Everything Has A Story: Coralie Rockwell Sawer

One of the many things that you learn as an archivist is that everything has a story.  There is the story of the peoples recorded, of course, but there is also the story of the researcher or the collector.  

"Do you know anything about this thesis?" is how this story begins.  I didn't know anything about the thesis in question, a B.A. thesis, Honours in Music, from the University of Sydney (1965) on "Korean traditional music and musical instruments" by Coralie Sims. 

UCLA Music of Korea ensemble

As I soon learned (no one ever seems to tell you this, but a good part of an archivist's job is detective work), Coralie Rockwell Sawer (née Sims) was born on February 10th, 1945 in Tamworth, New South Wales.  While studying at the University of Sydney, she became fascinated by the music of East and Southeast Asia and wrote her Honours thesis on Korean music.  She was inspired, at least in part, by Professor Peter Sculthorpe, who begin teaching at the University in 1964.  As the biographical section of his own website explains, "Peter Sculthorpe has written works in most musical forms. His output relates closely to the social and physical climate of Australia, and the cultures of the Pacific Basin. He was influenced by the music of Asia, especially during the 1960s by that of Japan and Indonesia." 

Coralie's Honours thesis helped her to earn a scholarship to UCLA, where, in 1969, she completed her Masters Degree in Ethnomusicology, specializing in Korean vocal music.  Her thesis is entitled, "A study of Kagok, a traditional Korean vocal form, and an analysis of thirty-four songs of the repertoire" (available in the Music Library).  The published version of her M.A. thesis, Kagok: a traditional Korean vocal form (Asian Music Publications, 1972)  is in the Ethnomusicology Archive. 

Yes, she was a UCLA Ethnomusicology graduate.  She clearly gifted the Archive with a copy of her Honours thesis.

Sadly, Coralie passed away on September 29th, 1991 in Woden Valley Hospital, Australian Capital Territory. Her husband, Michael Sawer, wrote a lovely obituary, detailing her study of Asian music, her teaching at the Canberra School of Music (she "was largely instrumental in founding and teaching the first non-Western music course") and her active membership in the Musicological Society of Australia.   At the time of her death, she was doing her doctoral research at Sydney University's Conservatorium of Music.  She was working on the reconstruction of ninth-century musical scores unearthed at Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China.  As Sawer wrote, "She was an inspiring teacher and a true pioneer of Asian musicology in Australian education."

So, do I know anything about this thesis?  I do now.

Everything has a story.


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