Meeting the Stewart Symonds – former owner of the Stewart Symonds sheet music collection

As a music historian, I rarely meet anyone who has a specific connection to my research – mainly because I work on 18th and 19th century music and if I were to meet such people it would probably have to be through a supernatural device. However, this trip has turned up another treat! Stewart Symonds who is an avid collector of 19th century pianos and sheet music kindly donated most of his sheet music collections to the Caroline Simpson Research and Collections Library. His house, which is an early example of a colonial home, is filled to the brim with antiques, paintings, portraits, books, music – you name it and I am pretty sure he has got it! Had he not donated his collection of music, I wouldn’t be sitting in Sydney typing this blog right now!


One of his wishes for the sheet music collection was that researchers were able to come and use it for their work and hopefully share their knowledge with the rest of the world. I was so pleased to be able to fill him in on some of the exciting finds I have uncovered and what I plan to do next.


Meeting Stewart was not just an opportunity for me to see the man behind the collection – but it made me realise that collecting culture is still very much a part of the human experience. The volumes I have been working on are all highly personalised and reveal a small piece of the story that is someone’s life. BUT these personal collections have then been passed through the generations and come to another avid collector who placed a different, but important value on the volumes.


Stewart told me how he had picked up this music in various locations throughout Sydney, mostly second-hand or charity stores. This means that at some point in the life of the music collection, it became an unwanted piece of junk, but perhaps not unwanted enough to simply throw away. How many collections have disappeared from the world, taking the story of a person’s life with them because others could not see the value? Now obviously, we do not live in an endless world of space and if everyone, throughout time kept everything they owned to pass to the next generation, there would probably be no space for the next generation to exist. That being said, it is also important to record and conserve our history. How often do we see history repeating itself, and perhaps if we went back to the old documents, books, stories, ballads and songs we might be able to see the tell-tale signs and stop catastrophe. – An idealist notion I know! But, I digress…


These volumes have survived the ages and for now, they are not considered junk but treasure troves of information. On another note, if you want to see what I have been up to and get a little more up close and personal with the volumes – check out my latest vlog:


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