Cailin Howarth trained as a classical singer at the The Conservatorium of Music at The University of Melbourne before performing in Australia and Europe. As a performer, Cailin saw the need for skilled practitioners who understood the specific challenges of the performing arts, and subsequently returned to study psychology in order to be the change she wanted to see in the industry. Cailin has created The Performer’s Edge to support creatives and performers reach their full potential through bespoke coaching utilising best practise performance psychology.
Scrolling through Facebook as a musician, and as a friend of musicians, has been sobering of late. It is integral that we take social distancing measures seriously, but understanding that doesn’t necessarily make the mass cancellations any easier.
But there are some bright rays of hope emerging during this disconcerting time. A notable example is Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, an organisation created by seasoned arts professionals Chris Howlett and Adele Schonhardt in response to the unfolding COVID-19 health crisis. From its website, the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall will be broadcasting a number of concerts which were scheduled to go ahead during this time, transmitted to the comfort of your living room thanks to the magic of the internet. Tickets can be purchased online and can be booked up to one minute before the scheduled start time of the concert.
Arcadia Winds are trailblazers for Australian wind music.
Awarded a fellowship at the Australian National Academy of Music upon their formation in late 2013, they became Musica Viva Australia’s inaugural FutureMakers musicians from 2015–17. They have brought their brand of energetic, joyful and spontaneous performance to festival stages in almost every state and territory in the country; concert halls across mainland China; and listeners around the world through broadcasts of the BBC Proms Australia chamber music series.
A desire to celebrate and promote Australian music has led Arcadia Winds to commission and perform works by prominent Australian composers.
STEFAN CASSOMENOS – FRIDAY 27TH MARCH AT 8.30PM
Melbourne pianist and composer Stefan Cassomenos is one of Australia’s most vibrant and versatile musicians. He has been performing internationally since the age of 10, and is now established as one of Australia’s leading pianists.
Cassomenos is a founding member of chamber ensemble PLEXUS, which since launching in 2014 has commissioned and premiered over100 new works. Cassomenos’ own compositions are regularly commissioned and performed throughout Australia. Cassomenos and violinist Monica Curro have recently been announced as Artistic Directors of the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival from 2019. Cassomenos is generously supported by Kawai Australia.
TRISTAN LEE – SATURDAY 28TH MARCH AT 5PM
Tristan Lee is an Australian pianist internationally recognized, and critically acclaimed, for his distinctive and moving recital programmes and recordings. He has played in major venues in Australia, Europe and China, including the Wigmore Hall, and St Martin in the Fields, London, amongst many others.
His mentors and teachers have included François-Frédéric Guy, Leslie Howard, Glenn Riddle, and Ian Holtham. Tristan Lee has extensively performed, researched, and recorded the music of Beethoven, Brahms, and Liszt.
LATITUDE 37, SATURDAY 28TH MARCH AT 7PM
Latitude 37 is an exciting baroque trio whose members were drawn together by their passion for historically informed performance of 17th– and 18th-century music. The distinctive combination of baroque violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord, opens up a wealth of repertoire that is rarely explored by other Australian ensembles. Over the past ten years they have become firm favourites on the Australasian early music scene. Their critically acclaimed performances are characterised by the marriage of scholarship and keen sense of historical style with virtuosity, creative flair and a warm rapport with audiences.
Laura Vaughan and Donald Nicolson have been performing as a duo since their student years at the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague. The music of seventeenth-century France, especially Marin Marais, is treasured by them both. They have explored many works, ranging from the well-known sonatas by JS Bach, to more exquisite rarities from the time of Henry VIII.
ZOE KNIGHTON, SATURDAY 28TH MARCH AT 8.30PM
Zoe is a founding member of Flinders Quartet, one of Australia’s finest chamber ensembles.
With pianist Amir Farid, she has recorded for ABC, performed throughout Australia and released 5 CDs on the MOVE label. Their partnership will be reignited in 2020 with performances throughout Australia and New York.
