Cecelia Clarke

Governors’ Circle member and long-time supporter of Sydney Living Museums, Cecelia Clarke has played a leading role in bringing our sheet music collection ‘out of the piano seat’ and into the digital realm.

Cecelia Clarke trained and worked as a research economist. Her interests include art and architectural history and travelling country roads. She also enjoys attending concerts and listening to music, from Corelli and Stravinsky to Stephen Sondheim and Neil Diamond. Through her membership of SLM’s Governors’ Circle donor group, Cecelia has provided crucial support to SLM’s major project of conserving, documenting, digitising and recording 2000 pieces from our significant historical sheet music collection to share online with scholars, musicians and the public.

When did you join SLM and why?

My late husband, Bill Clarke, and I enjoyed a longstanding interest in Australian and overseas architecture. We attended our first Historic Houses Trust of NSW [HHT; now SLM] Members function in 2001 – an exhibition celebrating the work of the Italian artist and decorator Augusto Lorenzini known for his work on the Sydney Town Hall.

From then onwards we participated in many remarkable exhibitions and field trips organised by the HHT. With like-minded colleagues, we studied urban architecture, explored rural properties and towns, and focused on specific architects. We also had a very good time. In preparing for these trips, Bill and I used the resources of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection at The Mint. We were made welcome by the knowledgeable library staff.

What lies behind your passion for digitising collections and research, particularly in the area of sheet music?

Working as a research economist was the start. I well remember the tedium of pre-digitised records: trawling hard copy of musty statistical records, then microfilm, microfiche. One needed time and a good budget to access data. Computerised data transformed my working life as well as my leisure-time research interests. How marvellous to sit at my desk and call up images, words and sounds using a remote search engine.

My support of the library’s digitisation of sheet music is a serendipitous melding of my interest in information technology and music. My mother’s family were jobbing musicians. They stored sheet music in the piano seat. SLM’s sheet music collection opens our ears and minds to the sounds of music in vanished domestic environments. Knowing more about the collection helps us formulate questions. Were the sounds of Aboriginal music notated by early settlers? What music did people make in their leisure time? Did romance and courtship blossom in piano duets? Did future professional musicians spring from small fingers stretching across a keyboard? Did people seek spiritual solace from playing music? Did they roll up the carpets and dance?

Why is this project so significant?

In a country the size of Australia, digitising SLM’s collections will offer more people, particularly in country areas, the opportunity to utilise our wonderful knowledge base. As one would expect, the library staff have the expertise to work with fragile material in the extensive collection. Having had the opportunity to don white gloves and turn the pages in the SLM collection, I can see the wisdom of taking music out of the piano seat and into the worldwide domain. Online access to sheet music is a different page turner.

Complete this sentence: Sydney Living Museums …

… through the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, is well placed to preserve and extend access to the SLM collections. My family and I welcome the opportunity to support this project. 

Woman dressed in red.

Cecelia Clarke. Photo courtesy Cecelia Clarke