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Ball String QuartetA life in the service of music

The Ball String Quartet consisted of four member of the Ball family of Launceston, Joyce Marie Ball (b. 1913), Elsa Agnes Ball (b. 1916), Irma Aimee Ball (b. 1915) and Bess Isla Ball (b. 1914). From an early age each member of the family was taught a musical instrument. Bess - the cello, Irma and Elsa - the violin, and Joyce learnt both viola and piano.

By 1935 the quartet was well known for its fine performances of classical music and regularly performed in Tasmania. Members of the quartet also performed trios, duets or as soloists. The quartet was chosen to represent Australia at the European Chamber Music Festival in 1940, and invited by the Budapest String Quartet to play in Hungary. Due to the outbreak of World War Two, the planned events in London and Budapest did not occur.

'Irma and Elsa the two violinists moved to Hobart to take positions with the Australian Broadcasting Commission State Orchestra. Joyce, the violist and Bess the cellist remained in Launceston, although they made frequent visits to Hobart to take positions in the ABC Orchestra when it was augmented to full symphony. Joyce eventually developed what became a major school of pianoforte and strings in Tasmania. She also became the accompanying pianist for celebrities who visited Tasmania to perform under the auspices of the ABC.'

The following two extracts by Aida Ball (b.1918) and Laurence Ball (b. 1924) provide an insight into the life of a family in which the love of classical music was an integral part of daily life.

From Notes prepared by Aida Ball for an address at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery: 27.10.1999

" My parents came to Tasmania from Yae, Victoria in 1915. They brought with them a two year old, a one year old and a third child on the way. With them came a very large wooden case carrying a grand piano, a present from father to my mother, a cello - a present from my mother to my father, three violins, one half size and one made by mother's father. He made several. Also they brought two charcoal drawings, the works of my mother. One was of my father's cello. His contribution was the alto clef and a bar of "My cello is my sweetheart."

Both our parents were lovers of books and music, and music was apart of our lives as far back as I can remember. In that period five of us shared the one room, the three eldest shared the double bed and two youngest two shared the cot. We all starting learning to play an instrument early in life - our mother our teacher. All of us had some initial piano lessons, but here was only one piano and Joyce the eldest had first claim and made the most of it. Each of my other sisters was given a violin.

1930 was a very important year for the family. Bess the second eldest had found that her geography teacher at High school Mr Jenkinson, an Englishman was a cellist. She invited him home and he became Bess's cello teacher and a much treasured family friend. About the same year Charles Boult- a cousin of the renowned conductor Sir Adrian Boult arrived in Launceston. His influence on music was considerable. Elsa and Irma were accepted as his pupils, and life in the Ball family became really earnest. Nearly all childhood activities and escapades ceased and music took over. Our house was not large and our walls were not thick. Fortunately our neighbours were not close. For before breakfast, after school, well into the night and the whole weekends everyone would be practicing - each in a different room, scales, exercises, difficult passages, bowing techniques, practicing over and over all in various sharps and flat and all in different rhythms.

At the end of my first year at high school we were advised that because of the depression, fees would be introduced in the following year. Father was unable to cope with music fees and school fees and books. A choice had to be made. It was for us to decide. Music won….. Now music at home started in even greater earnest. Mr Boult planned a studied course similar to that of the Conservatorium - theory and history of music, harmony, counterpoint, composition Music piled up everywhere- solo music, duets trios, piano quartets and later quarter string quartets because it was not long before Joyce decided she would learn the viola, And so started the Ball String Quartet. And now except for individual concurrent practice sessions each in separate room, the house sent forth beautiful sounds. A flautist Mr Burbury joined the group, good singers joined in, and songs with obligatos floated through the air.

By 1935 the Ball String Quartet had given two well attended and well reported concerts, at Kings Hall (now demolished). Broadcasts followed and other concerts followed, and when the Budapest String Quartet came to Tasmania, the quartet was invited to play for it, but Hitler's activities put a stop to the arrangements that were being made.

From The Card Game by Laurence Ball

" I was the youngest member of the family, which consisted of my parents, my five sisters and myself. We all regarded each other with great love and high esteem, and these conditions provided us with an unquestioning certainty of affection and support.

To say that all members of the family were lovers of classical music would be to understate the position. For my four eldest sisters, classical music was their raison d'etre. They formed a string quartet and by the time I was 10 years old, they were giving public performances and achieving recognition as fine musicians.

On working days during the week quartet members would often begin at about six in the morning, and end the evening sessions after eleven at night. On the afternoons and evenings at weekends we would assemble in the music room, to listen to renditions of pieces practiced during the week, and pieces of which we were fond.

As well as performing as a group, the quartet members would give trio, duo and solo performances. My youngest sister Aida would perform at the piano, and my mother would play provide piano accompaniment whilst my father sang or played the cello.

In 1938 The Ball Family String Quartet were chosen to represent Australia at the Chamber Music Festival to be held in Britain the following year, However in 1939 World War 11 erupted, the festival was cancelled and the Quartet ceased to give recitals.'

Sources :

The Card Game by Laurence Ball

Notes prepared by Aida Olive Ball, for an address at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery: 27.10.1999. A complete recording of this talk is held by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.

Further information about the Ball String Quartet such as, programs, reviews and photographs are held by the Buza and Ball families in Tasmania and Victoria.

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