Zoe is currently fortyfive downstairs musician in residence and artistic patron of Resonance String Ensemble in Woodend.
ELYANE LAUSSADE, THURSDAY 2ND APRIL AT 7PM
A graduate of the Juilliard school in New York City, pianist Elyane Laussade has delighted audiences on five continents with her imaginative and strongly individual playing. The New York Times has said she is “a pianist with a powerful, polished technique and many an original interpretive notion….with an impeccable sense of style and dazzling power.”
Elyane’s most recent endeavour is the Mozart Project which will see her perform all 27 Mozart piano concertos with orchestras around Australia. Her love for the musical experience as a close encounter has inspired her to run a special series of intimate recitals at the Laussade Studio in Melbourne.
SONGMAKERS AUSTRALIA – THURSDAY 2ND APRIL AT 8.30PM
Unique in the musical landscape of Australia, Songmakers Australia brings together some of the country’s leading singers and instrumentalists in a diverse repertoire comprising some of the pinnacles of chamber music.
Under the artistic patronage of Graham Johnson, founding director of the acclaimed London-based Songmakers Almanac, pianist Andrea Katz teams with soprano Merlyn Quaife, mezzo-soprano Christina Wilson, tenor Brenton Spiteri and bass-baritone Nicholas Dinopoulos in inspired programs that feature a dynamic interplay of song and chamber music.
KRISTIAN CHONG – FRIDAY 3RD APRIL AT 7PM
One of Australia’s leading pianists, Kristian Chong has performed throughout Australia and the UK, and in China, France, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, USA, and Zimbabwe. His wide-ranging performance schedule finds him equally at home as concerto soloist, chamber musician and recitalist.
Described by The Age as ‘a true chamber musician at work’, his collaborations include the Tinalley and Australian String Quartets, violinist Vadim Gluzman, cellist Li-Wei Qin, flautist Megan Sterling and baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, with whom he has recorded with ABC-Classics. His festival appearances include the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, the Adelaide, Huntington Estate, Mimir and Bangalow Festivals.
The main characteristic distinguishing vocal music from instrumental music, is the text. Of course, singers can abandon words for ‘ooohhh’ and ‘aaaah’ and use extended techniques to create sound effects, but so can instrumentalists. Fundamentally, the ability to interpret words and bring an explicit story to life is what makes vocal music unique.
During my vocal studies at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, I found the process of learning repertoire overwhelming. There were so many elements: learning the melody, refining the rhythms and phrasing, coordinating with the accompaniment, memorising the text, interpreting the text, and finally, creating a performance. Oh, and remembering to breathe…
Over the past two years I have distanced myself from rigorous vocal training, as part of a self-run campaign to find out what I am capable of when I am not constantly dedicating myself to singing. Because of that distance, I have begun to think over the process of learning music with a cooler head. It occurred to me that you could create a methodical rubric for learning repertoire, and separate many of the individual elements into their own category. (Sexy, I know).
Singers often have to learn multiple pieces at once, whether they’re memorising nine art songs simultaneously for their undergraduate recital (true story, unfortunately), or preparing a handful of auditions. It is all too easy to lose track of exactly where you have gotten up to with a particular song. This method will save you time, as you can start every practice session with a clear head, secure in the knowledge that you are charting your progress. As you conquer a particular phase of learning for each piece, you can tick the box or write accompanying notes.
The template below can be used in Excel or Word or whichever medium you prefer. Feel free to adjust the steps to reflect your own process.
The breakdown in detail:
Step 1. Literal translation
It has been shown that writing things down by hand helps to solidify the information in your brain. I think it’s essential to use this technique, and copy down a literal translation of each of your songs, word-for-word. It requires going into a tedious amount of detail which will pay off in the future. Perhaps you can get extra nerdy and use a blue pen for the original text, and a black pen for the English translation. Oh, and copy the whole thing down three times. Exciting stuff!
