Douglas Mackie has been Principal Flute for the TSO for 42 years during which he has seen many changes. We caught up with Douglas recently and asked him a few questions, reflecting on his long and illustrious career with the TSO.
The TSO must have looked very different in 1981, can you share what it was like when you first started, and how it has changed over time?
I started at the beginning of 1981, so I’ve been Principal Flute with the TSO for 42 years. The TSO was a broadcasting orchestra at that point, wholly run by the ABC (mainly from Sydney). We were in The Odeon, which was a bit of a hole really… people smoked downstairs in the Greenroom, so many of us tended to sit on the stairs out the front just to get some sunlight. There were only a few employees here to support us: an orchestral manager, office coordinator, ticket sellers, stagehand and a cleaner. All our programming was done in Sydney. We spent about a third of our time recording for a 1-hour local Saturday morning broadcast called, Music in Hobart.
At that point, the TSO was somewhere you came as a musician until you could get a ‘real’ job. I remember three months after I arrived there was a headline in The Age that said, ‘ABC to axe 42 musicians’ which happened to be the size of the TSO, so I was worried! Through the years there have been many attempts to make the orchestra smaller. Fortunately, they were all unsuccessful.
Some of the big changes include when we broke away from ABC management, we felt very insecure at the time. However, through the insecurity we prevailed. Another big change was the move from Odeon Theatre to Federation Concert Hall in 2001, this was a really exciting moment for all of us.
The thing that I see, and feel, is that our colleagues truly value what we do. They support us as individuals, and care. It’s a great feeling.
Where were you before you joined the TSO?
I was in an orchestra in Auckland that folded so I decided to leave New Zealand and come to Australia. I wrote letters to various orchestras to see if there were any jobs and I wasn’t even aware that there was an orchestra in Tasmania until I looked it up in a book. I wrote a letter to the TSO and had a reply telling me they did have a vacancy for principal flute, but applications had closed. Then I got another letter requesting a tape recording, so I sent one. That was in about June of 1980, and I heard nothing until December, when I got a phone call one evening saying I had got the job.
And I said, ‘well don’t you want me to come over to see if you like me or not?’
They said no!
That sums up the attitude back then.
I remember bumping into a player in Melbourne Airport about a year later and he was walking past the Hobart departure gate carrying a violin case. I asked if he was coming to Hobart and he looked at me and said, ‘why would someone who plays the violin want to go to Hobart?’
It was so different here back then.
Now we’ve looked back, what about looking forward. What will the TSO’s next 42 years will hold?
Another 42 years… hmmm, well the standard will have naturally increased enormously. I think there’ll be a lot more offered online, but what exactly is still unknown. 42 years ago, the internet didn’t exist so who knows!
You have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with your Chair Patrons. What has this support meant to you?
My chair sponsors, Ian Hicks and Dr. Jane Tolman, have been an important part of my professional life for many years. Ian’s positions with the Sydney Morning Herald, and Jane’s work as a doctor specialising in geriatrics, provided much interesting and stimulating conversation over the many meals that my wife Janet and I have shared with them. Unfortunately Ian is no longer with us, but our friendship with Jane continues and is something that I very much value.
What place will music have in your life once you put the flute down at the end of this year?
One of the things I haven’t done very much in the last 40 years is go to concerts. I’ve found that I’m having to learn how to listen to music in a concert hall. I’m happy to do it at home but sitting in a concert hall for two hour is a new experience for me and I want to get better at it. So, once I learn to sit in the hall, I want to experience concerts as an audience member.
It can be hard not to be critical when listening to orchestral music. When I’m at home and listen to music for pleasure it’s not orchestral music. I enjoy listening to Loreena McKennitt, a Canadian artist with Celtic/Middle Eastern influence. I love hearing the sound and colour without thinking about it critically.
Do you have any plans for next year yet?
My wife Janet and I are keen to travel. We plan to do a full trip of the mainland including visiting our son who lives in Cairns, so we’ll do a slow drive around the country. I’ve been asked to play in the Matthew Passion next June, which I’ll do, but if I don’t practise for a few days my ability starts to go, so it’s difficult to maintain a standard if I’m not working. I can imagine at some point I will stop playing all together because I can’t maintain the level of playing I want to do. We’ll see when that happens.
And finally, what do you think has been your biggest contribution to the TSO?
I’ve always found playing difficult, and I get very stressed about it. So, when I play, I try to go out on a limb. It can be really easy just to play within the limits and be comfortable. I’d like to think that I’ve managed to play some music with variety. I often make things up as I go along, in terms of interpretation. I never want to sound predictable. I hope I’ve achieved that.