Six questions with… Joshua Hooke, pianist

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

Joshua Hooke is an emerging concert pianist, currently completing a PhD in Music Performance at the University of Melbourne. Now that concerts are slowly beginning to happen again (yay!) Joshua can next be seen performing at Tempo Rubato on Saturday August 8th. There will be performances at 6pm and 8pm, more details to follow on the Tempo Rubato website soon. You can follow Joshua through his Instagram, where he posts regular videos.

When did you first realise you wanted to pursue music performance more seriously?

I suppose it was a gradual thing! There was no precise moment, but rather a series of encounters with various composers, etc. I’ve been lucky enough to always seem to have the right teachers at the right time, who let me follow various curiosities and ideas. All of this seemed to lead me in one direction… I guess there wasn’t much question when it came time to go to university, there didn’t seem to be any other choice.

Aside from the obvious technical difficulty of the repertoire, have you encountered any challenges inherent in pursuing a career as a concert pianist?

Like a lot of creative folks, the life of a pianist is essentially a pretty lonely one, which can be a challenge. With chamber music it’s a bit different of course, but essentially for a pianist, all the work and all those inner happenings and breakthroughs, happen while we’re on our own. I think that’s what makes it so important to perform, so we have a place to share these things with the world.

Are there any composers of solo pianist repertoire who in your opinion are not programmed as often as they should be?

There are a few gems, especially from the nineteenth-century, like Clara Wieck’s Drei Romanzen Op. 21, a few miniatures of Jules Massanet, and dare I say it, some pieces by Carl Czerny. Carl has a reputation for composing dry and mechanical exercises, (listen to Francesco Libetta’s performance of Czerny’s Op. 740 No. 50, I dare you to not to be at least slightly impressed) but I would love to hear them more often.

In a perfect world, what does your dream career look like? Many people enjoy combining music teaching with performing, solo works alongside ensemble works, etc, etc.

It’s honestly hard to say what the dream career would be, as long as there is time to practise and follow various musical curiosities I’d be happy. I’ve been doing some teaching and tutoring alongside performing and a few other projects, and life at the moment is great!

Do you think there is an active audience for classical music in Australia right now? Is there anything you’d like to see developed/ new audiences targeted?

I do think there is a really receptive audience in Australia, and a particularly curious one. I think ultimately the onus is on musicians as to how they want it to grow. It’s difficult to expect anyone who hasn’t come across it before to suddenly fork out for a ticket to a concert. We have to sort of go out and proselytize, and show the value of the music.

How are you staying mentally healthy during this period of isolation due to COVID-19?

I feel pretty fortunate to have some sort of creative practice to focus on, which has been really helpful. Aside from that I’ve just been watching lots of films, trying to stay physically fit, sharing stupid stuff with mates that we find on the internet, all that sort of thing!

Joshua Hooke

Originally from country Victoria, Joshua is currently completing a PhD in Music Performance at the University of Melbourne on scholarship, under the guidance of Professor Ian Holtham. Previously Joshua was invited to undertake periods of intensive private study in Vienna with Paul Badura-Skoda, and was among his last students. He also studies regularly in London with Imogen Cooper.

He has performed regularly at many of Australia’s leading concert venues, as well as venues such as Victorian Parliament House and the Australian Club. As a keen chamber musician, he has performed with Australian soprano Greta Bradman, and has given award-winning chamber music performances for the Music Society of Victoria as well as world premiers of new Australian works. Josh has had performances broadcast on, Antena 2, ABC Classic FM and 774 as well as the various MBS radio networks across Australia. He has performed as a soloist with a number of orchestras including The University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Whitehorse Orchestra and the Hopkins Sinfonia among others. In 2015 he was selected as soloist for the UMSO’s Chancellor’s Concert Series in Sydney. He has worked with conductors such as Benjamin Northey, Fabian Russell, Brett Dean and Richard Davis.

He has been a finalist and prizewinner in a number of competitions, including the Antena 2/SIPO prize, the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Great Romantics Competition and the Australian National Piano Award (where he also received the Peoples’ Choice Award and the prize for the best performance of a work by Schumann). He has also be the recipient of A Victorian Premier’s Award for Music, the Melbourne Conservatorium’s Lady Turner Prize, as well numerous other prizes and scholarships.

He has played in masterclasses for a number of distinguished pianists including Boris Berman (Russia/USA), Artur Pizarro (Portugal) Daniil Trifonov (Russia), Michel Béroff (France) Bernd Goetzke (Germany) Pavalli Jumpanen (Finland), Alessio Bax (Italy/USA), Josep Colom (Spain), Lisa Moore, Ronald Farren-Price, Anna Goldsworthy and Craig Sheppard (USA), among others.