Step 2. Poetic translation
Just as it’s important to understand the exact words in the phrases of your song (the word ‘the’ is not as dramatically potent as the word ‘murder’), it’s also good to know how far the narrative progresses with each sentence. And if you repeat the same line of poetry twice, how will you set them apart vocally? So for good measure, copy down the poetic translation a few times too.
Step 3. Background research
We’ve all been there- you’re watching a masterclass at uni, a singer gets up on stage, and falls for the most basic ‘gotcha!’ question- ‘So what is this song about?’ Or, ‘Why did the composer set music to this particular text?’. ‘Uh… I don’t know.’
Don’t be that person. There’s always a story. Even if it’s as simple as, the composer really loved the poetry of a particular writer, and had an obsession with the idea of the afterlife and the symbolic nature of crows…
Step 4. Note learning
Well duh! Learn the notes!
Step 5. Fine tuning phrasing
Well duh! Don’t just learn the notes! Phrase them musically!
Speaking seriously though, this phase also includes working out how and where you’re going to breathe and identifying the most challenging phrases.
Step 6. Acting and Interpretation
Once you are no longer dependent on sheet music, you can experiment with your acting. Discuss with your teacher, workshop different approaches…
Step 7. Practicing performing
Make yourself nervous on purpose. See how you cope.
If you enlist your friends to come visit your practice room, and force yourself to perform entire songs for them without stopping, it will force you to confront all of the holes in your progress. Brutal, but necessary before the real performances!
I had the chance to speak to emerging soprano Sofia Laursen Habel, who staged a charity concert last year with help from a grant from the Ignite Lab program at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. The Celebration of Spring concert took place in regional Victoria and raised funds for the Wimmera Healthcare Group.
At what point in primary school or high school did you realize you wanted to pursue music more seriously?
I think it was probably in high school, year seven. I remember we were doing a musical called Disco Inferno, made up of 70s hits… I was a bit shy, but I ended up singing Blame It on the Boogie by Michael Jackson. The concert was in a dingy little hall, but from that moment I was like, yep, I want be on stage, that’s what I want to do. That was the moment where I didn’t really consider another option. People would say, oh you should have a backup option, or you’re good at arts and languages, maybe you could study those… but I knew I had to give performance a go, and that I would regret it if I didn’t.
What is your favourite part of the entire experience of being a show? From the rehearsals down to the last performances?
That’s a hard question! I think one of my favourite moments would be when you’re waiting side stage, about to go on for the first time. Just that feeling of anticipation and excitement, of getting into character.
Can you tell me about the fundraising project you organised, the Celebration of Spring concert which took place in regional Victoria?
I’m originally from a grain farm in the Wimmera, which is in north-west Victoria. There isn’t lot of access to classical music out there. I ended up going to boarding school in year ten to study music, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had access to the subject.
I had been thinking of how I wanted to do a concert of classical musical or opera for a rural audience, to bridge the gap that exists for those communities. I started brainstorming where I could do that, and how the event could benefit the community. I wanted all of the funds raised to go to an organization that was doing really good work in the area.
I ended up teaming up with the Wimmera Healthcare Group who are based in Horsham and Dimboola. They were on board straight away, which was fantastic. I applied for funding for the project through the Ignite Lab program at Melbourne University.
[The Ignite Lab program at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music offers a ‘Creativity Fund’ grant program to current students, as well as career consulting and workshops relating to the business side of being a music professional. 2020 will be the fifth year the Creativity Fund has run. The program has granted over $60,000 across more than thirty student projects. Applications are open to current MCM students for two more weeks, find out more here]
I was hoping that the funding would cover the cost of the event, so that way everything raised could go straight to the organisation. Luckily I was able to get a grant, and it did end up covering all the costs- and testing my budgeting skills! I had a wonderful team around me from the Wimmera Healthcare Group helping to plan the event. Robyn Lardner was my mentor for the project.
Because the event for was for charity, we were able to benefit from radio interviews and other donated services such as printing.
What kind of work is done by the Wimmera Healthcare Group?
