Speech difficulties in her early life meant that Nicole Ng faced challenges in expressing her emotions and feelings through words. Learning the piano at the age of seven helped to develop her confidence and communication skills and she inspires others through her expressive playing and passion for music.
Guiding her aspirations of a creative career as a chamber repetiteur, piano teacher and collaborative pianist, Nicole is currently undertaking a performance teaching degree, studying with Caroline Almonte at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM).
Nicole is a busy and in-demand performer, educator, writer and mentor. She has performed with many chamber ensembles, freelanced as a collaborative pianist for music examinations and concerts, performed with orchestras (Melbourne Youth Orchestra, and Victorian Youth Symphony Orchestra), inspired future pianists through her piano teaching, featured as a writer in Rehearsal Magazine and in major blog platforms for the University of Melbourne (UniMelb Adventures, First_Year@UniMelb, and Back for Seconds).
Keep up to date with Nicole’s musical adventures through her Facebook page here, her Instagram page here, and her blog Adventure Time with the Musohere
Being a freelance collaborative artist brings new adventures and excitement with every week. Sometimes, it can be hectic juggling my part-time jobs (piano and swim teaching) with university studies, time with family and friends, and most importantly, self-care. However, if you let yourself enjoy the ride, it is heaps of fun and definitely worthwhile.
So, here are seven pieces of advice on being a freelance collaborative artist!
1. Check your availability and schedule in your calendar before accepting collaborative work
Whenever an opportunity is presented to me, I always want to say, “Yes, yes, and yes!” While that is a great attitude to have, you should always check your schedule and availability in your calendar first. That’s the most important thing. You never know, you might double book yourself or have the possibility to over fill your workload. That’s the last thing you want to do. Trust me, I’ve been there! It gets messy and stressful, which brings me to my next point…
2. It’s okay to say no.
This ties in perfectly with my first tip. I consider self-care extremely important, and before accepting work, I always check with myself if this opportunity will be okay for me to handle during a busy period of my studies. Make sure you ask yourself if it’s going to over fill your plate (emotionally, physically and mentally), and remember to question the difficulty of the work itself.
3. Find your niche by saying yes when an opportunity has been presented to you, or to a discovery you have found.
Yes, I know. This is totally the opposite from my second point, but that was how I found my specialisation and passion. If I discover some work that interests me, or an opportunity falls in my lap and I’m available, I go for it. Rarely, collaborative work clashes with my part-time job or studies. If so, I always consider and have a good think about it when I believe it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are collaborative positions out there that are in high demand! For instance, working as an associate artist in an orchestra for a dance company, being a dance accompanist, orchestral pianist work, to name a few! You may be surprised on what’s out there when you ask around or search for opportunities.
4. Give it your all and do your best! But most of all, enjoy the ride!
Showing your deep love and passion for collaborating with others will spread like a happy, contagious disease. This can be as simple as having fun while making music with others. As my mum would say to me, “Be humble, and enjoy what you do. It’s a special moment to share with.” By you giving a 100% with fantastic customer service, being a reliable, organised worker, practicing your part well, and obtaining great performance results, there will be a possibility that you’ll get asked to work with them again.
5. Paid job? Try not to under sell yourself, especially when it’s a last-minute job. Trust your worth.
The best example that I would think of is when I’m accompanying a student for their music examination or audition – collaborative work within my own service/self-company. In retrospect, setting up my own associate artist fees wasn’t easy at first. I’m sure others can relate as well. To be honest, I started with $50 an hour for rehearsals and for accompanying on the day of their examination. Then, when I was feeling confident in my collaborative skills, experience and worth, I began to increase my fees. * At the moment, I’m sitting at around $75 an hour for rehearsals and for accompanying day on their examination. I also charge last-minute fees, which is $10 more than what I charge normally. ** However, if there’s a set fee they (a company or parish players) pay artists, then I’d have to roll with it.
*This also includes obtaining my Bachelor of Music degree (university qualifications, or other qualifications). **I know some collaborative artists may or may not charge last-minute fees. But it’s personally up to you. I have last-minute fees mainly because I juggle with teaching, university studies and personal wellbeing and health.
6. Practice makes perfect, so try and keep practicing your artistry skills and knowledge!
I believe it’s always great to keep building and developing your collaborative experience and skills. What I usually do is, practice sight-reading, improvise and jam every now and then, help a colleague or friend out if they are doing a concerto or play a fun duet together. Be curious and explore different forms of chamber repertoire and solo repertoire. If there’s some music sheet lying around in a practice room, take it as an opportunity to discover something new. Become practiced at transposing from concert pitch to other keys for orchestral instruments. This is useful when working with younger students for their music examination. For instance, when expressing how they can develop their musical ideas, or correcting their intonation and pitch at a particular bar.
