Merlyn Keeps Singing for Justice
People and organisations have long used music, particularly folk, in their struggles for justice and social change. Australian opera singer Merlyn Quaife AM has done her bit and more. A decade ago Merlyn, an acclaimed soprano, spoke to Victorian ACRATH member Stancea Vichie about human trafficking. She realised that her great gift, her voice, could raise money to help combat the global injustice. Since that meeting Merlyn has never stopped singing for ACRATH. Her 10 year long fundraising stint has coincided with some great achievements including the 2013 law to ban forced marriage, the 2018 Modern Slavery Act, the rise of interest in and commitment to buying slavery-free products and a greater awareness of modern day slavery. That conversation in 2009 had a huge impact on Merlyn, who had a vague understanding of the issue, but not its impact globally or its prevalence in Australia. Merlyn was particularly concerned about how human trafficking impacted on girls and women. It’s something she mentions every time she holds an event, as she did in late October.
Merlyn’s fundraising for ACRATH began when she collaborated with pianist, composer and conductor Roger Heagney to produce a CD, which was released in 2010. The CD, Fortune My Foe, a song cycle by Heagney, set the poetry of Graeme Ellis to music. Produced by the ABC and released by Move Records, Merlyn was joined on the CD by pianist Andrea Katz. All gave their time and resources pro bono.
“We produced 1000 CDs not just to raise money for ACRATH, but to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage people to listen to music that they may not be familiar with,” Merlyn said. “It was an attempt to open people’s minds to beautiful and thought provoking new music and to the issue of human trafficking.” The CDs are now sold out but Merlyn continues her annual fundraising concert at the beautiful Melbourne home of her friend Craig Thomas.
“I now have this loyal group of supporters who come each year to hear me sing and to support the anti-trafficking work that ACRATH is doing. I mention it to people in the leadup to the performance. I also try to bring in a few new people each year to increase awareness plus I’ve started giving talented young performers the opportunity to perform alongside me” Merlyn said. Stancea Vichie often prefaces Merlyn’s concerts with a brief talk about human trafficking.
Merlyn’s fan base stretches from Australia to Russia with myriad concert halls in between. She has performed as a soloist with the Singapore Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Voronesz Philharmonic in Russia; appeared with all the Australian Opera Companies and performed with all the Symphony Australia orchestras. Merlyn made her American debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in 1994, singing the title role in Gordon Kerry’s opera Medea with Chamber Made Opera.
As well as performing around the world Merlyn has had a long academic career at Melbourne and Monash Universities. She will soon retire from her academic career as Associate Professor Classical Voice at Monash University. Somehow in this demanding program Merlyn has remained committed to ACRATH’s work. While she may be leaving academia she isn’t leaving ACRATH and is pleased to see that voices, like hers, are being heard. “There are often articles in the news now about child labour or supply chain stories about clothing. So more people are becoming aware of human trafficking and how it affects so many millions around the world,” Merlyn said. “We each need to keep doing what we can for as long as we can.”