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Ruth Janet (Lute) Drummond (1879–1949)

by Jill Roe

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Ruth Janet (Lute) Drummond (1879-1949), operatic coach, was born on 6 September 1879 at Ulmarra, New South Wales, eighth of nine children of James Drummond, a blacksmith from Scotland, and his wife Annie, née Cameron, born in New South Wales. Known as 'Lute', she was bred on Shakespeare and the Bible; her education was more a matter of strong home influences than formal schooling. The family moved to Ballina by 1893 and Lute subsequently went to Perth with her younger sister Jean.

About 1907 Clark Irving's daughter Florence took them to Berlin where Lute had piano lessons from Edwin Fischer, and also studied German literature and Italian. She was Jean's accompanist during her five years training as a dramatic soprano. They heard Richard Strauss conduct Der Rosenkavalier in 1911 and later attended a performance of Eugene Onegin at Petrograd, Soviet Union. The sisters had spent World War I in Germany under the protection of the American embassy and were among the first British women to be exchanged in 1918. Lute assisted with auditions at Covent Garden, London. Having learned an appropriate repertoire, Jean obtained operatic engagements in Italy; there Lute translated Puccini's opera Il Trittico. Family concern about the postwar influenza pandemic brought them home.

Back in Sydney they stayed with the Ainsworth family at Warrawee and in 1921 joined Count Ercole Filippini's Italian opera company which toured Queensland. Next year Lute organized opera recitals at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music to raise funds for a 'National Opera House', a cause she constantly advocated: after Jean's death in 1935, Lute used the proceeds to buy opera scores which she donated to the Sydney Municipal Library.

In 1921 Lute had established a circle in Sydney to study the works of Rudolf Steiner. During a tour (1922-24) of Europe with her nieces Fay and Ruth Ainsworth, she heard Steiner lecture in Wales and on 1 January 1924 visited the Anthroposophical Society at Dornach, Switzerland, for her admission as one of its initial Australian members. She was general secretary (1935-48) of the Anthroposophical Society in Australia.

Returning to Sydney in late 1930, Lute Drummond was an accomplished linguist with an encyclopaedic musical knowledge, especially of opera. She taught and lectured from her tiny roof-top studio in Bond Street until 1947; her pupils included (Dame) Joan Hammond and Kenneth Neate. Following Steiner's lead, in the mid-1930s—with Marion Mahony Griffin—she successfully directed classical and sacred drama in an open-air theatre at Castlecrag as part of seasonal anthroposophical festivals. In 1936 she produced the first of several opera series for the Australian Broadcasting Commission; in the late 1930s she was active in the free libraries movement; and in World War II she arranged musical programmes for army camps and hospitals.

When she fell ill with cancer, a gala concert at the Theatre Royal on 5 August 1948 raised £1000. Lute Drummond died on 27 May 1949 in hospital at Lindfield and was cremated; a memorial service was held at Christ Church St Laurence. Recalled by her associates as 'a radiant soul', she had exercised a significant cultural influence in Sydney. The high school building of the Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School, Middle Cove, is named in her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, Six Stories of the Opera, concert programme (Syd, 1922?)
  • Australian Musical News, 1 June 1948, 1 July 1949
  • Glenaeon Magazine, 1985
  • Daily Examiner (Grafton), 22 Mar 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Aug, 22, 30 Sept 1933, 23 Oct 1940
  • M. M. Griffin, The Magic of America (microfilm, National Library of Australia)
  • Sydney Municipal Council records, 1935 (Archives, Town Hall, Sydney)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Jill Roe, 'Drummond, Ruth Janet (Lute) (1879–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 September, 1879
Ulmarra, New South Wales, Australia


27 May, 1949 (aged 69)
Lindfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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