What do you do on days you feel like quitting?

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

Every creative person has felt a sense of hopelessness at some point. On more intense days, a real desire to quit. There’s nothing shameful or wrong about this, or about actually quitting. We all need to make decisions that are right for our own life.

Whether you take a temporary break from your passion, or a permanent one, I wanted to know what my fellow artists did on days when they felt like quitting. Myself, I listen to the music which brings me unfiltered joy, playlists filled with ABBA and The Mamas and The Papas. Other go-to tactics include going for a walk or calling up a trusted friend.

If you find yourself having more bad days in a row than good ones, or even average ones, please consult the resources below on how to maintain your mental health, and get help for days when you are struggling:

Beyond Blue

Headspace

Lifeline

On days when I feel like quitting, I open up to some old repertoire from years ago and I just play, remembering how far I’ve come. On days when it’s really bad I think back to the years of practicing at school when I did not have a piano at home, and I remember how lucky I am that my parents allowed me and encouraged me to pursue my passion.

Liam Whitbourn, pianist and rehearsal accompanist

For me it’s about diversifying. Finding things that give me an immediate sense of achievement and fulfillment while still engaging my creativity. Often it’s building or designing something, re-wiring the studio or even just watching a new film or finding a new album that I love. Long form projects can be hard because chipping away can lack results on a daily basis. Short, achievable tasks help me stay above water.

Hamish Keen, composer and sound engineer

When I think about quitting I get myself to think about what it was that made me start in the first place, what inspired me to start on this journey? I tap into something that sparks that love of creating, and the joy of art. I think about moments in my life where music has truly moved me to such a point of immense joy and love and how that is my inspiration to create art and music.

Esther Gresswell, mezzo-soprano

The main things I turn to on days I feel like quitting are visual art, text writing or reading. It can help to reinvigorate my creativity. It always helps me to collect and contain my thoughts and realise why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Sean Quinn, composer and flautist

I rely on the people in my life. The ones who know who I am and I can trust to tell me who I am when I lose myself to the world. The people who remind me I have a place I belong and I can be part of it all.

Daniel Felton, baritone

I read past entries in my career journal and focus on the positives.

Christine Sharp, pianist and piano teacher

Image credit: Anja from Pixabay 

I have gotten a lot better at bouncing back and handling the days I feel like quitting music. In the past I went into disaster mode and looked for alternative career paths! When these days come along now, it’s usually when I’m feeling stuck or tired, so to change things up musically or scenically (get out of the practice room!) really helps. I also get in touch with why I like singing and depending on the day I may make a vision board.

Sofia Laursen Habel, soprano

When I feel like giving up I reconnect with the songs and pieces (no matter what they are) that best remind me at a personal level why I do it. These pieces have a way of letting me see the musical world through unjaded, child-like eyes again.

Tom Misson, composer

When I’m faced with the reality of quitting, I put on a piece of music or song that always makes me happy no matter what (“Atlantica” by Pekoe usually in my case) and go for a run listening to it – It always helps to de-stress and put me in the present moment. If that isn’t enough, I call up a friend who inspires me, because in my opinion nothing beats the feeling of failure better than perspective.

Robert McIntyre, composer and flautist

Mind Over Manuscript: Kirsten Milenko

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I recently had the pleasure of conducting a socially-distant email interview with Kirsten Milenko, a busy Australian composer currently based in Copenhagen. I first became an admirer of Kirsten’s work when I heard her unearthly and striking piece Speak (for vocal ensemble), featured in Making Waves’ May 2019 playlist Harmonic Waves. You can follow Kirsten’s work through her website, Facebook page and Instagram.

How did you first find yourself composing music? When did you first realise performing and composing was something you wanted to pursue more seriously?

Music was always something that I would put all of my time into. During my school and university studies, I was channeling all of my energy into music. In some senses that actually kept me from wanting to pursue it as a profession. For a long time I wanted to be a writer, particularly a novelist.

It sounds a bit depressing or even a little cliché, but I realised it wasn’t so much a choice as a need to have music as a major component in my life. I’ve found it really liberating to acknowledge and embrace this. It helped that when I decided to pursue composition, I kept piano as a method of working. I used to find it very difficult to separate the mindset of performance and composition and would end up composing my repertoire if I wasn’t careful.  

I started learning piano when I was five years old and began improvising and composing around the age of fourteen. I remember as a young kid- maybe six or seven- I would make little melodies and songs, for fun. I have always found an immense freedom in music.

