Don't Ever Let Them Get You George Dreyfus
Don’t Ever Let Them Get You!
George Dreyfus

A compilation of essays by and about eminent Australian composer George Dreyfus,
including a complete catalogue of works

George Dreyfus was on The Conversation Hour with Jon Faine
Thurs 4 March Radio 774 ABC - the episode can be heard on the website

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Launch Speech by Kay Dreyfus
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Book Description

Ladies and Gentlemen

Black Pepper proudly presents
the one and only, indefatigable,
direct from Camberwell Junction,
George Dreyfus!

As ever, he is restless and irascible. Don’t Ever Let Them Get You! is a book about the Holocaust, reconciliation and faith in the face of commercial pressures, the imperative of instant appeal and the moral vacuum of the post-modern age. George Dreyfus provides answers to the question of survival as a composer in the face of life’s slings and arrows. Unabashedly he places himself at the centre of half a century of serious - and not-so-serious - music-making in Australia, including his ground-breaking involvement with Aboriginal music in the 1960s as remembered by Jennifer Isaacs.

Dreyfus focuses his famous and often vengeful wit on antagonists and sponsors, audiences and colleagues, critics and fans. Rosemary Richards tells of a one-night resounding success and John Whiteoak provides a more objective account of the memorable band music he has created along the way. The text is generously illustrated with musical examples and photographs and a complete catalogue of his works is included.

If he had no musical ability, Dreyfus could easily have made a living as a stand-up comic.
Ian Robinson, The National Times

ISBN 9781876044602
Published 2009
186 pgs
Don’t Ever Let Them Get You! book sample

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Variations on a Theme by George
It’s Not My First Work!
Unlikely Combinations
It’s Good To Have Friends In High Places
Border Crossings or The Worst News Is...
How Can You Afford To Miss It!
‘Jenny, Make It Happen’
    Jennifer Isaacs
A Resounding Success
    Rosemary Richards
Brass Banding Meets George Dreyfus
    John Whiteoak
Complete Catalogue of Works
    Stage Works
    Choral Works
    Orchestral Works
    Chamber, Vocal and Instrumental Works
    Brass Band
    Concert Band
    Film and Video

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Launch Speech

Kay Dreyfus, Monash University
At the Chapel Off Chapel performance and book launch, 14 March 2010

Some of you might be wondering why George would have invited his ex-wife to launch his book. I wondered the same thing myself but when I asked George about it, he just looked enigmatic and said he had his reasons, leaving me to work out what they might be. But there are plenty of hints in this book that George likes unexpected - even discomforting - juxtapositions. Consider the little essay that starts on page 54, George’s speech of thanks on receiving the Bundesverdienstkreuz Erste Klasse from the German government at a ceremony in Parliament House Melbourne, in 2002. ‘I was ejected in 1939,’ George reminded the German Consul General on this occasion, ‘and now I am being honoured with the Bundesverdienstkreuz Erste Klasse.’ Just to reinforce the point in the book, the essay is illustrated with the picture of George’s childhood passport that decorates the book’s very expressive cover, replete with its red ‘J’ for ‘Jude’, which was the distinction bestowed on him by the German regime in 1939. At another point in the book, George writes how he enjoys the juxtaposition of ancient Biblical prophetic texts with his sometimes raucous Australian music in his piece Visions. Or what about the moment in his setting of the Mass where he misread the text of the Gloria, and inserted a citation of Australia’s unofficial national anthem? [Jonathan Dreyfus to play opening phrase of Theme from Rush.] Is George linking the Theme from Rush to the Godhead?

For a musician, George is an inveterate story-teller. Add to that the fact that he doesn’t like to waste anything he ever thinks of, whether verbal or musical, and you end up with a trilogy of autobiographical books of which this present one is the third instalment. The essence of George’s skill as a composer is his ability to create an inspired, memorable, classically structured, expertly organised, organically connected, thematically developed and varied piece of music in three minutes - I refer of course to his one and only Theme from Rush [Jonathan Dreyfus to play Theme from Rush]. The essential quality of his prose, however, is perhaps summed up in one word, and that word is George’s (see page 46): RANDOM. George’s prose style is one of free association - one thing leads to another, this reminds him of that, no one is spared, saints and sinners, friends and foes. His writing crackles with the energy, vitality and infectious iconoclasm that have been the hallmark of his style as a musician, a composer, a performer and an entertainer for these many decades.

