at the Conservatorium, and these fragments of music and multiplicity and multidimensionality, and all these emotions that went with it.”

In the centre of the gallery, and prominently displayed on the website, is the Corroboree exhibit. For this exhibition, Dr Lou Bennett AM, a Yorta Yorta Dja Dja Wurrung lecturer at the University, created three versions of her 2017 Melbourne International Arts Festival arrangement “Corroboree Song”: Pelican, Black Swan and Duck. This arrangement was originally created by invitation of the Wurundjeri community. She also lent personal items to be put on display, such as her Songwoman headdress, Barramul (emu) skirt, and clapsticks. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land. Their art, and especially their people, deserve the utmost respect. Dr Gaunt told me, “I feel immense gratitude that [Dr Bennett] jumped into the project with such positivity and wanting to situate her way of thinking about music in this space as part of this exhibition.”

A display of a Farrago magazine article from 1984 discusses a lack of practice spaces and concerns about the number of women on staff at the Conservatorium. There are now more practice rooms and women on staff than there were in 1984, but it’s a good reminder that we have a strong history of students banding together to improve their learning conditions. As a frequent contributor to Farrago and a member of the UMSU Southbank committee, it struck me that, while today’s conversations have evolved, we are still in constant dialogue with the University about student learning conditions and staff working conditions. Dr Gaunt said: “It is such a complex and politicised history at the Con and the VCA. I found that one particularly interesting because that was the year before I started at the Con. I often think to myself, if I had read that, I would have gone, ‘Hm. I think I’ll go somewhere else instead.’” We are still talking about access to campus facilities and gender to this day.

If you’re partial to a good-looking musical instrument, there are also plenty to choose from, including one of my personal favourites: the gorgeous Hardanger Fiddle, usually on display at the Grainger Museum.

Another highlight of this exhibit is the video documentary Diary of the Heart. It follows the positive impact Dr Zheng-Ting Wang’s Chinese Music Ensemble subject had on its students, especially Chinese international students who felt lonely or isolated.

This entire exhibition is about “entering a physical space, but then being emotionally involved in a multilayered musical journey.” As someone for whom music has been a key part of my life for as long as I can remember, I think the exhibition has succeeded.

There will be a special event titled Threshold on Wednesday 5 May, at 1pm. Involving twelve percussionists, two professional singers, and the Federation Handbells, this is a collaboration between students at the Conservatorium and working professionals. They will be performing a new commissioned work by Noemi Liba Friedman. Having heard the Federation Handbells firsthand while some were housed at the Grainger Museum, I am confident this will be a very cool performance. As Dr Gaunt told me, this is a live example of “what it means to make and create and experience music here [at the University]”, and will be “one of the beautiful conclusions to the exhibition.”

Dr Gaunt hopes parts of Multivocal will live on beyond its time as a singular physical exhibition: “Once it finishes in its physical form at the Old Quad, then it has an ongoing form in the virtual space…then parts of it can be travelled or taken out to different contexts, like the more radical parts of it, particularly student commissions like Imogen Cygler’s work or Alex Wu’s work where you situate it in another context and a new lot of connections and collaborations emerges.”

If you have a moment, head down to the Old Quad in this final week and take it in for yourself. The Multivocal exhibition is open free to the public on the ground floor of the Old Quad at Parkville campus 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday, closing on Friday 7 May. With free entry, it’s easy to quickly pop in while on break, or comb through every piece of our musical past and present on display until closing time. Parts of the exhibition are also available online.

Threshold will be performed Wednesday 5th of May at 1pm in the exhibition space.