What styles of composition are you particularly attracted to?

I like works that uncover something- peer beneath the surface layer of sound and find virtuosity in tone quality as part of an introverted approach to sound. I am often drawn to minimalist works, by composers such as Feldman and I also gravitate to Eastern European late twentieth century works. Some of the composers coming through Denmark now are really fantastic.

You are currently based in Copenhagen. Can you describe some of the work you are doing there?

Currently, I am halfway through a commission for Lucerne Festival Orchestra in Switzerland that will premiere in 2021. I am also working on a proposal for a chamber opera proposal at the Mannheim National Theatre in Germany after being shortlisted to the final round of a selection process.

I am also finishing my master’s studies (in a few weeks) in Copenhagen and working with a few chamber ensembles and soloists who are based in the Nordic countries. In the last few months, I have worked on my first opera and dance-theatre work with musicians in Copenhagen as well as chamber works for Pulsar Festival, where Bang on a Can premiered a new piece in March. I am also working on (finally) releasing an electroacoustic album I have composed and produced that was recorded a couple of years ago and put on pause to make way for some larger projects in the last year.

Alongside these works, I am writing two pieces for percussion setups – one, a concerto for Kalle Hakosalo, and the other a solo work for Gabriel Fischer. There are a bunch of other projects brewing as well.

Is there anything that you would like to see refreshed/ reworked in the classical and newly-composed music industry in Australia?

There are two things. Firstly, I would really like to see more music. More variety, more festivals, more venues… I think that having a regular contact with an extensive variety of music in large and small setting is really important, for the musicians and appreciators of music who form our audience.

To experience classical and newly composed music regularly both within and outside of large festivals and companies is really important. It is also exciting and opens up more chances for younger composers to be professionally involved in projects, where we develop and learn skills that are very different from those attained in direct relation to studies.

We have a lot of incredible musicians in Australia. The quality is all there. I think that with a larger quantity of performances, there will be a greater sense of freedom to take more risks.

Another point I want to raise here, is that I wish musicians would work with dancers more often. There is not enough work that is both newly composed and newly choreographed in the world right now. It would be to incredible to see these two forms working side by side more often, and in a larger variety of settings.

The second thing is that I really wish Australia had a composer’s society. There is an incredible one in Denmark and I think it does such fantastic things for the output of work and overall music scene.

The Danish Composer’s Society is a union and funding body that is a separate entity from the performing rights association but still linked to it. The Society that we see today of course took a lot of time and work to establish – but now it is a force to be reckoned with. All of the Nordic countries have really good unions and societies for their composers and it really makes a positive difference for performers, composers and also the audience. I think something of this format would make a huge positive impact in Australia.

Any words of advice for young emerging composers who would like to have their works heard more widely?

Work harder than you think you need to, but don’t work yourself into the ground. Work with people you admire and get to know the musicians in your direct world. Don’t make your work easy for the sake of pleasing people – but don’t make it complex for the sake of it either. Know what you want to say and use the best and most relevant method of expression to say it. Know your repertoire to back up any choices you make when pushing boundaries. The decisions you make won’t always be met with a smile right away. Having confidence in your material is a must and will lead to good results for the composer and the performers involved.

Try a lot of things – don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s how we learn.

I think it’s important to always keep a balance between discovery and whether or not you feel like you are expressing what you want to say. We all have something to say. Sometimes we need to learn a new repertoire or language of writing to be able to effectively communicate all of what we need to – or perhaps we need to step away from what we know to look at a common environment with different eyes. It’s all necessary and never wasted time.

We all have more bias than we realise, particularly in music and it is so important to step outside of our comfort zone. Always remain curious and surround yourself with people who you feel genuinely inspired by. Mentors are really important in the people you work with, and also with those you study with. Learn a lot and be open minded.

You have written at least one chamber opera and presented concepts for possible future projects. I am a singer who is particularly interested in the world of newly composed opera and experimenting with the artform, do you have any particular thoughts on the future of new opera that you’d like to share?

The premiere of Kirsten’s opera/dance-theatre work ‘Dalloway’ Pulsar Festival. March 2020.

I think that the future of new opera is the same now as it has always been- it is dependent on the support of a community. Writing opera, or any kind of dramatic music, is different to writing concert music and it needs a team to believe in the work and have a productive dialogue throughout the process.

I am seeing quite a lot of new works that are following the development of the novel, in that they are tracing new frameworks to look into the inner workings of characters and the perception of human experience. More and more works are drawing inspiration from philosophical and contemporary paradigms as opposed to mythological or historical.

