Penrith arts icon Valda Silvy departs The Joan

Valda Silvy has been a staple of the Penrith arts scene. Photo: Melinda Jane.
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After more than 50 years of involvement in the local arts sphere, Valda Silvy OAM is retiring from her role as Music Producer at The Joan.

Despite her parents not coming from a musical background, Silvy was interested in music from a young age, taking both piano and voice lessons, competing in eisteddfods, and completing a range of tertiary courses within the creative and performing arts space.

Growing up in Penrith, she very quickly realised that the area had little in the way of musical performance and education venues when compared to the city, and, with the help of Allan Mullins, decided to form an arts organisation to raise funds to build one.

Though she said that this organisation didn’t go far, interest for the venue grew, forcing Silvy and other local musicians to take matters into their own hands.

Valda Silvy has departed The Joan. Photo: Melinda Jane.

“We used to bring out amazing performers from the city, and each of us would do a concert in our homes,” she said.

Silvy then turned what was at the time merely an old home near Penrith Library into the Penrith Music Centre – a place for those without a grand piano at home to practice.

Following its success, she led the proposal of the building of a performing arts centre for the bicentennial in 1984, and The Joan would open in 1990.

“The Board asked what we were going to call it, and I thought… Joan Sutherland represents everything. The opera is acting, it’s singing, it’s musicians, it’s stage hands, it’s everything,” she said.

Valda Silvy chats with Weekender journalist Cassidy Pearce. Photo: Melinda Jane.

“Richard [Bonynge] spoke to Joan, and Joan said yes, and the reason being that she knew how hard it was for people in the west to travel into Sydney for the arts.”

Sutherland performed and attended shows at The Joan until her passing in 2010, with Bonynge continuing to do so to this day.

In the 34-year history of The Joan, it has experienced a wealth of growth and expansion, particularly with the introduction of the Q Theatre, and the Penrith Conservatorium of Music.

Hundreds of performers grace its stages, and the work of countless artists decorates the walls each year, many thanks to Silvy.

Former Weekender journalist Justin Koek, Brett Greenow, Valda Silvy and Jackie Greenow in 2000. Photo: Penrith City Library.

But, all good things must come to an end, with Silvy wrapping up her time at The Joan at the end of June.

“Music is always evolving, and it’s changing. I thought it was time for the next generation to step in, and step up, and take it to its next level,” she said.

In light of her retirement, Silvy’s impact on the local arts industry was addressed at the most recent Penrith City Council meeting, with Silvy in attendance.

“Valda, I think we really do owe you a profound vote of thanks in relation to what you’ve done from a cultural point of view for the City of Penrith, but also from an educational point of view from having that facility there which enables people in western Sydney to be able to educate in music rather than having to travel to the city to the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney,” said Councillor Ross Fowler.

“It’s a great legacy that you’ve created and it’s a legacy that will go forward, so thank you for your significant contribution.”

In the midst of all The Joan’s changes, one consistent thing was Silvy’s Morning Melodies – a program which saw a concert and pre-show morning tea take place every fourth Wednesday since the venue’s opening.

Last month’s show was the final one she produced, leading to mixed emotions for both Silvy, and the regular attendees.

“We’ve become such good friends,” she said.

“I don’t know them all, but they know me, and that’s why I love that program, because I could walk out and talk to them. They’re just so beautiful. They’re lovely people.”

Though she said she’ll be skipping this month’s show to give the new producer space, Silvy promises she’ll still be around Penrith and The Joan.

“I’ve found retiring hard, but I’m also not really stepping away from it, because I will always be involved in the music,” she said.

“They’ve called the new ensemble the Valda Silvy Ensemble, so I can’t really escape!”

Even without her at the forefront, Silvy said she has high hopes for the future of  The Joan, and Penrith’s music industry more generally.

“It will go from strength to strength. It has to,” she said.

Cassidy Pearce

Cassidy Pearce is a news and entertainment journalist with The Western Weekender. A graduate of the University of Technology Sydney, she has previously worked with Good Morning Macarthur and joined the Weekender in 2022.

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