Naughty boy got Goodchild his break

By Katarina Kroslakove

From the April 2000 edition of the 2MBS-FM magazine.

Cliff Goodchild has become synonymous with the instrument he played in the Sydney Symphony for 36 years. Deeply involved in community music making, Goodchild has witnessed many changes, as KATARINA KROSLAKOVA discovered.


Just as subscribers begin to receive this edition of Stereo FM Radio, Cliff Goodchild is probably settling back into his Kensington home. His was one of the many houses severely damaged in the hail storms of April 1999. As a result, our interview took place in a serviced apartment in Randwick, where, together with his wife, he would stay for six weeks while new ceilings were built throughout his house.

Goodchild fondly calls his home Kincumber. Although he has never put a nameplate up, it reminds him of his musical beginnings. 'I actually started my musical education with the Sisters of St Joseph at Dapto, a convent school. I learnt the piano there for a while and I can still remember the first piece I played was called Over the plains with the emu. When I left Dapto, my music was put in a suitcase and 1 had to go to Kincumber, also owned by the Sisters of St Joseph. And would you believe that I was eight years at Kincumber and those piano books never left that suitcase the whole time I was there!

'For a start they never taught piano, they had a brass band. It was started in the 1920s and it just got re-formed before l got there, so I was picked for the band. But a boy named Albert Lynch got caught putting salt in his mate's tea in the dining room and as punishment, he got pulled out of the band. So the "boss", Sister Ann Joseph, said to another nun, "Well, we'll have to fill that vacancy there. Oh, Goodchild can go, he learnt the piano with the sisters at Dapto", and that's how I got in the band at Kincumber, because some other kid was put out of it.'

That was Goodchild's accidental introduction to the tuba. Although he regrets not pursuing the piano, unlike many students at Kincumber, he kept up the tuba and 'practised like hell'. On buses, on trams, in fact in any available space. 'When I was living in Glebe, I used to get on the train and go to the old GPO to practise at night in the big basement. Sometimes I'd put the tuba in the back of the tram and I'd sit in the front. One night I got off, went to the GPO and realised I didn't have my tuba. So I had to go down to the Quay to get my tuba out of the lost property office!

'Occasionally, I'd get a lift somewhere, travelling on the back of a motorbike. It was quite a sight - there I'd be on a motorbike with this great big tuba strapped to my back driving all around Sydney.'

The hours of practising paid off. In March 1945, Goodchild won the Australian Championships for E flat Bass. 'The press came and took pictures of me, and when the Sunday papers came out, they had somebody else's picture with my name underneath, and it said "Goodchild hopes one day to play in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra'. I had never heard of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra! I was 18 years of age then, mind you, and we didn't have children's concerts in those days.'

After performing with the ABC Military Band for five years, Goodchild did in fact join the Sydney Symphony, an association which lasted 36 years. 'I had played with Goossens several times before I joined the SSO when the regular tuba player was sick. I had no idea what sort of a player I was from an orchestral point of view, as it was the first time I had played in a full symphony orchestra. Then Ken Lawson, the manager of the SSO, rang me up and told me 'Mr Goossens said that's the way a tuba should be played".'

During his years as the principal tuba with the SSO, Goodchild was soloist in the

Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto several times. Not necessarily because it was a particular favourite, but due -to lack of repertoire - 'it was the only well-known work that you'd perform with an orchestra'. Although there's still a lack of tuba repertoire, Goodchild feels it is improving. 'I, imagine there would be at least 20 new concertos written in the past 20 or 30 years. There's some very good Russian composers, English composers, even Australian composers'.

Likewise, the development of technology and its impact on the tuba has impressed Goodchild. 'In the past two decades, the development of audio-visual equipment and the way brass technology has advanced is unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. Same with the equipment for tubas. I remember once a conductor wanted the tuba muted - well, you couldn't buy a tuba mute in Australia! So then he decided he was going to try it with a kitchen colander. He brought it in himself and put it in the bell of the instrument and it rattled like hell, so it wasn't a big success. Eventually, I did get a mute, but it looked like a Cape Canaveral rocket.'

On a more serious note, I asked Goodchild about the continuing musical tradition in the family, namely with son Paul being the Associate Principal Trumpet with the SSO. 'It was quite funny, when he was about two or three, he started blowing an old soprano cornet in the backyard and Louise, my daughter, would have a little drum, and they would go around the whole yard. So without even realising it, he was getting quite a good embouchure. Now he's one of the best classical trumpet players in the country today.' No fatherly bias? 'None whatsoever. The orchestra players tell me that.'

Apart from his obvious involvement in the performing side of the orchestra, Goodchild also became active in the politics, serving as president of the SSO Players' Committee for 19 years. Things which seem standard today, such as complimentary tickets and programs for the players. Air-conditioning, or even travel expense reimbursements, were all part of the committee's agenda for better conditions.

'I also used to run the Melbourne Cup Sweepstakes and started the Tea Club. The first time the SSO entertained another orchestra was also my doing. I suggested that every player brings a plate, which they were more than happy to do, and we used to put on banquets like you've never seen before. You certainly couldn't get the Opera House to cater like that!'

Despite being involved as secretary of the National Band Council of Australia, president of the Band Association of NSW, co-organiser of the Annual NSW School Bands Festival, and founding Sydney Brass, Goodchild has always found time to conduct. 'I really enjoy conducting, in fact it's what keeps me going now. His very first conducting experience was at 19 with the Leichhardt Police Boys Club Brass Band, and he has just retired as conductor of the Waverley College Band after almost 50 years. In 1985 he was awarded an OAM for his dedicated work with school and community bands. Yet even as a conductor, it seems Goodchild's streak of political bargaining is still present.

'I still conduct the Waverley Bondi Beach Band which I founded in 1958. We practise over at the Randwick Racecourse every Friday evening, and in return for the premises they give us, we do engagements for the races.

'When the London Symphony Orchestra came out to Sydney, I made a few phone calls and asked whether the Waverley Bondi Beach Band could play when they arrived. "It won't cost you anything," I said, as we regarded it as a good publicity exercise. I remember the airport was deserted, there was nothing else coming in, all you could see was the occasional rat running through the terminal. When they arrived, we played for them. Abbado was their conductor at that time and the press got him to conduct our hand! We reckon that when he put in his CV for the Berlin Philharmonic, he must have put down that he conducted the Waverley Bondi Beach Band!'