As a society, we have high expectations of drama that are being influenced more so by screens than theatre a lot of the time. I think it’s an interesting time to be asking what we want out of opera and how this incredible area of music and drama can speak both to us and from us. There are a lot of demons in our society that we have only very recently just begun to address. Forms like opera are a really incredible and effective method of communication, and something that I really believe our society needs right now. We can step very easily between the abstract and direct experience we all share and that is powerful.  

Kirsten Milenko

Composer

Kirsten Milenko (b. 1993) is an Australian composer and conductor based in Copenhagen, Denmark. She works with vocal, instrumental and electronic media to compose music that echoes environmental phenomena and expressions of the human form. Working closely with movement, her music embodies a constant synergy between sound and motion to capture perceptions of space.

Milenko has received the Roche Young Commission 2021, awarded by Wolfgang Rihm, Artistic Director of Lucerne Festival, Switzerland. In March 2020, her opera/dance-theatre work ‘Dalloway’ premiered at Pulsar Festival. She has recently been shortlisted for the composition of a new opera at the Mannheim National Theatre, Germany.

Currently, she studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Music under Niels Rosing-Schow, Simon Løffler and Jeppe Just Christiensen, where she will graduate from the Master’s programme in June 2020. During her Bachelor’s degree, she was awarded the 2016 Ignaz Friedman Memorial Prize by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where she studied under Liza Lim, Natasha Anderson, Ursula Caporali and Rosalind Page.

She is an associate artist with the Australian Music Centre where a selection of scores are published.

Voice Notes: Louis Hurley

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I had the chance to speak to emerging tenor Louis Hurley, whose varied study experiences include degrees from Western Australian Academy Of Performing Arts and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. This year, Louis is one of seven scholars participating in the Melba Opera Trust program. I first saw Louis perform when he sang the titular role in Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s production of Albert Herring, and the vivacious and witty Pluto, Master of the Underworld in Orpheus in the Underworld. If you would like to keep up with Louis’ musical adventures, you can follow him on his Facebook page and Instagram.

When did you realise you wanted pursue music performance more seriously?

My family isn’t musical at all, everyone else is tone-deaf!

I grew up in the country town of Horsham. One day I came home from school and asked my parents if I could start learning the flute, I must have seen it on TV or something… I was really lucky that there was a private music academy in town.

So I started in little group classes playing the xylophone and simple percussion instruments, then I moved to piano, and then I started singing. My family moved to Western Australia, and at that point music was a huge part of my life, but more as a hobby. I started boarding at Perth Modern School on a music scholarship for the flute, and I had given up singing at that point.

Louis pictured as Albert Herring in the MCM production of Benjamin Britten’s opera of the same name. April 2019.

I remember I had a moment in year twelve where I realised I hated practicing my instruments. I was like, why did I ever quit singing? I loved it so much. Before the decision to change from flute and piano back to singing, I was going to pursue psychology or something similar at university… But once I started singing again, I was like, no, I love this.

My singing teacher at the time also worked at WAAPA. She encouraged me to audition for the Bachelor of Music there. And I kind of fell into the right hands! My whole musical life is a series of accidents. It was absolute luck that I was living in a small country town that happened to have a fantastic private music school. And ever since then I fell into the hands of some of the best musical mentors I could have ever asked for.

After I completed my Bachelor of Music I was lucky enough to do a Graduate Diploma of Music at WAAPA, which was an intensive and primarily practical year. We got to do two full productions during that year, Britten’s Albert Herring and a new work written for us by Guy Noble, called Opera the Opera! It was a pastiche work about a person falling into the opera world and meeting all these characters…

Louis pictured as Pluto in the MCM production of Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. September 2019.

So I was able to have this amazing year that was entirely devoted to vocal and professional development as a young singer. At the end of that year, I went overseas to audition for the colleges there, and ended up accepting an offer at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

I was at Guildhall for one year, I did my Masters of Music there. When I finished, I thought I could either stay there and live and work on minimum wage (I’m lucky to have an Irish passport), barely affording rent and singing lessons, or I could come back to Australia where the lifestyle is a more relaxed and focus on development a bit more. So I thought, let’s give Melbourne a crack!

What do you reckon was one of the most challenging moments, and one of the most rewarding moments from those experiences?

I guess the biggest challenge and question that I came across was, “Am I doing the right thing?” That’s something that we can never really know the answer to. As young singers we never really know what the ‘correct’ path is. When I was in Perth I used to run a music blog with my friend, and that was one of our main reasons for doing it. We realised we knew so many people who had moved overseas to study in New York, or in the UK, and we had all these connections with professionals. We thought, if we were able to interview them about their pathways, we could educate other young up-and-coming students on all the different pathways that are possible.

