"Pray That I May Play Beautifully For You" - Roger Woodward on Life, Music and Faith - Hope 103.2

“Pray That I May Play Beautifully For You” – Roger Woodward on Life, Music and Faith

We spoke to Roger Woodward ahead of a concert at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta. He is recognised by the National Trust as a National Living Treasure.

By Stephen O'DohertyFriday 17 Aug 2018Open House InterviewsCultureReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Virtuoso Pianist Roger Woodward in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty

Roger Woodward is one of Australia’s gifts to the world. He is among the one hundred Australians recognised by the National Trust as a National Living Treasure.

He’s a piano virtuoso who has been at the forefront of music for more than five decades and his celebrated performances are known for technical brilliance and exquisite beauty.

Born in 1949, he maintains a very full schedule of performing, educating and recording. Despite his huge international schedule he returns to Australia “as often as he can”.

A sense of place is very important to Roger Woodward and as one who has performed on the world’s great stages, he exudes enthusiasm for the great halls and theatres that grace Australia’s country towns and regional centres.

A love for place and people

One of his favourite performance spaces, he told Open House, is in Gulgong in mid western New South Wales.

“The Prince of Wales Opera House in Gulgong [sits] between a pub and a coffee shop. It looks nothing from the street, but you go in and there’s this magnificent Federation hall.

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“Henry Lawson recited there… [Dame] Ellen Terry my great aunt used to act there, [Dame] Nellie Melba before she was married used to sing there, Percy Grainger played there. The towns folk in Gulgong kept the theatre in very good nick”.

Also in “pretty good nick” is the 9 foot Steinway Grand the town purchased from the ABC years ago.

“I play in this acoustic gem steeped in history with a very very good concert grand in it, and it’s such a pleasure. I must have played about 20 concerts in there. It’s just a joy,” he told Open House.

Sharing music is a gift from God

This virtuous draws inspiration from his audiences, something he can only really understand in spiritual terms.

“Other people’s emotions really impact on the way you play,” he said.

“We could talk about it for more complex reasons, the physics and chemistry of this reaction between performer and audience, but it’s the spark that comes from this that we don’t really understand.

“It’s something very powerful, this sharing of something so beautiful. I don’t know, I’ve tried to rationalise this all my life and still haven’t got to the bottom of it, but what I do know is that sharing wonderful experiences playing music – it’s just something from God really.”

From a church in Chatswood to the world stage

Roger Woodward grew up in Chatswood where his family attended the Church of Christ. Young Roger He learned the works of J.S. Bach on the small church organ.

“The church became a part of our lives and a driving force in our family. We were not fanatics or anything… I found music in the church a very helpful thing as well as taking piano lessons. In fact I was going to be a church musician but I won a competition and then after that started playing concerts, then I won other prizes and awards and just kept on playing the piano!”

That award was in fact the 1964 ABC Vocal and Instrumental Competition. David Helfgott, another extraordinary performer whose story is told in the Academy Award winning move Shine, came second.

Prayer life

Faith remains an important part of his life. “I pray everyday for people I love… and people I don’t necessarily like very much,” he offers.

Some world leaders, he says, are “doing huge damage to the human spirit”. He prays for their souls and “the damage they are doing to families, to values, to fundamental freedoms”.

“But we also have wonderful leaders, families who have become enshrined in constitutional monarchies who provide leadership at a very simple level”.

He also hails leaders who look to the needs of others look after the poor and protect the environment.

“I pray for myself to get guidance; for the forgiveness of my sins and forgiveness for others.

“As I get older I think these values – the moral values of our lives and the worth of our lives – it’s very important that we are able to do some good with our lives for people who may not be so privileged.

And how can we pray for Roger Woodward?

“I don’t know,” he laughs. “Pray for this concert that it might be a success, that I may play beautifully for you!”

On Open House we spoke to Roger Woodward ahead of a concert at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta and we thank them for their assistance. 

To listen to our conversation with Roger Woodward click the red arrow towards the top of this page, or you can subscribe to Open House podcasts in iTunes and they will appear in your feed.