By Sue Daniel and Jean Kennedy
A group of New South Wales high school students dubbed the next generation of musical composers have spent the weekend learning their craft from the best in the business.
Around 40 teenagers from the city and the bush attended a masterclass at Sydney Opera House with musicians from London’s famous chamber orchestra the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
The chamber orchestra is touring Australia for the first time in almost three decades.
Workshop leader John Webb led a group of 38 children from schools across the state, in two days of intensive music writing and rehearsal culminating in a performance on Sunday.
Cellist Aylish Jorgensen, 14, from Albury High School, said it was great to play with a range of different people and learn new ways of composing.
“At our school we don’t have much of a music program … it’s great to play with musicians you don’t play with every week,” she said.
“I’ve also been able to see how pieces are made, everyone has different interpretations of how to compose and it’s really great to see the different ways things have been presented here.
“I basically guessed what I was doing till now.”
Mr Webb, who is also a composer, said he tries to create a playful kind of atmosphere, which allows students to try things out.
“It’s not pencil and paper, it’s trying things out, practically, aurally. Seeing if you like them, altering it if you don’t and then gradually building up melodies and accompaniments,” he said.
“They’ve been a fantastic group, amazing to work with, so on the ball and so eager and keen to keep going.
“We had six hours of rehearsals on the first day, which is a long time and actually there was a sense of disappointment that we had finished after six hours.
“So there’s the energy here, there’s the involvement and the engagement from all the students in this process, which is great for the musical future of Australia.”
Sydney Opera House and the NSW Department of Education’s Arts Unit organised the event as part of a three-year arrangement that aims to deliver educational programs, events and attractions encouraging innovation in arts learning.
More than 10,000 public school children are expected to have the opportunity to perform in a series of concerts at Sydney Opera House led by the Arts Unit over the next three years.
Sydney Opera House spokeswoman Bridgette van Leuven said the master class program facilitated young people’s interactions with international and national touring artists.
“This is a unique opportunity for these high-level music students from across the State of NSW to immerse themselves in the expertise of some of the world’s finest musicians and musical educators,” shes said.
“This is an experience that these students will treasure for a life time.”
It was a tremendous honour to have been invited to the 2016 Conservatorium High School House Concerts featuring students from Years 7 to 11 (with support from a few Year 12 students). The event was part of the educational process where three groups (Houses) compete to showcase their remarkable talent. All students participated in this public presentation, with planning commencing in Term 4, aimed at encouraging students to strive for musical excellence, within a 30-minute concert per House.
The video below will attest that these students were stunning. The talent was remarkable. I turned around a few times, observing young and old captivated by the wide range of performances. Immediately behind me was a young man (perhaps 13 years of age) with eyes fixed onto the orchestra, mouth open, face frozen, body poised to absorb every note. He was hypnotised. Similarly, the adults were bright-eyed, wide smiles, and transfixed on the joyous entertainment.
Everyone inside Verbrugghen Hall (at the Conservatorium of Music) was enthralled. Before our eyes we could see the future unfold — young musicians who spoke volumes about their personal passion, while highlighting the obvious dedication of their teachers, and the boundless love of their parents. It takes immeasurable investment in one’s children (and grandchildren) to support them through their high school years, with a clear focus on music and all it represents in terms of mental agility, historical context, discipline, teamwork, and stage presence — while maintaining academic focus. Indeed, the night of these House Concerts coincided with the HSC (Higher School Certificate) results that were announced state-wide. It was no surprise to many that Conservatorium High School ranked in the top-ten in terms of academic excellence.
Although not all students would pursue a career in music, I felt that each student would eventually graduate from Conservatorium High School with an abundance of precious gifts, including a love of learning, an ability to focus on the task at hand, an appreciation for honing one’s craft, and similar gems that point to the values of personal development.
On stage were students who seemed to come from all sorts of backgrounds. Who knows each family’s story? I expect some know deep hardship. Others might be struggling to make ends meet. Some could have been from local well heeled families. Together, they formed a special community of loving parents (and supportive siblings alike) who bond as one large family that applauds personal growth. This was evident in how the students interacted with each other, and with their teachers. There is also the hidden; the unspoken; then unseen. Namely, a spirit that ignites in young hearts and prepares them for life’s journey.
Indeed, music was the central flame. Yet, it was clear to me that a respect for learning, inquiring, researching, practising, failing, overcoming, labouring, and persisting were the philosophies that were featured on that stage. The music carried the spirit. The spirit was alight. I loved every minute of the House Concerts because, as an educator myself, I could see beyond the magic of each stunning performance, and inside the soul of typical, normal young hearts living in hope, coping with fear, wondering about life, while giving it their best shot, every day, together, within a delightful group of parents, teachers, and supporters whose applause was loud, strong, and triumphant. In fact, at the end of the video, during the credits, you will hear a very long ovation. The applause was recorded on the night, as one long unedited salute. That, alone, ought to relay to you the energy that was being poured from the audience, clapping as one community, speaking as one voice, saying, ‘You are stars, and in our heart you shine!’