Louis performing Britten’s Canticle One in the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Aria Competition, August 2019.

So I guess more than anything else, I’ve become skilled at recognising if a situation requires a bold decision. If I’ve needed to reconsider my pathway, or I’ve have too much on my plate, I’ve learnt to not shy away from a bold decision every now and then. If you think a decision is too bold, it’s probably not. As long as you’re not affecting anyone in an awful way, you really can just do the things you want to do. You can make the most of any decision you make, it’s just about your attitude after you make it.

For example, there is an awkward eight-month gap for Australians between accepting a place in a course overseas, and actually starting your first semester. So you have eight months to just save up money and try to get everything in order. During those eight months before I started at the Guildhall, I was saving money, fundraising, and doing all of the right things. But I was also thinking, am I really going to spend all of my money on this incredible opportunity? The answer was always yes, but there were certainly moments where I thought, am I insane?

You have been in Benjamin Britten’s opera Albert Herring twice and you sung the titular role in both productions. For the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Aria competition in August 2019, you sang Canticle One, a Britten piece which is a setting of a religious text. (And you won!) What are some of your thoughts on Britten?

It’s no news to anyone who knows me that I love Benjamin Britten and his music. Similar to my musical upbringing, I’ve kind of fallen into performing Britten works by accident, and haven’t been able to escape him!

Louis performing alongside soprano Lee Abrahmsen at Royal Melbourne Philharmonic’s Carols in the Cathedral. December 2019.

My singing teacher in year twelve gave me one of his folk songs, The Ploughboy. I just thought it was fascinating. It was a folk song, but the way he had set the text was just fascinating to me. I went and listened to all of Britten’s other folk songs, and I just fell in love with his brain and how he interprets harmony.

When I started at WAAPA the following year, it was 2013 and it was the centenary of his birth. There was an incredible concert celebrating Britten. My teacher at WAAPA Patricia Price, who was Head of Classical Voice at the time, is a huge appreciator of Britten’s work, so naturally I was always singing Britten. In my second year, I played Puck in scenes from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The following year we did a fully-staged production and I sang the role of Starveling. The way Britten writes for character… dramatically, he was a genius!

In terms of Canticle One, I fell in love with the piece years ago. I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking, what is this music? It’s so beautiful. I took the score with me to London. It was the first piece I listened to on the Tube on my way to my new home!

At the Guildhall they have a process for casting the projects for the year, called the ‘Meat Market’. Everyone has five minutes to sing for all the most important figures at the Guildhall who will be organising the concerts. It’s very nerve-wracking! A few weeks later I received an email saying that Graham Johnson had chosen me to be in his Song Guild, and that he was planning to program all five of Britten’s Canticles. And I was given Canticle One! It really was fate.

Back in Australia, when I saw the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Aria Competition was coming up, I thought, well I could sing Messiah or Elijah, but every tenor is going to do that. So I looked up the fine print, and you are able to sing any piece that is generally religious in nature, not exclusively oratorio repertoire. So thought, I’m going to go for it!

Louis performing alongside soprano Rebecca Rashleigh in Melbourne Opera’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio. February 2020.

What is your opinion on the future of opera in the 21st century? Do you think there is anything that could be done to make that future more promising?

That’s a great question, and one all of us within the community think about all the time. I think there needs to be more openness in the opera community towards outsiders… to people who have never been to an opera. Breaking down the barrier of, ‘opera is for the upper-class’.

We’ve all had the experience of hearing from someone who came to an opera for the first time with reactions like, “Oh, I didn’t know opera could be funny!” There are people who have their minds blown by the experience. Have you ever met a person who has said, “Oh I don’t like movies”, if they’ve never seen a movie? Who would say “I don’t like comedies”, if they’ve only seen one comedy and not particularly enjoyed it?

I think there needs to be more education, and not in a patronising way, towards how vast and diverse opera can be. If you’re bringing a child to the opera, don’t bring them to Tosca or Carmen, bring them to Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, or Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) or Mozart’s The Magic Flute! They’ll understand those shows.

Yes! Those are fantastic first operas, because those are essentially vocally-trumped up musicals with fun stories.

I’m a huge advocate for giving things a go. It’s such a heightened art form, that when it’s done right, it’s done right. But if one little cog in the opera machine isn’t doing its job then the whole thing can collapse. We need to be more forgiving, and in turn, more hopeful.

In terms of Australia specifically, that’s unfortunately where I feel like we are behind, because we adopted Western culture. We still think opera is this precious and sometimes untouchable thing. Whereas you go to Italy or Germany, and the audiences there are regularly booing new productions and performances. They are more than happy to let people know what they think! And that’s okay.

