Making music a key for young migrants

Georgina Imberger co-founded the Piano Project Charity in 2016. Photo Dylan Bruce
Always seeking adventure, Georgina Imberger speaks to Dylan Bruce about a charity she co-founded to provide piano lessons for migrant children.

Nestled away in a Brunswick back street, the renovation of an old factory is underway. Piles of building materials lie stacked on the floor, surrounded by graffitied walls. Among it all stands Georgina Imberger, one of those responsible for transforming this mess into what will be Tempo Rubato. Georgina, an anaesthetist by trade, is passionate about involving herself in the redevelopment work. She explains how attendees will flow in through glass doors to the performance area and outlines where the bar and toilets will be. Whereas others may leave such work to tradesmen and architects, she is determined to grasp the particulars of the project; a trait that is evident in her charity work.

Once completed, the first floor of this cold and grey factory will become a warm and welcoming venue for musical performances. The funds raised by these concerts will go to the Piano Project charity, founded in 2016 by Georgina and her friend, Erica Martin. It works with piano teachers, English language secondary schools, and community centres to provide and pay for piano lessons for new immigrant children. Although neither woman is a musician, both are passionate music fans, and hashed out the original idea for Piano Project while at a gig together. “There was this sense of it being a practical thing, but philosophically it felt like a meaningful gesture from our part of good will, hope, and humanness,” says Georgina.

It’s not unusual for Georgina to take on such an immense project, co-founder Erica says. “She’s the kind of person that would always bite off more than she could chew, eat it, and then want more for her second course. I think everyone’s always blown away not only by her vision, but her ability to execute as well.”

Despite describing herself as “hopeless” at the piano, Georgina is nonetheless grateful for having learnt as a child. She picked it up again while living in Dublin, quickly recalling the basic scales and the joy that comes from playing. “No matter how much you’ve learnt, there’s something very therapeutic and beyond words about it for me.”

Her passion for the charity is inspiring, says Georgina Lewis, one of the piano teachers who works with the Piano Project. “Even as someone who hasn’t gone on to be a career pianist, [piano] still means the world to her. I think that sort of broadens the picture of what you’re teaching in those lessons.”

The Piano Project has recently received a $189,600 grant from the State Government for Tempo Rubato. The funds were awarded through the Pick My Project initiative, which allowed the public to vote on community programs to receive funding. Georgina recalls the night she found out they had won the funding. “It was a Tuesday, my day off, and I was looking after my niece and nephew who are seven and four. I was checking my emails and got one from someone who voted and it said ‘by the way, congratulations’. I was so excited. We did high fives.”

She credits the motivation she had when returning from studying and working overseas for pushing her to start the charity. “I think when you come home after a long time there’s this extraordinary opportunity for adventure, because you have much more of a blank canvas than any other time, and this feeling of possibility before life starts to close in and these extra things start to feel ridiculous.”

Her brother, Duncan Imberger, says that she has always sought out such challenges. “She’s always had a very strong sense of who she was and what she’s about,” he says.

“She’s got a big appetite for taking things on, and she seems to go from project to project, but this one is out of the box, and obviously means a lot to her. It sort of marries that love of music with wanting to do something generous for people who’ve only just arrived in the country.”

While studying and working in clinics and hospitals in Europe, Georgina immersed herself in the continent’s music scene. Although she spent most of her time in Copenhagen and Dublin, it was in Berlin where she found the inspiration for Piano Project, at an old factory housing restored pianos doubling as a concert venue named Piano Salon Christophori. “People wander in, it’s free, you pour yourself a glass of wine, and it’s amazing,” says Imberger.

“Just experimenting with personality, space and the musician is what I find fascinating, and I walk into that space and I hear something, and you know it moves you.”

Thinking back on her school years, Georgina fondly recalls her high school German teacher, a Czechoslovakian immigrant simply known as Frau. “She had a big influence on my life at the time, in terms of the picture she painted of the importance of culture.
“There was a spark I saw in what she gave us and an interest in the difference. As a teenager I saw this kind of entry into another way of thinking, and I’ve always been attracted to that.”

While in Europe, she visited Prague, and says that when walking the city streets she imagined her former teacher there. “I was in philosophical need of that pondering, and I found it there and I found it with music.”

Although Georgina doesn’t relish in the attention that the project has brought her (“I’m an anaesthetist, you see. We’re very quiet”) she loves the challenge of the project. “I’ve always sought out what I perceive to be challenging and interesting things that don’t have a clear path.”

“There’s a Czech writer, Ivan Kilma, who has this quote: ‘When did I miss my chance? I can’t answer that. People miss opportunities every day. One can only try not to miss them through laziness or fear.’ I like that idea, that you can’t control what happens, but if you do the pieces with your eyes open, you can take the steps and know what you’re trying to achieve.”