I began Piano lessons with Evelyn Spells in Broken Hill at the age of 7. She was a good but strict teacher and I received a thorough grounding in technique and theory from her.
My family moved to Melbourne when I entered secondary school. I studied with Allan Fraser, who was not nearly as strict, so I didn’t practise very much until my mid-teens when I became really interested in music and spent a lot of time sight reading Bach. This proved to be a valuable investment of time, as my sight reading ability has been vital for my professional career.
When I first started studying music full time at the Queensland Conservatorium, I initially focussed on Piano, continuing to study with Allan Fraser, but also being influenced by Nancy Weir and Max Olding. I did well in my student recitals and won a prize each year. The peak of my Piano career was reaching the semi-finals of the first Dom Polski Piano Competition, held as part of the Adelaide Festival in 1976. After this event however, I decided I was not cut out to be a concert pianist, so from then on I concentrated on becoming a good French Horn player instead.
While I was a student at QCM I worked as an accompanist for other students, in particular some of the vocal students of Janet Delpratt, gaining valuable experience along the way.
The most remarkable person I have ever accompanied was James Galway, who was giving a Lecture/Recital for the Qld Flute Guild. I was called in at the last minute due to sickness of the regular accompanist, and had to fake my way through some substantial repertoire. He really helped me along’ playing strictly in time when I was at sea, but loosening up his interpretation once I had got my act together.
Now that I have retired from full-time performing, I have renewed my interest in the Piano, and much of my music education activities are centred on this instrument. Much of my compositional output involves Piano either as solo or in combination with other instruments or voices, and I have a special interest in Piano Duets as a way of giving students experience in ensemble playing.
At Cannon Hill Anglican College where I teach a few days a week, I run Piano Club, 2 x 30 minutes sessions a week for students of all levels to come and play Piano and listen to me playing. This has fostered a greater sense of community and enjoyment with the students, and has provided a useful forum for exam preparation.
I currently work as an accompanist for the school choirs and for solo instrumentalists, and play electric harpsichord with the Orchestra Corda Spiritus of St Andrews. I perform my original pieces for Piano Duet from the Duetica Series with some of my senior students.
I studied Horn with Roy White, then Principal Horn in the MSO, and Philip Smart while I was at school in Melbourne. The teacher I learnt the most from was Olwen Jones, then Principal Third Horn in the QSO, while I was at QCM. She was a very imaginative teacher and understood the technical and psychological nature of the French Horn, an instrument of great beauty and danger, and could explain how to overcome the many problems and issues facing all Horn players.
My love of orchestral playing came from my 4 years in the Queensland Youth Orchestra, under the baton of John Curro. He was not afraid to tackle major pieces in the repertoire and was an inspiration to me and to subsequent generations of emerging musicians.
While I was still a student I started getting freelance gigs in the QSO and the Queensland Theatre Orchestra which had just formed, and I played in the very first concert of the QTO under Robert Keane, as Second Horn to Tony Woods.
In 1978 I became the 5th Horn in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, later becoming Acting 3rd Horn. After 3 years in the QSO, I became the Principal Third Horn in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, where I stayed for the next 14 years. In this time I played most of the orchestral repertoire and really enjoyed being inside the orchestra playing Mahler, Wagner, Stravinsky and Debussy.
Significantly, the Horn section in the MSO when I arrived, was populated by Graemes. I was the 4th Graeme to be employed, and after the audition when the other section leaders found out my name, they thought that the audition had to be rigged, despite the screen behind which I had to play. And what’s more, the section was organised according to spelling. The 2 Principal positions, 1st and 3rd had Graeme Evans, and me Graeme Denniss, obviously with the correct and superior spelling of our name. The Rank and File positions, 2nd and 4th, had Graham Bickford and Graham Parr. (Also in the section were an Eric and a Trevor.)
As well as performing the symphonic repertoire, I was involved in a variety of commercial work. This included playing in film scores such as The Man from Snowy River and Phar Lapp, touring with Elton John, John Farnham and Frank Sinatra, playing 1st Horn in the Nelson Riddell Orchestra backing Linda Ronstadt, and performing on TV in the orchestra on the Don Lane Show and Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
As a student and a professional musician I have always enjoyed playing in small self-motivated groups. Quite often I have written new pieces for the groups that I have been in. While I have played Piano in some student chamber groups the following list all involved me on French Horn.
Brisbane Wind Players, directed by Martin Woolley. Most players came from the QTO, later the QPO.
Brisbane Horn Quartet, directed by Olwen Jones, with Neil Crellin and Jaquie Spring
University of Queensland Sinfonietta and Wind Sextet. Players from QSO, including Gareth Freebury on Alto Horn.
Melbourne Brass Trio. Geoff Payne or Robert Sims Trumpet, Brett Kelly Trombone
Melbourne Brass Ensemble, with Geoff Payne, David Farrands, Ken McClimont and Eric Klay. This was a high profile group which toured for Music Viva Countywide, made a number of records and performed at the Myer Music Bowl and Channel 9. The toughest gig we did was a live broadcast on ABC FM, 5 guys in an empty room with live microphones beaming out into Australia right then and there.
In order to perform my own music and to explore more contemporary sounds, I formed the Nexus Ensemble with Janis Cook Piano and Isin Cakmachioglu or Gerard van der Weide, Violin. This group premiered many of my compositions.
In Brisbane I played in Brass Quartet Buzz for 4 years, touring around hundreds of Primary schools in the Musica Viva In Schools programme.
I studied conducting with John Curro, and he was kind enough to let me conduct the QYO in the premiere performance of my composition “Suite for Two Horns” with String Orchestra in 1977.
Since then I have conducted the Townsville Youth Orchestra, the Palm Beach-Currumbin High School Band, CHAC Concert band and CHAC Brass Ensemble.
For 3 years I conducted the Brisbane Citizens Band, a long established community band which played at ANZAC Day and did Sunday afternoon concerts in New farm Park and the Botanic Gardens.
My biggest conducting gig was in 2002 when I conducted the first and only performance of Kent Farbach’s music for the classic Australian silent film, “The Kid Stakes”, at the International Film Festival, Brisbane City Hall. Kent’s music was really good and fitted the film amazingly well. I am very proud of this gig, which involved me having to cue various on screen activities with the music, such as a goat falling out of an airplane and a ball hitting a policeman’s bottom.