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Former Queensland musician-turned-monk to perform at lecture-recital in Brisbane

Musical monk: Benedictine Father Robert Nixon playing the piano at New Norcia monastery. Fr Nixon will return to his home in Queensland to play at a lecture-recital on the transcendental quality of music. Photo: New Norcia.

WHEN Benedictine Father Robert Nixon gave up his music career in 2013 to become a monk in Western Australia, he was resigned to the fact that he might never perform in public again.

The Mt Isa-born pianist and former music teacher is a Benedictine priest in Australia’s only monastic town, New Norcia, Western Australia.

Before entering New Norcia, Fr Nixon could be found playing solo recitals or entertaining guests at a local restaurant or resort.

So when Fr Nixon discerned that God was leading him to the monastic life on the other side of Australia, he prepared himself to part with performing for good.

“So I kind of thought that I would be saying goodbye to playing in public, that that was a part of my life which God was calling me to put aside,” Fr Nixon said.

“But as it turned out, that wasn’t God’s plan at all.”

Instead, Fr Nixon became the resident musician for the monastery. 

He is responsible for coordinating all of the monk’s daily sung prayers and liturgies, many of which are open to the public, and looks after the monastery’s famous pipe organ.

“I probably end up playing in public now more than what I did when I was actually engaged as a professional musician,” Fr Nixon said.

“I’ve been a church organist throughout most of my life but until coming to the monastery it was never really a full time thing for me.”

Fr Nixon’s musical fate is not at odds with his monastic community’s history – New Norcia’s founder, Spanish Bishop Salvado Rosendo, was himself a pianist and composer.

Music for God: “It’s allowed me to work out of the space of contemplation and reflection more deeply, and to write music which in a way is directed purely towards God and the service of God rather than towards achieving projects within a certain timeframe.”

Following his founder’s footsteps, Fr Nixon has also found time between his demanding schedule to write new liturgical compositions, testing them on his parishioners at Abbey Church.

“I play it often at appropriate times during our public liturgies, and I think having responses from people is always an important thing for a musician,” Fr Nixon said.

The life of deep contemplation, of otherworldly silence, has also “coloured” Fr Nixon’s more recent works.

“Being at the monastery has given me a new dimension to my work as a composer,” he said.

“It’s allowed me to work out of the space of contemplation and reflection more deeply, and to write music which in a way is directed purely towards God and the service of God rather than towards achieving projects within a certain timeframe.

“I think the atmosphere of peace and contemplation in the monastery, somehow has coloured my recent music.”

Fr Nixon will have an opportunity to showcase his liturgical compositions at a special lecture-recital titled Music Transcendent being held in Brisbane on February 17 featuring Roger Cui, Paul Carasco and philosopher and author Dr Paul Tyson.

The theme for the evening will be the function of music as a medium for encountering and expressing spiritual and transcendent realities, within a Christian context. 

Fr Nixon said the recital would be an “opportunity of sharing ideas and sharing music”.

Music Transcendent will be held at the Hanger Recital Hall, Griffith University, South Bank on Wednesday, February 17, at 6:30pm.

For more information on the recital or New Norcia, email Fr Robert Nixon on institute@newnorcia.wa.edu.au.

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