May 7, 2020
Arts & Culture

Love songs with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Forget the bars, delete the dating apps and don’t even worry about blind dates. If you want to find that special someone, it seems all you have to do is join the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Some of the married couples at the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra are Chris and Sherri Handley, Alison Heike and Mark Gaydon, Emma Perkins and Cameron Waters, Martin Butler and Sherin Lim, Dave Khafagi and Janet Anderson, and Sarah and Ian Denbigh. (Photographed at Apoteca, Hindley Street; gowns by After Dark; flowers supplied by Interflora)

There’s something in the air over at Grainger Studio — romance has blossomed again and again over the years. So much so, in fact, that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra now boasts eight married couples among its ranks.

Some of the musicians say they can see the signs of a new relationship forming as two people start to spend more and more time together, rehearsing, performing and socialising.

If you sit in the audience during a show, you might see a sly side glance from Alison Heike towards her husband, Mark Gaydon.

The violinist says she sometimes tries to catch Mark’s eye while he’s busy on the bassoon, but he’s always too engrossed in the piece he’s playing to get distracted. “I try to look over at him, but he’s always very serious,” Alison laughs.

The orchestra’s musicians work such irregular hours that the people they’re most likely to socialise with are their colleagues. Alison and Mark got to know each other through the ASO’s tennis team and soon discovered a mutual love of chamber music, forming their breakout group called Ensemble Le Monde.

Violinist Janet Anderson and trumpeter Dave Khafagi married in 2005.

“Music draws people together, so it makes sense that many people would find their loved one in this musical environment.”

Mark popped the question as they were about to walk into their favourite restaurant, Kenji, on Hutt Street. “We were about to go in and Mark suddenly became really romantic, reciting poetry from Shakespeare. I think I gave a really underwhelming reaction out of complete shock,” Alison says.

On their big day, the couple had a harpist and violinist from the orchestra play. As you would expect, music has not only played a part in each couple’s bonding, but also their relationship.

On Sarah and Ian Denbigh’s wedding day, a brass quartet that included players from three Australian symphony orchestras played Purcell’s Trumpet Tune as the ceremony began. A string quartet of friends played the slow movement of Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons during the signing of the register, and then their guests enjoyed the sounds of the quartet during drinks in the Adelaide Botanic Garden.

The reception featured a jazz quartet with famed musician, the late Bruce Hancock, and trombonist Warwick Tyrrell.

Section principal bassoonist Mark Gaydon and violinist Alison Heike celebrated their vows in 2014.

The couple met during the 1988 State Opera season of Carmen, which they were both playing in (Sarah on cello and Ian on trombone), and soon began sharing lifts to and from work. “On one memorable occasion, we were evacuated from the orchestral pit of Her Majesty’s Theatre as it needed to be fumigated due to an insect infestation,” Sarah says. The spare time led to a coffee together and eventually, their first date.

They recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary while on the ASO’s China/Korea tour. It happened to be on a day off in Beijing and the couple went for a walk on the Great Wall.

“Without a doubt, music has played a huge part in our relationship in general,” Sarah says.

“We were both very lucky to grow up in Australia in the ’70s and ’80s and were exposed to an amazing and creative scene that included everything from a vibrant tertiary education, to the rock, pop and jazz that we listened to on records and radio and watched live at gigs. We both have pretty eclectic tastes as a result and this often provides a good break from the constant orchestral music we play.”

Violinist Emma Perkins and cellist Cameron Waters compiled an ensemble of friends to perform at their wedding, including fellow ASO members and other musicians. During the ceremony, they performed one of the couple’s favourite songs, Simple by KD Lang. “It was really lovely and just so special to be able to have some wonderful friends play the music that we love,” Emma says.

Trombonist Ian Denbigh and cellist wife Sarah walked down the aisle in 1990.

Although it’s nice to have a life outside orchestral music, the couples agree it’s equally nice to be married to someone who understands their unique career.

Although plenty of her colleagues are married to non-musicians, Sarah says having someone who so innately knows her job makes life easier for her.

Having a musical spouse can be both a help and hindrance when it comes time to rehearse at home. Some see it as an opportunity to get extra tips and critique, while others won’t play in front of their significant other at home.

“We’re always practising at home and talking to each other about what’s coming up, even though brass and wind are quite different,” Sarah says. It’s a job that is neither easy to leave at the door nor easy to explain to those outside the profession. “There’s still a perception sometimes that what the audience sees is all we do. The perception is that you don’t have to work for it, it just flows from you in some instinctive way. How you describe it to someone who’s not in the business, I don’t know.”

Chris and Sherri Handley’s romance blossomed in a beautiful setting — the 1988 Opera in the Outback concert. They started dating soon after and Chris took the plunge and popped the question four months later.

Violinist Emma Perkins and cellist Cameron Waters recently celebrated their 10th anniversary

“The proposal was kind of sudden,” Chris says. “I was visiting a friend and his partner in Brisbane over the Christmas break and I realised that I missed Sherri and she was the one for me. Not being one to take things slowly, I hopped in the car and drove back to Adelaide in less than a day. Crazy, when I think about it.”

It was quite the eventful day for Sherri, who had received a call from the ASO just half an hour before the proposal, letting her know she had won a full-time position in the orchestra.

Chris and Sherri are the only married couple who play in the same section and the similarities don’t end there — they also share a birthday, albeit eight years apart.

Although the couple do bring work home because they have to practise, they usually try to get all the work discussions done in the car on the way home.

“Being a musician is a way of life and being married to one means that your life is always filled with music, either by being at work together in the orchestra, practising at home or having a constant stream of budding cellists arriving at our home for lessons,” Sherri says.

Violinist Sherin Lim and violist Martin Butler recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

Performing with the ASO, late nights and travel are inevitable. As many of the orchestra’s married couples have discovered, childcare can be a challenge when working with your spouse in a job that operates within such irregular hours.

Alison and Mark have employed a babysitter who has worked for two of the other couples and is fully aware of the flexibility of schedules.

The mass coupling has led to a wave of offspring, who have inherited musical genes. Emma and Cameron’s children, Ruby, 4 and Zach, 6, both love music and are just starting to learn instruments. “I worked right up until late pregnancy so they were surrounded by a lot of loud music,” Emma says. “The last show I did before Zach was born was Salome so that’s the music he loves. He also loves Peter Combe, but particularly loves late romantic German music.”

Emma and Cameron recently celebrated 10 years married in spectacular fashion. “That evening, we played together at Magical Tchaikovsky — a pretty romantic concert to play on your anniversary!” 

Cellists Chris and Sherri Handley, pictured at their wedding in 1989, are the only married couple within the orchestra to play the same instrument.


This story first appeared in the February 2020 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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