Actually, Arnold Zable should be launching this book, but when I put this idea to George he said no, Arnold had too much personality! Clearly I was not a problem in the personality department. I heard Arnold Zable speak at a conference recently and it seemed to me that he has a wonderful appreciation of the many reasons why story telling is so important to us as humans and especially why story-telling is important to people who have experienced a major trauma in their life. I’d like you to pretend that Arnold Zable is in fact launching the book, as I am going to make use of some of his ideas to talk about it.

The cover of this book bears a most eloquent witness to the defining trauma in George’s life, At the age of ten he was taken from his family and put on a boat with his brother and 15 other children and sent away to an orphanage on the other side of the world where no one spoke his language. There’s a photo of the children on page 37. George gives us a glimpse of what it was like for the children (pages 38-39):

It was a desolate time, Matron gave is as much guidance as she could, but I was often miserable, I missed my parents and family to such a degree tjhat there was a hole there that nobody could fill.

These are not George’s words as it happens. But Arnold Zable reminded us that not all story-telling has to take place in words and the piece of music we have just heard reflects something of George’s feelings about this time, Larino Safe Haven. George says among other things that this piece is an autobiographical work, a piece about children without parents, a stolen generation piece. With its haunting scoring for two oboes and cor anglais, it is a piece about loss. George was fortunate that his parents turned up a few months later, and he and his brother Richard were able to leave the children’s home and tackle the larger task of assimilating into Australian society. Most of the other children were not so fortunate. But George had lost a lot. Most grievously, he lost his grandparents, and late last year Jonathan and I went with George to Wuppertal to see the memorial stone that had been placed in the pavement outside his grandmother’s house to commemorate her death. George also lost his German musical heritage. As John Whiteoak writes in his wonderfully affectionate chapter on George and the brass band movement, ‘George has always felt most connected to the only partly recovered European high art cultural milieu that was taken from him as a child’ (pages 99, 126). George’s stories, like his music, are full of references to his German musical heritage. Larino Safe Haven, for instance, is an example of Durchkomponiertevariationentechnik to be compared to Beethoven’s Septet op. 16, Brahms’s Variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn Op. 56a and Max Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart Op. 132. I hope you thought of all that while you listened to it.

Larino Safe Haven is a piece about surviving. In fact, this whole book is about surviving, as the title suggests, and not just about children surviving the antisemitism of the Third Reich, but about George surviving in Australia, as a musician, a performer, an entrepreneur and a free-lance composer, something that no one before him had done and few have done since (Whiteoak page 125 ). More than that, though, it’s about what George calls ‘survival revenge’. George is not a man to take disappointments quietly. On the contrary, he turns them into performance opportunities. George writes his very own revenge arias, joining a noble operatic tradition that stretches back to Don Giovanni and beyond. So for example on page 26 we find his catalogue aria of opera stoppers: to a backing of music from his first opera Garni Sands he sings, in alphabetical order, the names of all those he considers responsible for preventing his opera The Gilt-Edged Kid  being performed by The Australian Opera. [Jonathan Dreyfus/George to sing.] ‘Transportation to the cultural Hades for the lot of them’, trumpets George on page 26, ‘that is, for those who are not already there’. Another echo of Don Giovanni! George likes to note those of his cultural enemies who are dead. On page 5, we find his musical insult tribute to Clive Douglas, another dead and a long-forgotten Australian composer who, as a second or third-rate resident conductor for the ABC, made George’s life a misery in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s and eventually had him dismissed. [Jonathan Dreyfus/George to sing.] James Murdoch, author and commentator, was unwise enough to pen a critical quip about George’s Symphony No. 1 - it was, so Murdoch said, a ‘decided disappointment’. Undeterred, George set Murdoch’s entire text to music, made the song the centrepiece of a one-man show he performed all around Australia and in Germany. [Jonathan Dreyfus/George to sing Deep Throat.] There are fourteen more verses of that one, but I think you get the picture. George enjoys his musical revenges. And so can you if you buy a copy of this book!

