Chorale Conversations: Brenda Sullivan, 1st Violin, QSO


What originally drew you to choose to learn the violin?

We grew up in a small town in far North Queensland called Atherton, and our parents wanted us to learn an instrument to keep us busy. There was a violin teacher in the town hall, so off I went! We used to go to the piano teacher who was at one end of the hall, and the violin teacher at the other end. I don’t remember liking it or disliking it – it was just something that I did! Over the years, of course, it became a part of me and became the thing that I wanted to do with my life.  

Who do you see as your musical heroes and why?

I have a few musical heroes. The first one is a teacher, Professor Isadore Tinkleman from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He had polio when he was younger, so had a number of surgeries over the years. Because of this, he had a special way of explaining his teaching, rather than simply showing. He was able to inspire you with his words. I remember coming back from my first lesson and felt like I was flying!

I also really admire Itzhak Perlman, not only as an incredible violin player but as a wonderfully generous human being.

The last one would be Victor Borge, who seamlessly married talent on his piano with humour. What he did was incredible!

What’s the most helpful musical or performance tip you’ve picked up from your teacher/s?

Going back to Isadore Tinkleman, I was so inspired by him that I went to him after my first week and said, “I’ve been practising seven hours a day!”… and he tore strips off me! He of course reminded me about quality and not necessarily quantity, and to be more mindful about how I was working. It’s not going to be sustainable for your body or for your mind. You’ll drown in the work!

What pieces or works are on your performance “bucket list”?

This was hard to think about! I believe that the ‘bucket list’ doesn’t necessarily have to be in the future, but could have already been.  

I really love Madame Butterfly and enjoy playing that. Every time we play it, I cry every night. It’s such divine music.  The Sibelius Violin Concerto is always a favourite. I have played it many times and always love it. Another is Gabriel’s Oboe – it’s such a short and sweet piece that is very heartfelt.

At the end of the day, it’s about the audience interaction and what they receive from our performance. That’s most important to me.

What else might we find on your playlist besides violin and classical music?

My favourite song is Pharrell Williams’ Happy. I can see the film clip in my head. It’s so infectiously free! I adore that song, and play it every day!

I listen to a great deal of The Idea of North, an Australian a capella group. I especially love their gospel album.

 We play a lot of ‘70s folk music – Nina and Frederick, The Seekers, Peter Paul and Mary… I know all of the words! I also really love Carly Simons and Carole King.

 Besides music, do you have any special talents or skills you’d like to share with us?

I’m glad you asked! It sounds a bit braggy, but I’m a fantastic flat-pack builder. I love flat-packs! I can do them in a snap. I’m currently helping my son build his house and have taken over flat-pack duties. I’ve even built a flat-pack kitchen!

I’m also a registered counsellor. I like to help people work out where they’d like to go in life. While I’m not working as one right now, it’s something I’d like to get back into down the track.