7. Advertise your work by using social media platforms, your own website, or simply talk about it with others (friends, colleagues, networking events, etc).
We’re now living at a point where we can easily share with others through social media platforms. It’s accessible and simple to use! There are various of ways you can connect with your intended prospective audience such as Instagram, Facebook Page, LinkedIn, and more.
Here’s how I show my work with others through social media and other platforms through with its intentions:
Instagram – Casual insight into my career, studies and life. It’s my all-time favourite social media platform to use!
Facebook Page – Formal and professional insight into my career and performances
LinkedIn – Formal insight of my career and forming connections with colleagues in a professional way.
Blog – Written outlook into my career, studies and life
Website – I’m currently working on it and planning to use it as a professional outlook into my career, studies, performances and life, connecting with my social media platforms in one.
There are other social media platforms such as TikTok, if you’d like to engage with younger audience with dank musician memes. TwoSet Violin are sure hitting the streaks now.
Another way you can engage with people about your work is by talking about it. It doesn’t have to be all fancy, but rather a casual, interesting outlook into what you do. Take it as short snapshot of your profession. For instance, I was having a small conversation with a lady at a gym I go to, and she was interested in my work and wanted to keep in touch.
I had the chance to fire a few questions at Emilia Bertolini, a passionate soprano who is busily participating in numerous young artist programs, such as Opera Scholars Australia and Young Songmakers Australia.
On Tuesday 4th of February 2020, Emilia will perform a program of 17th and 18th Century music as part of her chamber group Ensemble Ancien. This concert will be presented as part of the Local Heroes series at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Find out more here
Tell us about your experience taking part in the opera camp program at Lyric Opera Studio Weimar, preparing the role of Susanna for a performance of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.
Where to start… I probably spent about five months working
on the role among other projects. Susanna is one of the longest roles in the
repertoire so it was quite an ambitious undertaking but I approached it pretty
methodically. I divided my score up with colourful tags marking the recits,
arias, duets and larger ensembles. I did lots of non-singing practise, speaking
through the recits and going through the Castel translations to make sure that
I understood every bit of text, not just for my own character but for everyone
else in the scene too. When I arrived in Weimar I was a bit apprehensive that I
hadn’t sung through any of the ensembles with other singers, but then it was so
satisfying when I finally got to sing those ensembles!
I had a wonderful time in Weimar. The singers were so
friendly, talented and just a joy to work with! The schedule was very busy, we
worked seven days a week usually from 10am until 10pm. And since Susanna is on
stage for most of the opera, I was usually required in the rehearsal room. The program
really confirmed that this is what I want to do with my life. I was constantly
inspired and engaged, I truly enjoyed every second of it.
What do you love so much about
Ohh man… so many things! I think it’s hard to go past the
ensembles. I think Mozart’s ensemble writing is just magical, and when you get
to sing with people who really pay attention to those subtle details and
colours in the ensembles, there’s really nothing better.
What do you think are the essential qualities
needed to be a successful and resilient singer?
Ahh, I’m not sure if I’m the right person to be answering
that! I certainly don’t have the definitive answer but personally, I just try
to be the best colleague that I can be. I think that if singers turn up to
every rehearsal prepared, and are kind and helpful to everyone involved then
that’s the most important thing. I also
think it’s important to be really clear on your personal values surrounding why
you sing. I sing because making music brings me endless joy and fulfilment.
It’s really easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of this path so I
always just bring myself back to my values and why I love singing.
How do you approach time management,
as a singer who has to maintain vocal practise and stamina, but also work on
foreign languages, acting, researching repertoire, etc?
This is a very individual thing, and I’m really aware of the
fact that many singers don’t have the luxury of being able to dedicate a lot of
time to some of those aspects due to work commitments or their financial
situation. In my case, I really just
enjoy practising, learning, being in rehearsal and learning languages. As soon
as things become chores I don’t want to do them, so I just try to remain
constantly inspired and excited to be learning new things! In terms of time
management, I’m pretty addicted to my phone, I’m always making lists,
spreadsheets, sending emails and making appointments in my calendar to make
sure that I have very clear deadlines. I often feel like I’m juggling a lot of
things so the more I write things down, and set my deadlines the better I feel.
