I remember meeting Fran Tempest in the nineties when Tempest Music operated from her home in Como. Since then I have sent countless clarinet students to her store for reeds, instruments and books. And she has referred many people to me for lessons. Fran’s talent for building relationships is part of an impressive skill set that has shaped Tempest Music into an iconic and boutique music store.
What music gets your heart racing?
So many musical styles connect very deeply with me but one that will always ‘gets’ me is music from Swan Lake.
What calms you down?
I adore the Albinoni Adagio for something completely peaceful.
What do you sing along to?
This would have to be Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”
Not very highbrow answers I’m afraid.
|Tempest Music, 56 Ley St Como
Tempest is a beautiful retail space with its large windows, wood-paneled walls and polished instruments on display. And it is not just the environment; there is a sense of being welcomed like family and the indulgence that comes from browsing at leisure. How do you manage to create such a warm atmosphere?
My business really is my life. I have no kids…even have the magnet on the fridge saying “Oh no I forgot to have the kids”. At a time when everyone else was settling down and having a family I was having a business. Not necessarily the best decision in hindsight but that’s how it worked out. My Mum still works five days a week with us at almost 87.
So it is more than a business. My staff are a close knit group and are the people I spend more time with than anyone else if you think about it. We care about each other and all work to make our business special…hence this is a happy place.
One of my main philosophies is to help people achieve what they are trying to achieve whether it is assisting to make the right decision to give a child a chance on a beginner instrument or advising advanced players. As I have traveled the road to becoming a professional player and teacher myself I have a enormous pool of experience to draw from and am always happy to help.
You have a soft spot for the bassoon – in a previous life you were a bassoonist with the WA Symphony Orchestra. What is the appeal of this instrument and when did you first begin learning?
My first instrument was violin. I started learning this at 13 with Richard Flanigan at Applecross High School. For year 11 I won a scholarship to Perth Modern School. At that stage they were only accepting students as beginners on an instrument so I had to choose something else. Bassoon was my choice. I wanted something different from strings and not brass. Flute and clarinet were too common – I always like to be different – and I loved the sound and uniqueness of the bassoon. (Forgot to check the pricetag at this point!)
Did you grow up in Perth?
Yes I am a Perth girl. I spent four years away studying bassoon: two years in Adelaide at Elder Conservatorium studying with Thomas Wightman and two years in the National Training Orchestra in Sydney studying with John Cran.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in the performing arts?
I kind of fell into it. I originally went to UWA doing a double major in Maths heading for Computer Programming. Around this time I started playing bassoon with the newly formed WA Arts Orchestra and this is when I changed direction.
|String display at Tempest
When did you dream up the idea of a retail outlet?
When I started Tempest Music it was very difficult to get sheet music and anything else I needed for my bassoon playing. I had to send away for a lot of what I needed… and of course that was by mail at that time. When I was in Sydney Zephyr Music was a home based business run by Linda Vogt a flautist established for this very same reason. When I returned to Perth late in 1978 I decided to open an agency type business along the same lines to Zephyr to be able to procure sheet music in particular for musicians in Perth. I had time on my hands and it was more of a hobby with no plan for it to even grow to much more than that. It progressed in this fashion for many years slowly growing and changing shape while I was a full time performer and bassoon teacher.
Was it a big career change moving from making music to selling it?
There wasn’t a huge change as I kept doing both for many years. I ran my business for many years without taking an income from it. Any profit from sales was always reinvested into stock. My business was actually created from $200 invested on day one to go toward stamps for introduction letters to publishers. That is the only investment that has been made. It has grown from many many years of ‘unpaid’ work by myself and an enormous amount of assistance from Elizabeth (my Mum).
How do you find an outlet for your creative energy now in between organising finance, staff rosters, phone calls and stocklists?
I put a huge amount of creativity into my business. I am absolutely full of great ideas. Always developing some new way to work with different groups of the musicians. For instance we now have a very active referral system actively matching students with teachers. A real win win situation. We get to know the teachers closely so when students need a referral we can likewise find out their real needs in a teacher and put them together.
Following from that we have now developed an addition to our website whereby we can register teachers or school repertoire lists so students are safe purchasing the correct materials.
We are currently developing a way to work jointly with groups like choirs, bands and parent support groups to provide solid sponsorship for their projects. My head just doesn’t stop.
Tempest hosts events and masterclasses in the store. Why have you begun interacting with the community in this way?
This is very close to my heart and follows from some of the things I have said already. This reflects really who I am as a musician rather than just a shop owner. I am now in the fortunate position where I have access to top artists through their relationships with instrument manufacturers as well as being personal friends with many high level teachers and performers. I love being able to bring students and aspiring professionals into close contact with these people. I find it very satisfying to see how inspiring this is. I also find this a great way to support those wishing to put on various events. I have the infrastructure to be able to create such events.
Business is tough for independent stores. How do you manage to stay afloat with the competition from online retail?
I stay afloat because of much of what I have already discussed. It’s about being different and providing more than other music outlets. We ares specialists here to keep the customer safe, to help them get where they are going… all these things other than just making a sale. We want to create a relationship not get a sale.
Are you still playing and teaching bassoon?
Yes I am still playing and teaching. I had up to 28 bassoon students at one stage. Now I really enjoy remedial teaching which is about fixing technique.
There is so much competing for the attention of children now: sport, study, technology. Why do you think learning an instrument is worthwhile, for both children and adults?
Well that’s a whole essay as you know. We are currently developing a brochure for one our current initiatives aimed at older beginners discussing the health and well being effects of learning a musical instrument. It is so unique in the cognitive and social benefits I’m not really worthy of answering this really fully.
Actually I have taken up the piano recently as a new venture to guard against the aging process! I never learnt the piano as a child but had inherited one from my uncle many years ago. It is so interesting after so many years as a professional bassoonist that I find this so tricky. Learning to read 2 staves and use my hands independently is really tough. And getting my hands to go in opposite directions????? Give me a break! I can almost feel my brain muscles straining.
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?
My business is pretty all-consuming and I fear my life is somewhat out of balance. I have been very active over the years with the local rowing club even competing at Masters level a year or two ago. I like to keep fit – cycling, gym swimming – a bit out of routine right now though.
I love a good movie or a meal out (sounds a bit like a dating profile, don’t forget to mention I’m single LOL). With increases in staff levels I now enjoy traveling more. Most nights though you will find me stretched out on my couch with my geriatric cat.