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COOKE, Prof Maxwell Joseph Lorimer OAM

COOKE, Prof Maxwell Joseph Lorimer OAM


Max Cooke

Max Cooke

In 2010, Max's biographer, Fay Woodhouse described him as a 'successful and sought after teacher and performer' . He has lectured and performed overseas, has performed 'solo and chamber music and is a co-founder and artistic director of the Australian National Piano Award, Shepparton. In 1988 he formed the Team of Pianists with Robert Chamberlain, Darryl Coote and later Rohan Murray. He was invited to become a Fellow of the Australian College of Education in 1988'. 'Max’ commenced teaching music in 1952 at the Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne and continued his association with Melbourne University for over sixty years. Even in his 80s Max remained a Professor of Music at the University.

Max’ was born in a small Federation style brick cottage in Clifton Hill, Melbourne on 14 February, 1924. He was the second child born to parents Joseph Herbert Cooke (1891-1974) and Inez Martha nee Duggan (1892-?). His sister, Janet had been born three years previously. His father, at that time, ran a small butchery business started by Max's grandfather. After the family moved to Kew in 1927, 'Max' started his education, first at a local kindergarten, and then at Trinity Grammar School in 1932. It was in the family home in Kew that Max’s first interest in music awakened through listening to his mother play. It was also here that he started formally to learn the piano under a private tutor, Miss Madge Carlton.

In 1935, Max contacted the then epidemic viral disease poliomyelitis and he was taken out of School and confined to bed for the following year. His return to School was hampered by the requirement to wear leg braces and a slight limp. During his recovery, his father appointed a new music tutor, Waldemar Seidel and encouraged Max to learn the French horn which ‘Max’ did under sufferance for five years. In 1939, after his friends ‘Tubby' Towns and the Menzies brothers were sent to board at Geelong College, Max’ persuaded his father to let him join them. At Geelong College where he boarded from 6 June, 1939 until December, 1940, ‘Max’ was to form a long lived association with fellow student David Wooley and legendary music master, George Logie Smith.

There is very little record at College of his activities as ‘Max’ was not an avid sportsman though he was recorded rowing in the 4th VIII against Geelong Grammar in 1940. He passed Pianoforte Grade II (Hons) and Musical Performance Grade II (Hons) in 1939 and was noted as playing a piano solo of the first movement of the Sonata in F Major by Mozart at the College’s December concert. Max completed matriculation in 1940 and moved on to Melbourne University where he enrolled in the first year Diploma of Music at the University Conservatorium and an Arts Degree. By enroling in the Diploma course he had signalled his intention to become a performance musician. After a successful academic year in which he was awarded third class honours in music, an Ormond Exhibition and the Lady Turner Prize (awarded to first year students showing outstanding promise) ‘Max’, like many of his peers, decided his destiny lay in the armed forces.

His enlistment in the RAAF on 21 March, 1942 saw him train at RMIT as a Wireless Maintenance Mechanic before posting to Berimah near Darwin for two years where he was promoted to sergeant. He was then posted to Laverton but after his father became ill was discharged on compassionate grounds to manage the family butchery business which then included properties at Corowa, and Warragul and a wholesale meat processing business.

'Max' returned to the Conservatorium in 1946 completing his studies there in 1949 before sailing for Europe to study with Alfred Cortot in Paris at the Ecole Normale de Musique. He was to study there for a year before a brief period of 6 months in Salzburg, Austria studying with Professor Scholz.

Max Cooke

Max Cooke

While he was considering whether to seek a career in performance he was offered a teaching position as Chief Study Teacher at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music to take over Roy Shepherd’s students for a year. Roy Shepherd had previously taught at Geelong College. Among ‘Max’s’ new students was Malcolm John from Geelong College. From this time Max played regularly on ABC radio and for a period taught one day a week at Geelong College. He was appointed Senior Lecturer in 1958 a little more than a year after he married Brenda Brookman nee Barber (1922-1996) with whom he was to live happily and adopt two children, Jennifer Mandy Cooke and Andrew Robert Cooke.

During the early 1960s, 'Max' became interested in early music and taught himself to play the harpsichord. This was to lead to several years in Germany during the early 1970s and a much longer interest in exploring, performing and researching early music. This was to lead ultimately to the award in 2001 as Officer of the Order of Merit for his services rendered to music over many years in Germany.

His duties at the Conservatorium during the 1960s and 70s grew with its relentless expansion in student numbers. His role included piano teaching, lecturing on teaching, accompanying and sight reading as well as supervising both practical and academic studies. In the early 70s, he was Chairman of the Practical Committee and a member of the Faculty Board. In 1974, 'Max' was elected Dean of the Faculty of Music at Melbourne University in 1974, a position he was to continue to hold until 1980.

In June, 1998 'Max' was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for 'service to music education especialy pedagogy and the development of music students' , an award richly deserved and aclaimed.

'Max' Cooke was also inducted into the Old Geelong Collegians' Association (OGCA) Notables Gallery at Geelong College in October 2014.


Sources: 'A Pedagogue on the Platform: Max Cooke’s life in music' by Fay Woodhouse. Melb: Cooke/Woodhouse, (2010). OGC 1936.
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