How do you cope with the prospect of
entering an oversaturated job field, in the sense that there are hundreds of
sopranos out there auditioning for every role… how do you distinguish yourself
and work out what makes your voice unique and what you can bring to roles. How
do you approach this challenging side of being a young opera singer?
This is the aspect of the career that I find most daunting,
and I often wish that I was literally any other voice type! However, I do just
try to come back to my personal values and the fact that I don’t care if it’s
at the Metropolitan Opera or in my shower, I’m always going to sing and I will
find opportunities to sing because there really isn’t anything else that I’d
Who are some of your favourite vocal
composers and what would be a dream role for you in the future?
At the moment my favourite operatic composers would be
Mozart, Handel and maybe Donizetti… but it really depends on the singer or the
recording. I would never sing Wagner or big Puccini arias but I love listening
to recordings of early twentieth century singers performing that repertoire. My
current dream role would be Mélisande from Debussy’s Pélleas et Mélisande which
is completely different!
I am obsessed with art song so it is hard to go past Schubert, Schumann, Debussy and Britten, to name a few. I’m also a bit of an early music nerd so Purcell, Rameau and Strozzi are also up there with my favourites. There is so much interesting repertoire out there and I just want to explore as much of it as I can.
You can keep up to date with Emilia’s singing adventures on her Facebook page here, her Instagram here, and her official website here
Emilia Bertolini is a versatile musician with a love of an eclectic range of music. 2019 has held a range of exciting opportunities for Emilia including being selected to take part in the Young Songmaker Development Program with Songmakers Australia, performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre Salon with Ensemble Ancien, and going to Germany to perform the role of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro with the Lyric Opera Studio Weimar.
In 2018, Emilia played the journalist in Lyric Opera
Melbourne’s production of Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias and understudied
the role of Yniold in Victorian Opera’s Pelleas and Melisande. During her time at University, Emilia played
Despina in scenes from Così fan tutte, and explored a variety of chamber music
from Baroque composers Couperin and Lully, to Romantics Schubert and Schumann,
and even dappled in Schoenberg’s haunting Pierrot Lunaire. Emilia’s solo
concert repertoire includes Fauré’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Beatus vir
and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Emilia has
received several awards and scholarships including the AEH Nickson Travelling
Scholarship, the Hedy Holt and Roger Prochazka Memorial Award at the 38th
National Liederfest, the Murray Ormond Vagg Scholarship and the Voshege
Scholarship through Opera Scholars Australia.
Emilia holds a Bachelor of Music with first-class Honours from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, and being an avid linguist, holds Diplomas in both French and Italian. In 2020, Emilia is most looking forward to competing as a finalist in the Opera Scholars Australia Aria competition which will be held as a part of Opera in the Market in February.
You can keep up to date with Emilia’s singing adventures on her Facebook page here, her Instagram here, and her official website here
You have performed in many music theatre productions, not just the traditional musicals from the 1950s and 1960s, but also in many newly-composed musicals. How do the two styles compare, do you have a preference for a certain style of music theatre?
It’s so hard to compare those two styles as I think that
musical theatre has become an umbrella term for a range of different styles and
genres. I think musical scores started to become very clever after the golden
age of theatre, with composers like Stephan Sondheim ruling the scene. To this
day I think musical theatre continues to develop its styles and there are some
amazing composers out there who are writing challenging and clever music. One
of my all -time favourite composers is Adam Guettel who wrote the score to The
Light in the Piazza.
I don’t have a preference of musical styles, but I recently
played Mabel in Pirates of Penzance and I absolutely loved performing those
beautiful soprano songs!
When did you realise that you wanted
to study and pursue speech therapy?
I realised I wanted to study speech therapy when I discovered
my love for voice and vocal technique during my singing lessons towards the end
of my high school studies. I got to a point in my training when I was just
craving information on how the voice worked and how I could change my voice to
create certain sounds. I was lucky to have such inspiring vocal teachers
throughout high school who constantly challenged me to develop my voice and
learn more about my own voice and how I use it.
Aside from the singing aspect of speech pathology, I really
wanted a career where I was going to be able to help people and make a
Why are you passionate about speech
Speech pathology is all about promoting communication. Being
able to communicate is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s really
easy to take our ability to use our voices to communicate and express ourselves,
for granted. For me, it was not until I started studying speech pathology did I
realise how many people do not have a voice or a way to express themselves.