Arnold Zable distinguished three different aspects of story-telling. First of all, he says, there is expression: that is when the story-teller, in this case George, tells the reader/audience things that he considers to be important about himself. Secondly, there is impression. That’s when the story-teller tells the audience things he considers important about other things and people. This book gives the reader quite a rich counterpoint of impressions: we get George’s impressions of other people, often vengeful, as we have seen, though not always. Then we get other people’s impressions of George, also sometimes vengeful, often bemused, frequently quite affectionate. We get George’s versions of other peoples’ interactions with him, and then we get other people’s versions of their interactions with George. There’s a lot going on.

Although George is at centre stage for most of the book, his is not the only narrative voice that is heard. In the second part of the book, three invited authors explore George’s encounters with three different aspects of the Australian musical scene. The common theme of this part of the book could be said to be that of ‘cultures in conflict’. In one corner we have George, embodying his own unique fusion of German musical imperialism and what John Whiteoak calls his ‘gumnut Australian nationalism’. I think George would agree that the Selections from the Sentimental Bloke that we are about to hear is a delightful example of this fusion. In the other corner we have lined up variously, the unsuspecting amateur, the deeply conservative fifth generation brass band enthusiast and the dignified but profoundly different traditional indigenous musician.

The unsuspecting amateur

Rosemary Richards tells the story behind George’s composition The Box Hill Gloria - you will hear an extract from this piece later this afternoon. This is one of George’s special occasion cantatas, written to commemorate a particular event - in this case, the establishment of a settlement at Box Hill - and, until today, given only one sonically memorable performance in 1985 as part of the State’s sesquicentennial celebrations. On that occasion, more than 200 performers outnumbered the audience, but the sound was spectacular - ‘sublime’ in the words of one commentator. According to Rosemary, the event was memorable in other ways. Her essay documents the impact of the collision between her self-confessed naïve enthusiasm for the creative idea and the reality of organising every amateur musician in Box Hill - nine different amateur choirs and instrumental groups. She offers tragic testimony to her folly in an image of her car, wrecked in a moment of stress associated with this event, and then rusting in her driveway with plum trees growing through its roof. She also describes the impact of George’s musical expectations on the members of the Box Hill TAFE student choir, most of whom, after one rehearsal with George, did not turn up for the performance. Not George’s first choral disaster. He himself tells the story of another walk-out when he rehearsed the Melbourne Choral Society in his sacred choral work Visions. But for the details of that, as George himself would say, you will have to buy the book.

The brass band enthusiast

John Whiteoak’s essay deals with George’s encounter with the brass band movement. This is a very different story. George wrote his first score for an Australian brass band in 1969, when he composed the music for the Australian pavilion at Expo Japan, in 1970.  In 2003, he composed his ‘Fanfare for the New Dome’ of the State Library of Victoria, a splendid multi-directional work that was also played at his Hawthorn Town Hall concert last year. George was commissioned to write a special piece for the Australian tour of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in 1982. Over three and a half decades, a number of his most successful film and television themes have been arranged for brass band by some of the most skilled musicians working in the movement. His music is published by Wright and Round, England’s leading publisher of music for brass band and a CD of just about the whole lot, performed by the Kew Band with George conducting, has been issued by Move Records, including of course... [Jonathan Dreyfus to play Theme from Rush]. There is nothing ephemeral about all that.

John scrutinises every aspect of George’s engagement with the brass band, noting ‘the awesome intensity of George’s will to survive professionally’ and asking how comfortably such intensity might sit with the rather different ethos and agenda of amateur community music-making. The result is a wonderful overview of the history of banding in Australia. John also critiques George’s engagement with Australian folk-music, an essential part of George’s self-definition as an Australian composer, largely derived from the pages of John Manifold’s Penguin Australian Song-Book. But as George himself says on page 47 of this book, ‘ignorance is no handicap’. Critical though it may sometimes be, John’s essay is full of his regard for George’s achievement. So much so that John even offers to break a 35-year embargo and attend the National Brass Band Championships should George ever be invited to write the test piece. Something to aim for, George.