The money received by the Wimmera Healthcare Group is used to accrue interest which is then used to provide new buildings, as well as doctors and medical programs in the country. The major regional hospital in the area has to cover a great distance.
We had seventy tickets to sell for the concert- I thought that number wasn’t too large, but if we didn’t sell out it wasn’t going to look too bad. We reached pretty far and wide trying to spread the word, and we ended up selling out two weeks before!
The concert was held at the Horsham Performing Arts Centre, which was only built a few years ago. The actual auditorium seats something like eight hundred people. But because I wanted to make the event a bit more accessible and take it out of the theatre, we performed the recital in the foyer area. It created more of an intimate salon feel, and it was nice that the bar was right next to the seats!
All up, with ticket sales and raffle ticket sales, we ended up raising $2,700. And the fact the event sold out really did reinforce for me that wider regional audiences are interested in classical music and opera. But it’s a challenge because of the lack of accessibility.
It’s interesting, because in the city centre of Melbourne, we can encounter the opposite problem- because there is so much going on, it’s hard to get people to come to your specific event. But it’s fantastic to hear that enthusiasm for live classical-based music is so widespread through Australia and not only in the urban centres.
Exactly! Before the show had started, my accompanist Karen came up to me backstage and said, I’m not going to give anything away, but there is so much love in this room for you. It was a very rewarding night. And it was so lovely to get such a positive response to my first time running a concert event in the real world!
What did organising the event teach you in terms of time management skills, budgeting skills, etc?
It taught me to be very prepared very early on. We started planning the concert six or seven months beforehand. There were so many factors to take into consideration to even lock in a date. We knew if the event was taking place during footy season, it couldn’t be on a Saturday, because footy is very important in the country. And we knew if it was going to be on Sunday it should be in the early evening, and not so late that it would be hard for people to drive back home. I suppose that’s the who in the process of planning an event. Who is the event for and how are you going to cater to that demographic?
Allison Butler from the board of the foundation ran me through a number of their past budgets, and the lists and templates she has used in organising events. So that was incredibly helpful.
We had great photographer and videographer documenting the event. The videos are great for me to look back and go, okay, did that work? It’s so different when it’s a live show. Coming from the Conservatorium, it’s easy to get caught up in the perfectionism of ‘I can’t sing, because I’m not perfect’, or ‘This isn’t ready because that note isn’t exactly right…’ Audiences don’t care about that! It’s about the performance. As long as I can communicate what I want to communicate, and help the audience feel what the music wants you to feel, then I’ve done my job. It was great to see audience members crying in the places I wanted them to cry, and laughing at the moments I wanted them to laugh! I knew the story I wanted to tell, and I could tell the audience was right there with me.
Who are some of your favourite composers of vocal music?
My niche in this area is actually Scandinavian art song. My mum’s Danish and I speak Danish. And as you know, it’s hard to sing opera as a young singer, you have to wait until your voice develops. So I branched into like looking at Scandinavian composers.
I stumbled across three who I really love: Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, Danish composer Carl Nielsen and Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Sibelius would have to be my favourite art song composer at the moment, he’s written some really great stuff in both Finnish and Swedish.
I’d love for my Honours recital in the future to be made up solely of Scandinavian art song… it can be fantastic to do a themed program, because that way you can take it and perform it as a concert outside of uni. Which can be hard to do when you do the usual student program of a completely mixed bag of repertoire!
Do you have any strategies for dealing with stress and nerves?
I go to yoga classes. It’s something I found last year that’s really helped me with stress. It’s also a place to escape- there’s a beautiful little mantra on the wall of the studio I go to which says something like ‘Your practice is your time to feel alive and free. There’s no stress or pressure. If you can’t touch your toes, don’t force it, you’re on your own path’. Which is also very relatable to singing!
Also, to go home more often. If I’m feeling tressed or claustrophobic, it helps even to get out of the city for a night, feel that space.
