Sadie Bishop An Appreciation
By David Gregory
From today’s perspective it is hard to imagine of the earlier days of the 20th century when at least in the English speaking world, the guitar was largely considered to be a folk instrument, not a proper instrument like the violin or piano.
John Williams, the world’s foremost living exponent of the classical guitar studied piano and music theory at the Royal College of Music in London, as guitar was not on the curriculum at that time. Of course there were concert tours by performers such as Andres Segovia and others but teachers of the instrument were few and far between. The 1960s and 70s saw the folk revival and coffee bar culture where no bohemian worthy of his beard and sandals was without a guitar.
A sizeable number of these enthusiastic but technically limited acolytes went on to higher things. Bored by the “3 chord trick” they tentatively discovered the world of Sor, Guiliani, Carcassi and their like, and were inspired by the mercurial Bream, the youthful John Williams and the colossus, Segovia. By the 1970’s guitar schools were proliferating, the repertoire was expanding via the publication of previously obscure music and new compositions and the standard of playing rose markedly.
Sadie Bishop is a key figure in the renaissance of the guitar having advanced the standard of playing and teaching in both hemispheres. I was privileged to meet Sadie at her home in inner Melbourne and the following is a summary of her recollections
Sadie was born into a musical family, her mother being an accomplished pianist with a talent for improvisation.
Leonard Williams was a jazz guitarist who emigrated to Australia from London in the late 1930s. During the 1950s Sadie shared a house with Len and his family in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick. This was the origin of Sadie’s interest in the guitar and she rapidly became adept.
A leading light of the artistic life of Melbourne at the time was the Jorgensen family based in the bluestone gothic fantasy castle of Monsalvat in what was then almost the bush but is now an outer suburb of Melbourne. The great hall of Monsalvat is arguably one of the best places in Australia for chamber music and Sadie often gave recitals there. In the audience were the youthful contemporaries, John Williams and Sebastian Jorgensen. Sebastian also became a fine guitarist and teacher.
Len and the family returned to England in 1952 and set up the London guitar centre (still extant and thriving) and later at Len’s invitation Sadie joined them. Sadie taught at the centre for several years. During her time in Europe she was able to attend for three years in succession the famous summer school at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana di Siena in Italy where Segovia taught. It was there she became acquainted with Alirio Diaz, another notable guitarist of the age. Sadie recalls playing the Receuerdos de la alhambra for the master and being greatly advanced in the musically stimulating atmosphere.
On returning to Australia Sadie continued to teach and give recitals. A friend (Paul Chick, guitarist in a band called the Premiers), recalls attending a concert in Mordialloc which was well attended and enthusiastically received.
Sadie’s proudest achievement is in being appointed head of guitar at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, the first academic appointment of its kind in Australia. Now most music faculties would have a head of guitar but Sadie was the first. While at the ANU Sadie continued to give solo and chamber recitals as well as teach. Timothy Kain was a noted pupil who later assumed the academic position held by Sadie. Tim is well-known as a teacher and recitalist and also as the inspiration behind the classical guitar ensemble, Guitartrek with many CDs and concerts to his credit.
Sadie’s partner, Joe Washington was also a fine guitarist in the jazz idiom, probably best known to a generation of guitar players from his arrangement of Beatles tunes for classical guitar. Beautiful arrangements but far too difficult for a “pop star” to attempt.
The family musical talent carries on in the form of George Washingmachine, a noted jazz musician. George also learned the guitar (“he was a “natural,” Sadie says) although George is now more often seen on stage playing the violin in a Grappelliesque style and singing in the company of guitarist Ian Date.
Sadie played at first a Maton guitar and later a Ramirez.
Sadie’s recording is now out of the catalogue. Entitled Sadie Bishop, Classical Guitar it includes pieces from the student and concert repertoire. Studies by Guiliani, Carcassi, Villa Lobos along with works by Sanz, De Visee and Tarrega evincing a robust technique and a beautiful tone.
Sadie continues to take a keen interest in the instrument and follows concerts, recordings and recitals of her favourite players who include Slava Grigoryan, Peter Constant, Marian Schaup and of course John Williams.