Leigh Sales

Leigh Sales on learning a musical instrument

“The way she taught music gave me everything I need to have it now as my greatest joy.”

When I turned ten, once a week my mother would give me an envelope containing six dollars for a half-hour music lesson. My organ teacher, Leanne, lived about a seven-minute bike ride from our house. I would put the money and The Complete Organ Player Book 1 by Kenneth Baker in the basket o the front of my red pushbike and pedal down Bald Hills Road until near its end, where it petered into a dirt track, leading to the Pine River. Near the end of the bitumen, on the left, was a modest, lowset brick house. I would coast up the driveway, flick the stand on my bike down, and wait outside until the student before me left.

Leanne was in her early 20s, newly married with no children yet. She was an adult, but not the kind of adult I knew, like my parents or teachers. She was in that sweet spot of adulthood where you are old enough to enjoy independence but not yet ground down by responsibility or disappointment. She was incredibly good fun and I loved going there. I never felt like I was learning anything in my music lessons, although of course I was. Now, as an adult myself, and having had many teachers in many different subjects, I realise that is the hallmark of a brilliant educator. Not even the practice felt like a chore. I never wanted to return the following week without having mastered what Leanne had set for me. I didn’t fear her, or worry I would get in trouble, I simply liked her so much that I didn’t want to disappoint her.

I remember that, in the first years, I would ignore the dynamics in the sheet music (the symbols that indicate whether to play loudly or softy, to speed up or slow down) because all I wanted to do was make the notes fit together and play the piece from beginning to end so that we could move onto the next thing. An organist’s right foot sits on a large, rectangular expression pedal that controls volume and my preferred position was flat to the floor all the time, regardless of what the music indicated.

“God, I dread the day you get your driver’s licence,” Leanne would grouse after she begged once again for even the slightest hint of musicality.

I’m still in touch with Leanne. She gave away music teaching many years ago to become a real estate agent. She was and will always be the greatest teacher I ever had. The way she taught music gave me everything I need to have it now as my greatest joy. When I think of the things in my life for which I am the most grateful, my parents caving in to my incessant demands for organ or piano lessons, and parting with the money for tuition and books and instruments, is right up there. The other thing for which I’m profoundly grateful is that when I showed up for my first lesson, I loved music, and when I left my teacher more than a decade later, I loved music even more.

I did not grow up to be a professional musician but what I learned in childhood equipped me well to enjoy and understand music as a listener. Through the podcast Annabel Crabb and I do together, Chat 10 Looks 3, I try to pass on that love of music on to our listeners. When I’ve seen something I’ve enjoyed, I do the best I can to explain it in a way that might make a lay person interested to listen themselves, whether it’s to Taylor Swift or Joshua Bell or Willie Nelson. I get so much from music that I can’t help but want to evangelise others.

A few years ago, I wanted to include a classical music performance in our annual Chat 10 Sydney show at the Enmore Theatre and so I tentatively reached out to Richard Tognetti and Satu Vänskä. I have long been a fan of the ACO and its ability to innovate and thought perhaps they would give it a go. They embraced the experience so wholeheartedly, and our fans loved them so much that, when the ACO approached Crabb and I to do a tour together, in a way that might make classical music more accessible to a person from a non-music background, I couldn’t have signed up faster.

Crabb is good-naturedly indulging me. My great fear is that she wants to garotte me and that she would rather be at home cooking a hearty vegetable soup and listening to Jack Johnson – and there ain’t nothing wrong with that either.

By Leigh Sales

Read more: Annabel Crabb and Richard Tognetti go way back

Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb appear on stage with the ACO in For the Love of Music with Chat 10 Looks 3, on Mon 8, Tue 9 & Fri 12 April in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Click here to buy tickets.