Ciara Walsh- president of Apollo Music Society (Melbourne University)

Ciara performing at the Apollo Music Society POPS concert, October 25th 2019.

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

I had the chance to speak to Ciara Walsh, president of Apollo Music Society at Melbourne University. The Apollo Music Society is a music club with a health and charity focus. Their last event in February was a fundraising concert, with proceeds going to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund in the wake of the devastating Victorian bushfires.

While there are no physical events scheduled for the foreseeable future, the Apollo Music Society will be having a virtual open mic night, where members and friends can contribute pre-filmed or live-streamed videos of their musical performances. The event will be taking place via Zoom on April 17th, and submissions are due by April 15th. Event is linked here. You can learn more about the work of Apollo Music Society through their Facebook page, YouTube channel, and website.

What are you studying at Melbourne University?

I’m currently completing an arts degree, I’m a politics major. So nothing to do with music!

What prompted you to join the Apollo Music society?

The main thing I did back in high school as an extra-curricular was music. I learnt French horn from year seven, and I got a French horn for my eighteenth… It’s like, instead of a car, my parents bought me a French horn! They’re quite expensive, and I’d never had my own, only rented ones from the school. I really wanted to make use of it, and the first thing people say to do when you start uni is to join clubs. So I thought, the best thing for me to do is to join a music club, so I can do the thing I love and meet new people.

I chose Apollo Music society because of the health and charity side of it, which sets it apart from other music clubs. Also, they had a broader range of ensembles. The French horn is a bit of a niche instrument, and I didn’t just want to play in an orchestra, but other straight stage bands don’t accommodate French horns.

At the moment the society has eight ensembles running. A choir, an acapella group, two rock bands, a ‘fusion’ band, which is an adapted concert band where any instrument can join, and was the first ensemble I joined. (I’m in four now.) And rounding out the list is the jazz ensemble and strings ensemble.

I’m currently president of the committee. During my second year in the club I was voted in to the committee as performance officer. I was in charge of organising the events. At the start of semester two last year I was elected president.

So how do you manage all of your commitments at once?

I study part time. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I was studying full time. It’s a lot of work. And I have a part time job.

If I didn’t have the passion for the club, it would be a lot harder. It is a lot of work, but because I’m happy to do it, it makes it a lot easier to not put things off, and just stick to it and do it! Last semester, I was doing twelve hours of rehearsal a week, as well as committee meetings, and all of the organisational stuff that goes into it. It was taking up more of my time than study or work.

But having the balance of everything helps. I have work at a specific time, I have rehearsals at a specific time. I know there are certain tasks for the club I have to get done on a daily basis… I deal with the assessments as they come. That’s probably the worst part! Just keeping up with the university assessments. I guess I’m extremely busy, but it’s manageable.

[At the time of interviewing, Apollo Music society had recently had their end of semester POPS concert]

It’s only performance event which includes all of our ensembles. It’s the opportunity each semester for everyone to perform together, and you can invite all your family and friends and showcase what you’ve been preparing all semester. With each concert we hold, we pick a charity to dedicate all our proceeds to. We try to make it a charity that’s relevant to us, whether that’s because someone in the club has had personal experience with it, or because we think it would be relevant to a lot of our members. We’ve picked a lot of mental health charities in the past. Another example is JDRF, a charity focusing on helping young people with Type 1 diabetes, because some of our members have had experiences with that.

We also have a big bake sale. Because we need to cover the costs of holding the event, we make sure all of the proceeds from the bake sale solely go to the charity.

Are the members of the club predominantly non-music students?

Yep, the vast majority are not music students. Obviously because when you study music full time, you don’t tend to need music performance as a release in your spare time as well!

The Apollo Music society is a very inclusive club. The ensembles are only auditioned when there’s room for only one instrument of the type, like keyboard. Otherwise the groups are open to whoever wants to join. But the standard is really impressive actually.

What have been some of the most rewarding moments during your time as president of the Apollo Music society?

It has been really nice watching the other committee members grow into their roles. Before I joined this round of the committee, there was a high turnover, so a lot of people were elected who had never been part of a committee before. And a lot of those people were people I encouraged to join because I thought they would be good for it.  

The choir performing at the Apollo Music Society POPS concert, October 25th 2019.

And of course, pulling off events… it feels different when you’re in charge of things, a lot of responsibility falls on you. But it’s a really nice payoff when things when work out. Not that everything has been perfect, everything’s a learning experience. And my executive team is all fresh, none of them had ever been in an executive position before. Usually there would be one or two people on the committee who had served before.

You gain a lot of leadership skills you wouldn’t get elsewhere. And it’s such a learning experience liaising with external parties, venues, etc…

How did you begin playing French horn?

In year seven, we had a music club where you could try different instruments out, and for some reason I picked French horn! Not only did it look really cool, but the teacher was really lovely. I learnt from her during my first three years of the instrument. I owe a lot to her. It is a difficult instrument, and it does sound terrible for a while! It’s not like piano, where even if you hit the wrong notes, it’s still going to sound pretty because the tone is good. With the French horn it’s a struggle to get anywhere with sounding good and it’s hard to stay motivated…

But she was so encouraging, one of those teachers who end up really inspiring you, and you never forget them. She took her music students to see the MSO, stuff like that. Even though she left after those three years, it was enough to ground my love for the French horn and push me to continue playing throughout high school.

Apollo Music Society POPS concert, October 25th 2019.

What kind of music do you like playing on the French horn?

I love jazz. When played well, the French horn has a lovely, warm sound. Gershwin’s style of jazz is a great fit for French horn. With my ensembles, they are all student arrangements, and no one knows how to arrange for French horn, which is totally understandable, I don’t expect them to… I end up playing parts that would not normally be given to a French horn, and don’t necessarily suit the instrument. But it’s also kind of fun to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. I’ve played bass parts or guitar parts on the French horn.

But when I play at home or by music, I have a big book of Gershwin tunes which I love.  

What makes Apollo Music Society unique?

The club was started by medical students. The idea was to promote health through music and utilise the healing potential of music, for both physical and mental health. We try make sure we’re always incorporating a charity element to our events. Aside from our concerts, we also have a camp every year, where we do a trip to a nursing home and perform for the residents there.

We try to actively help other societies or groups with charity gigs, often other clubs will approach us to help them hold a charity gig. They may be a not-for-profit society but without the musical element, so we might perform at their event or help raise additional funds through a bake sale. It’s really rewarding to see music bring so much enjoyment to other people.

Most of the other music clubs on campus, don’t have the breadth of ensembles that we do. We really offer something for all kinds of music performance. Even if you can’t be in an ensemble because of other commitments, we have so many social events which all members can be a part of.

Apollo Music Society semester two POPS concert, October 25th 2019.

The ensembles are super collaborative. The fusion band, which is the bigger band, is probably the most challenging, because there are so many instruments to arrange for, and we don’t have a conductor when we perform as a concert band. Everyone is very supportive and collaborative, people jump in during rehearsals to direct different parts of the pieces. Every ensemble has its own culture. Being in a lot of them, it’s really interesting to experience the different vibes!

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