So I would say, be open to new experiences, and let’s embrace exposure to arts as a country! Let’s support the arts.

Louis Hurley

Tenor

Tenor Louis Hurley is a young opera singer committed to telling stories through beautiful singing. 

Louis’ roles in operas and scenes include Albert Herring (Albert Herring), Pluton (Orphée aux  enfers),  Acis (Acis and Galatea),  The  Earl  of  Essex (Gloriana),  Bardolfo (Falstaff), Candide (Candide),  Vašek (The  Bartered  Bride),  Lensky (Eugene  Onegin),  Prologue/Quint (Turn  of  the  Screw)  and  Lysander (A  Midsummer  Night’s  Dream).  In 2020 Louis will be performing the roles of Jaquino (Fidelio) and Don Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro) for Melbourne Opera.

Louis completed his Bachelor of Music and Graduate Diploma of Music at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and his Master of Music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. 

Inspirational Quotes Which Aren’t Utterly Irritating

Image by Jukka Niittymaa from Pixabay 

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

We’ve all experienced periods of doubt as artists, and questioned why we have to overcome so many obstacles to secure professional opportunities and funding. And truthfully, my periods of pessimism come and go (and I doubt they will ever stop completely)

We all must find our own methods of motivating ourselves. Different personalities are driven by different goals. Because of this, I have found some ‘inspirational’ quotes to be rather enraging. There’s one that goes something along the lines of “Don’t say that you don’t have enough time. You have the same amount of hours in your day as Muhammad Ali or Mother Teresa.” Or maybe it was Beyoncé. Regardless, that quote is simplistic, patronising, and the definition of selective logic. Mother Teresa was a nun who devoted her entire life to helping the poorest of the poor, which is super commendable and all, but hardly realistic for most of us. Sorry Mother Teresa. As for elite athletes or mega-celebrities, they have the benefit of a posse of dietitians and various professionals to help them realise their dreams without being weighed down by the (time-intensive) matters of household work and cooking!

I have learnt to embrace the idea of persevering through self-doubt, the sentiment of “Even if I don’t feel worthy of this opportunity right now, I’m going to stick at it regardless, and the feeling of having the ability and confidence will come later.”

This philosophy was influenced by a handful of quotes I have included below. These have helped me to remember that the path to success is paved with mundane and un-glamorous moments.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

“Feel the fear, do it anyway.” Carrie Fisher

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure that you can do it, say yes, and work out how to do it later.” Richard Branson

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.” Hugh Laurie

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Cynthia Occelli

“Every day I discover more and more beautiful things. It’s enough to drive one mad. I have such a desire to do everything, my head is bursting with it.” Claude Monet

“Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.” Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men. You can read his full essay here

Inspiration From Representation

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

‘Representation’ is one of the buzz-words which have become much more common in the last decade. These days, the fact that Hollywood films and TV shows often resemble a sea of white faces is something that is openly discussed. If a movie is set in Hawaii and the mixed-race main character is played by Emma Stone, it no longer escapes comment.  

Like most buzz-words, I find ‘representation’ a bit of an irritating term. While it’s an incredibly worthwhile concept, the word seems to imply that people should find an identifying label, ‘Asian’, ‘Black’, ‘Gay’, ‘Disabled’, etc, etc, and stick to it. Once you’ve found a label, you are duty-bound to fly the flag on behalf of the community for as long as you live.

It should go without saying that human beings are more complicated than that. Even if we are limiting this philosophical conversation to TV shows and movies and laying aside the matter of human dignity, featuring a variety of human stories is an effective way of creating interesting and powerful entertainment.

When people discuss the importance of representation, it often comes back to the idea that seeing someone who reflects your own identity on the silver screen, can help you rethink what’s possible in your own life.

When Whoopie Goldberg was nine years old, she turned on the TV and saw a woman of colour on the original 1960s series of Star Trek. Nichelle Nichols portrayed Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, the fourth in command on the Voyager. Goldberg apparently ran through the house, excitedly calling out to her mother because she’d seen a black woman on TV who wasn’t playing a maid. Nichols once met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at a civil rights event, and he revealed that he was an ardent admirer of Nichols’ work and a ‘Trekkie’. When Nichols said that she might leave the show in order to come march with King, he encouraged her to stay, saying “We look at that screen and we know where we’re going!”.