The indigenous musician

The last of these invited essays is, perhaps, my favourite. It tells the story of the events that led to George being commissioned to write what some people regard as his most original composition, the Sextet for Didjeridu and Wind Instruments. George is not really a central character in this story. Instead we have Dr Herbert Coombs, Chairman of the Australia Council, Governor of the Reserve Bank and chief patriarch in charge of Aboriginal affairs in the early 1970s. The narrator is Jenny Isaacs, Dr Coombs’s personal assistant at the time, and the person, who ‘made it happen’. when Dr Coombs decided to stage a creative exchange of music making between the Adelaide Wind Quintet and a selection of Aboriginal musicians in the remote Aboriginal settlement at Yirrkala, in the Northern Territory. What follows goes beyond any ideas you might have of cultures in collision, but the narrative yields some wonderful images and descriptions. The Quintet arriving at their motel at Gove - a series of trucks arranged on their sides around a tree, boiling hot, no air conditioning, dunny out the back, probably full of flies. Enter the tour manager, a formidable lady named Miss Regina Ridge, wearing stockings and gloves. The meeting with the head of the Aboriginal community - no chairs were provided, everyone sat on the ground under trees, Miss Ridge still in her stockings and gloves. The concert, with the Aboriginal MC equipped with stop watch and megaphone stopping each performance after ten minutes, ready or not. The audience members not clapping but getting up to dance if they enjoyed an item. And yet, in spite of all this, marvellous music-making and a real sense of connection between European and indigenous musicians and a marvellous creative outcome... [Jonathan Dreyfus to play Theme from Rush]. No, no, not that marvellous creative outcome, the Didjeridu Sextet.

At this point I should explain that one of my aims in this speech was the mention the Theme from Rush [Jonathan Dreyfus to play] more often than George does in his book. But to find out who won [on top of Jonathan Dreyfus] you will have to buy the book. That’s enough Jonathan Dreyfus [send Jonathan Dreyfus off].

The third aspect of story-telling is what Arnold Zable called mirroring. But what sort of a mirror does George hold up to his Australia? What sort of place is it, and how does George fit in? Well, to find the answers to those questions you will just have to buy the book. But there are some odd juxtapositions. For example, on page 9 George describes how as a young man of 21, in 1949, he worked on a setting for soprano and large orchestra of texts in German extracted from Goethe’s Wahlverwantschaften. Goodness! What a project for late 1940s Australia! Then there is George’s hangup with opera - nothing but trouble there. He keeps on writing them though the Australia Opera refuses to play them, even if he has had two premiered in Germany. You can find a list of the reviews of the German performances on pages 27-30 of this book. I am not sure if George has set these lists to music, but he certainly read them out during his one-man show. John Whiteoak says that George himself is a brass band, particularly when in self-promotional mode: exuberant, loud, not at all in need of amplification. However, like the brass band, George can be said to have been and to be a meaningful and functional presence in Australian musical life. As this book shows, he possesses in large measure a bundle of qualities that have not only enabled him to survive in his Australian exile but to thrive and make his mark against all the odds. George has given Australia its alternative national anthem. [Jonathan Dreyfus offstage plays Theme from Rush.] But what has Australia given George? Most importantly of course a safe haven, but also a mixed bag of opportunities out of which he has created the colourful narrative of his life, and an impressive list of compositions that includes music that has given many people a great deal of pleasure over a long period of time. It only remains for me to declare this book launched, to encourage you all to buy a copy - George would not be happy if I didn’t do that! - and wish George a long life. Mazeltov!

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From Suz’s Space Blog:

George Dreyfus is more of a musician than an author and his book launch demonstrated that quite dramatically. Proceedings were interspersed with music. We started off with Dreyfus playing with his son, Jonathan. They did a nice rendition of the theme from Rush which Dreyfus wrote in 1974. This music has become very iconically Australian which I find rather strange as Dreyfus was born in Germany in 1928 and only arrived in Australia in 1939. On the other hand, the bulk of the population in this country is composed of immigrants and yes, I’m looking at the past 200 years. Before that the inhabitants had been here for thousands of years so they don’t count as immigrants.

Getting back to the book launch. Some of the other music we were entertained by was: the theme of The Adventures of Sebastian the Fox; Larino, Safe Haven; and The Sentimental Bloke. The music was wonderful and the jokes were thick and fast in some areas. I don’t know about you, but most of the people I know do not enjoy good relationships with their ex-spouses. There is the odd person that manages that and Dreyfus, being a rather unique person has managed to have a good enough relationship with his ex-wife Kaye that he asked her to launch her book.

Kaye had much to say about him. This included phrases such as:

# ignorance is no handicap
# unexpected, even uncomfortable juxtapositions. (I think she meant his music.)
# Random – free association
# George is unique
# Turns disappointments into musical opportunities
# He is a meaningful and functional musical presence in Australia

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