Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jill Downer

Jill Downer
(December 22, 1936 to September 20, 2011)

I have to report the passing of yet another figure in Canberra’s music community.

Jill Downer, the founder of Early Music Enterprises, died unexpectedly from a cerebral haemorrhage on September 20.

While not a member of our Canberra Critics’ Circle, EME was a Critics’ Circle award recipient and she was well known to many of our members, for her organisational skills in music, and for her work as a committee member of the Friends of the Classics Museum.

Jill was a dynamic force around town and after she retired from a long career teaching history and Latin at Girls' Grammar School, she took classics-minded Canberrans on fascinating in-depth trips to Greece and Turkey. Jill was a bon viveur and knew how to give people a good time on these trips, the most recent of which took place in May this year.

She had a huge database of music-lovers and if you every needed to get music news out to the community, she was the one to get onto it. With her contacts, she was an enormous help when we raised money for a concert at the International Music Festival last year in the name of our late Critics’ Circle member and music writer, Bernadette Cruise.

You always discover something you didn’t know when you meet to celebrate the life of somebody who has given a lot to the community. At a funeral Service in Canberra Girls Grammar on September 29, her life’s work was summed up as: teacher, concert manager, tour organiser, cook, knitter and cricket lover.

Jill studied at the University of Melbourne from 1952 and moved to Canberra in 1963 with her husband, Leslie. At school she became famous for her Latin and medieval feasts. She also took school tours as far as China and Turkey, during which time she fine-tuned her skills as a tour-leader.

She formed Early Music Enterprises after the “Recorder '90” event in Canberra, holding concerts and dance workshops in order to make up a financial shortfall. Eventually succeeding beyond the dreams, EME and the Classics Museum became the work of her later life. Concerts and a trip to Sicily will go ahead in her absence.

Known for her intellect and erudition, Jill’s wry sense of humour saved the day on many occasions. During a particularly dire production of an Aeschylus tragedy some years ago, I looked across the room for some moral support and got a raised eyebrow and a knowing smile from Jill, so knew I was in sympathetic company.

At the celebration of her life, Jill’s son Andy, said she has always been a perfect example of the principle Michael Leunig espoused when he wrote, “life is a holiday on earth.”
Helen Musa