I think many inspiring role models don’t think of themselves explicitly as such. They get on with their lives and show through their actions that they aren’t defined by their circumstances or the prejudice that’s thrown their way. That’s why I don’t think the word ‘representation’ sufficiently covers it. I was mulling over how I would put it instead, and settled on ‘visual manifestation of inspiration’. Would Whoopie Goldberg have pursued acting if she hadn’t had that first spark of inspiration from seeing Nichols on her TV? And in turn, I’m sure many women of colour felt empowered to pursue acting after seeing Goldberg in Ghost or Sister Act.

I don’t want to speak on behalf of cultures which I am not a part of, but I think it’s safe to say that that no one appreciates being exploited as part of a tokenistic gesture. It’s painfully obvious when a TV show or movie includes a character purely for the sake of winning ‘diversity points’.

I recently stumbled across a handful of European shows which have been illuminating examples of what the complete opposite approach can look like. Elite, made by Netflix in Spain, Skam, a Norwegian web series, and WTFock, the Belgium remake of the same show. It’s probably no coincidence that all of these shows were produced on an online forum (although interestingly, the Norwegian series was funded by a national broadcaster).

All three shows follow a group of senior high school students. Skam and WTFock share a number of characteristics with Skins, which gained cult status for its raw and unpatronizing depictions of the lives of a group of teens. While I couldn’t access the full episodes online, I was able to watch excerpts reposted to a YouTube channel for international audiences. The third season of Skam is focused on the character of Isak (played by Tarjei Sandvik Moe), and the corresponding season of WTFock on Robbe (played by Willem Herbots).

Left to right: Evan (Henrik Holm) and Isak (Tarjei Sandvik Moe)

The major story thread of Skam is sparked by a meeting between Isak and the handsome and charismatic Evan (played by Henrik Holm). The two start hanging out as friends while dating girls in the same social circle. As the episodes progress, they fall in love. Complications arise as Isak confronts his sexuality for the first time and Even experiences escalating manic episodes as part of his bipolar disorder. The story pans out in much the same way in WTFock, after Robbe meets Sander (played by Willem De Schryver) while on a camping trip with friends.

Left to right: Sander (Willem De Schryver) and Robbe (Willem Herbots)

In both cases I became completely absorbed in the unfolding love story. It took me a little while to work out why exactly I found this story arc so refreshing, especially considering that I am a fairly heterosexual person who didn’t experience anything similar in my own teenage years. I realised it was the compelling flow-on effect of simply giving the story of two teenage boys falling in love, all the dignity and nuance that a heterosexual love story is almost always given in mainstream media. (I haven’t seen it myself, but I’ve heard Call Me By Your Name had a similar effect on audiences)

Both pairs of actors portrayed their characters with an incredible degree of naturalism and easy-going chemistry. Their scenes weren’t awkwardly cut short or censored with one-second kisses. Their story wasn’t framed as ‘alternative’ or ‘edgy’ in any way. Of course, parts of the story were devoted to Isak/ Robbe coming to terms with their sexuality, whatever label they ended up identifying with. But the relationship was not framed as only being important because it was a ‘gay’ love story.

If this was so compelling for me to watch, as a young person who hasn’t had to struggle with the prejudice which comes along with these issues, I can only imagine how it must felt for young bi/gay/queer teenagers to see themselves portrayed so masterfully onscreen. (I mean, I really can only imagine. A term that was bought to my attention on this particular topic is ‘allyship’. ‘Allyship’ refers to the practice of being a supportive ally to communities you are not personally a part of, with an open mind to experiences outside your own life. One striking point I’ve read on the topic of being an ally, is to “acknowledge that while you, too, feel pain, the conversation is not about you.”)

Left to right: Evan (Henrik Holm) and Isak (Tarjei Sandvik Moe)

My final point: the positive power of media representation has been proven in studies. A good example is another show I have been devouring recently, The X-Files. It is a fantastic show in so many ways: entertaining, skilfully paced, kooky and mysterious… The relationship between FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully is all the more lovely and modern for all the things that are shown, and not explicitly said: the respectful space for disagreement between the two, the fact Mulder never questions the validity of Scully’s ability or ambitions, the mutually complementary nature of their partnership.

For those unaware (please, do yourself a favour and check it out for free on SBS On Demand), Dana Scully is brought to life on The X-Files by Gillian Anderson. As an FBI agent she is intelligent, cool-headed, relentlessly thorough and utterly dedicated to her job. Not only is she great in an investigative officer, she has a medical background which all but makes her a fully qualified doctor. Scully’s presence on The X-Files (airing from 1993-2002) had a particular effect on audiences:

Women who watched The X-Files regularly were 50% more likely to work in STEM fields, and nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed who now work in STEM considered her a role model. Geena Davis Institute CEO Madeline Di Nonno writes, “In the case of ‘The Scully Effect,’ it shows that when, in media, we have non-traditional roles for women and girls it helps them envision these pathways for themselves.”

