One Australian musician is covering more miles than perhaps any other from this country. She is pianist Ambre Hammond, founder of Girl Piano Truck, a five-year project that has seen her perform numerous free concerts across Africa, the Philippines, Belarus, East Timor, Thailand and India. Music Australia wrote about her after she launched her project, and since then this indefatigable adventurer has given pop-up concerts in the most far-flung places.
“I put a piano in the back of a truck and travel to remote and third world countries giving free concerts in schools, orphanages, community centres etc.,” she says.
All it needs is a truck, portable electric piano, and a desire to communicate that enables Hammond to bring smiles to young kids and families from many different cultures. As videos of her visits to Cebu and across Tanzania show, the enthusiasm she generates in her audiences is tremendous.
At other times in her career, this remarkably enterprising Sydney-based pianist has performed with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of the City in London; and in 2007 she premiered Lalo Schifrin’s Double Concerto for Piano and Trumpet with James Morrison and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – he in fact dedicated the work to her.
But it is life on the road, and bringing music to those outside the privileged walls of the concert hall, that particularly inspires her. Next, Hammond tours NSW in October to give five shows, and then she takes Girl Piano Truck around outback Australia. Look here for dates.
Before that though she gets back to recording. In August, she releases a new album of original compositions for solo piano, Night Flowers; this will be accompanied by a series of short films which she is directing – “I love the emotive impact of visuals with music,” she says. Then Hammond records another album of music by Jobim with jazz pianist Marcello Maio (they play together at the Seymour Centre on August 25), and re-releases an album she made way back when she was 12 – it includes Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ Sonata, Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz and the Warsaw Concerto.
“In between I’ll be composing, riding my motorcycle, hanging out with my 15 year old and hopefully cooking and eating a lot of Russian food,” she says.
It seems such a quintessentially Australian thing to do, this idea of trucking around over long distances and presenting classical music to people who may never have heard it before.
It has been used before in music teaching. In an earlier story, we wrote about the Mobile Youth Van, an outreach program run by Save the Children Fund that brings music classes to young people in disadvantaged and marginalised communities in the eastern states. The Music Bus is another Aussie initiative that is in effect a music classroom on wheels. Equipped with electronic keyboards, drum kits and guitars, it operates in conjunction with local primary schools.
But as far as giving live classical concerts, Hammond’s Girl Piano Truck remains unique in this country. Only overseas is there anything similar. In the US, The Concert Truck started up two years ago, and it takes a digital grand piano around schools, children’s homes homeless shelters and public squares in South Carolina, Ohio, Maryland and Minnesota. The pianist on board, Nick Luby, performs programs of Chopin, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov.
Music Haul, based in Vermont, uses a similarly large transit van that opens out at the rear to form a mini covered performance platform. Its six musicians play string quartet, piano and percussion in music from Bach to Broadway.
In France, there is the even more ambitious uNopia project. This consists of a monster van with a fold-out stage on one side that accommodates a small grand piano. Several young musicians are involved in this, and in 2019 they will trek across Europe to Moscow playing classical concerts themed around the music of each country they visit.
Given the vast distances we have in Australia, there is clearly a lot more scope for efforts such as these. All plaudits to Hammond for getting the ball rolling.