Growing up in country Victoria, Sofia Laursen Habel is very connected to her roots in the country community where she first started learning music. Enriched by her Danish background, Sofia’s love of singing grew with the steady pace of rural life, with her passion as a singer residing in moving people through honest and authentic performance. Sofia has a keen interest in Scandinavian art song from the 19th and 20th centuries, while also enjoying a passion for opera. Sofia tends to choose repertoire based on the poetry and history of the piece, as she is also interested in social, political and military history. Sofia is currently studying an honours year in classical voice with the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, which she will finish in June.
Melbourne-born pianist Christopher Wong aims to captivate his audiences with his sheer passion and fiery temperament on stage. Christopher’s array of accomplishments includes first prize awards from eisteddfods and a Special Distinction Award from 3MBS’s The Talent.
He was awarded his Bachelor and Master of Music with First Class Honours from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and during this time received many scholarships, including the Grace Funston Scholarship, Katharine Ellis Memorial Fund and the Dudley William Gardiner Memorial Scholarship. His performing career sees his recent collaboration with Richard Davis in Britten’s Piano Concerto with the University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Christopher hopes to continue to share his love of music authentically as possible and to connect with different people of all kinds to enhance his musical palette and imagination.
Like any other ambitious classical musician, I have always wanted to travel to Europe. I saw Europe as the ‘home of classical music’, the birthplace of so many composers whose works we still perform today. This triggered my idea of studying abroad, which my friends and family greatly encouraged. I wanted to hone my musical skills, but I also wanted to gain inspiration from a greater understanding of the world and most importantly, of myself.
During my previous five years of tertiary education, I constantly viewed myself as inferior to many of my talented friends, colleagues and teachers at the University of Melbourne. I was reluctant to give in to the music fully whenever I performed, afraid of disappointing the audience or my teachers. And I convinced myself I would be unsuccessful in gaining a career in music. After receiving an acceptance to study at the Sibelius Academy for a semester, I knew this would be my only opportunity to travel abroad in my final year of Masters. So, I took a leap of faith and hopped on the plane to Helsinki, Finland.
While I braced myself for challenges, and the idea of living far away from my family and close friends, I could hardly contain my excitement to arrive in Finland. Getting to set foot in the homeland of Jean Sibelius and see the sight of falling snow fired up my imagination. I would be in Finland for four months.
To say that I was fortunate enough to break out of my shell during my time in Finland would be putting it mildly. Despite the personal hardships I experienced during my time overseas, each day at the Sibelius Academy felt like I was living a dream. I found the process of settling into a foreign country daunting, but I was lucky enough to study with the best Helsinki has to offer. And I found that I made new friends very quickly. Not to mention the whole staff at the Sibelius Academy (including my wonderful teacher Hui-Ying-Liu Tawatstsjerna) were super friendly and down-to-earth! They brought out the very best in their students with their open-minded approach: to experiment with your own ideas and not apologise for reveling in the moment.
Every time I walked through the campus, I could not stop marvelling at the superb sights at the Sibelius Academy: from the sheer scale of the practice facilities to the grandeur of the concert halls, including the Helsinki Music Centre (Musiikkitalo), where the students and staff shared the stage with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. I was blown away by the level of quality, presentation and energy present in the Finnish music scene, where you could really feel their genuine love of music.
I could not think of anything more rewarding than this experience. During the semester, I focused on making the most of my studies by spending hours in a practice room honing my solo works and collaborating with amazing musicians, including Lizzie Stewart, Laura Leena-Pauni, Vivian Neff and Yu-chuen Huang. I was no longer the insecure bloke who fished for everyone’s approval.
It’s not only my artistic skills and knowledge which developed greatly through the process. In Finland I started to embrace the idea of staying true to who you are as an artist and a person. This has enabled me to express myself freely in more ways than I could imagine. I still have a long way to go, but I believe as long as you maintain an open mind to those who perceive music differently from the way you do, and you do not stop clinging to your hunger to gain knowledge and learn about different cultural experiences, this sense of inspiration will pave the way to greater success.
Fever Pitch Magazine enquiries can be sent to Stella Joseph-Jarecki through stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com