As quoted on the fantastic Facebook page A Mighty Girl

So there you have it. Despite being nicknamed ‘the idiot box’, television shows have the ability to genuinely inspire as well as entertain. Speaking of which, I’ve got some Netflix foraging to do.

Tim Minchin’s Address to Class of 2013, University of Western Australia

A note from the editor- In 2013, composer and comedian Tim Minchin received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, University of Western Australia. He gave a speech for the graduates of 2013- it’s sharply observed and very funny. It’s also quite inspiring, despite his observation that he is not an inspirational speaker by trade. I thought it would be a fabulous thing to share with Fever Pitch Magazine readers. You can watch the video of Tim’s address here. Enjoy! Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

In darker days I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software in a bid, I presumed, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights. They’d forked out twelve grand for an inspirational speaker who was this extreme sports guy who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird.

Software salespeople I think need to hear from someone who has had a long successful career in software sales not from an overly optimistic ex-mountaineer.

Some poor guy who had arrived in the morning hoping to learn about sales techniques ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational, it’s confusing. And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Because he didn’t do an Arts degree, did he? He should have.

Arts degrees are awesome and they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you… there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhymes scheme in a cookbook. You won’t find it and it will bugger up your soufflé. (If you didn’t like that metaphor you won’t like the rest of this.)

Point being I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never ever lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise, and I’m certainly not going to give career advice because I’ve never really had what most would consider a ‘job’. However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance.

So I will now, at the ripe old age of thirty seven-point-nine, bestow upon you nine life lessons. 

You might find some of this stuff inspiring. You will definitely find some of it boring and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned there will be lots of hokey similes and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up making no sense. So listen up or you’ll get lost like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.

(crowd laughs) I’m looking for my old poetry teacher…  

  1. You don’t have to have a dream.

Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something you’ve always wanted do and dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it. After all it’s something to do with your time, chasing a dream, and if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve. So by the time you get to it and are staring to the into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of those dreams and so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware, the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.

2. Don’t seek happiness.

Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy and you might find you getting some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contended homo erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.

Image by Jukka Niittymaa from Pixabay 

3. Remember, it’s all luck.

Remember it’s all luck. You are lucky to be here. You are incalculably lucky to be born and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family who encouraged you to go to uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy but you are still lucky. Lucky that you happen to be made of the sort of DNA that went on to make the sort of brain which when placed in a horrible child environment would make decisions that meant you ended up eventually graduated uni. Well done you for dragging yourself up by your shoelaces. But you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved, but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of attending lectures when I was here at UWA. Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures, will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive but it is also something you can work on intellectually.

4. Exercise.

I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the human movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence. You are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right- you think therefore you are, but also you jog therefore you sleep, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run, whatever, but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed. But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. So do it! Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

5. Be hard on your opinions.

A famous bon mot asserts that ‘Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one’. There is great wisdom in this, but I would add that opinions differ significantly from assholes in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs- take them out onto the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous, identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies and then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts graduates in front of me please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things. If you need proof – Twain, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, McEwan, Sagan and Shakespeare, Dickens for a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate Genetically Modified technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion. Science is not a body of knowledge nor a belief system- it’s just a term which describes human kinds’ incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome! The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick Minchin believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30 percent of the people just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

6. Be a teacher.

Please, please, please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever. But if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Just for your 20s be a teacher. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke. We need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn and spray it.

7. Define yourself by what you love.

I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like I say, “Well I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me,” or if someone asks me what food I like I say, “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious.” And I see it all the time online- people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party.

We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff, as a comedian I make my living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank you cards and give standing ovations, be pro-stuff not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect people with less power than you.

In the past I have made important decisions about people I work with, agents and producers, big decisions, based largely on how they treat the wait staff in the restaurants we’re having the meeting in. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room. I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there!

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

9. Finally- don’t rush.

You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day but also don’t panic! Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having mid-life crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble, which is already three-and-a-half minutes long, life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them.

However, I’m no nihilist. I’m not even a cynic. I am actually rather romantic and here’s my idea of romance: you will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and god it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes be sad and then you’ll be old and then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence and that is to fill it. Not fillet, fill it. And in my opinion, life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can. Taking pride in whatever you’re doing. Having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic… and then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already. It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one meaningless life of yours. Good luck, and thank you for indulging me.