This is something that is really at the heart of why I chose to study speech
pathology, to help people communicate with dignity and to flourish within their
I’m passionate about the research behind the evidence-based
intervention in speech pathology that enables frequent voice users to use their
voice effectively and with care. Vocal health is so important for frequent
voice users, it’s so easy to use and abuse our voice without even thinking
about it. In regards to singing, I believe it is so important that singers
learn how their voices work. It’s something I’m very passionate about. Having
an understanding on how the larynx and the muscles surrounding are working not
only allows a singer to know and become familiar with their voices/body, it
allows them to adjust their technique with the help of vocal teachers or speech
pathologists to ensure they are optimising their vocal health and efficiency.
I’m sure there are quite a few
overlapping ideas with speech therapy and studying singing. Has coming at
speech therapy from a singing background assisted with your studies?
Definitely! I think my knowledge of my own vocal technique
definitely benefited my studies when completing anatomy subjects. It has also
surprisingly come in handy when analysing the perceptual vocal, resonance and
prosody features of patients with neurological damage from brain injury or
A lot of evidence-based methods that I have used in the past
with singing teachers, such as the Estill Voice Training method and Accent
Method, are promoted in speech pathology intervention too which has definitely
benefited my knowledge of different therapy techniques.
How do you envision incorporating
music performance into your future? Will you continue to perform for fun/
professionally as you also get work doing speech therapy?
Right now I’m really enjoying performing in my local theatre
shows! I would love to one day perform professionally, but right now I’m really
motivated to develop my speech pathology career.
In future I would love to study music therapy and incorporate
music into my speech pathology practise! I would love to create a social group
for kids with special needs that focuses promoting wellbeing and friendships
through the use of music and creativity.
What is your favourite thing about
performing in shows?
My favourite thing about performing in shows is being able to
express myself through music and dance. There’s no better feeling than standing
on stage and getting to sing amazing music with talent and inspiring people.
How do you find time to nurture the
musical side of your life, while studying speech therapy and working? How do
you approach vocal practise and repertoire learning?
It’s definitely a challenge. Studying full time is a hard
gig, adding work into the mix is even harder. But when you love something you
always find time for it. For me, my singing lessons and rehearsals are my break
away from my busy life and my time to be present and to be around people who are
Keeping a consistent vocal practise routine is definitely difficult with a busy uni schedule, but I dedicate one night a week to my personal vocal practise and repertoire learning. This is usually in the form of a singing lesson, a few hours of practising my repertoire songs or even just vocal rest if I have had a busy week of using my voice. I’m very lucky to have a Speech Pathologist as a singing teacher who’s always giving me new tips on how I can optimise my vocal health. Recently I’ve implemented morning vocal warm up with the use of a ten minute straw phonation exercise, I do this every morning before I start my day!
Keep up to date with Shevaun’s musical adventures through her Instagram, here
Music theatre performer, speech pathologist-in-training
Shevaun Pope is a Melbourne based performer who has trained in classical voice and musical theatre under the guidance of Rebecca Jammison at Prime Vocal Studios and Cassandra Beckitt at DPA. Shevaun’s selected theatre credits include Pirates of Penzance as ‘Mabel’, Tinder Tales: A New Australian Musical as ‘Abbey’s Insecurities’, A to Z Cabaret, One Night Only: A Youth Theatre Initiative, Shrek as ‘Gingy’, The Little Mermaid as ‘Andrina’, Return to the Forbidden Planet as ‘Miranda’ and The Sound of Music as ‘Louisa’. Shevaun has most recently played the role of ‘Vicki’ in WMTC’s production of A Chorus Line.
I began my music performance degree at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music when I was eighteen years old. During the three and a half years it took for me to complete my undergraduate studies in classical voice, it occasionally felt like I had made a turn onto a freeway where all the cars around me were speeding up, forcing me to do the same. There was a collective feeling of urgency in needing to establish a career as a solo singer, despite the fact that most of my cohort (myself included) had voices which were far from complete, in terms of vocal range, stamina, and power. We were passionate vocal students taking our first tentative steps into the world of professional performance, but instead of feeling excited for the all possibilities in my future, I felt slightly stricken and almost certain I was going about things the ‘wrong’ way.
The ‘standard’ path to
becoming a professional opera singer can probably be described as such: study
at a Conservatorium, complete an undergraduate degree and an Honours year, do
as many eisteddfods, language coachings and acting coachings as possible, put
yourself forward for as many scholarships and young artists programs and awards
as possible, do as many shows as possible, go overseas, audition. Rinse and repeat.
I became aware of this usual narrative during my first or second year of my
degree, from observing Conservatorium alumni, attending concerts and of course,
just talking to people.
The idea that every singer
should try to force their life to follow the same pathway to becoming a
professional performer has some obvious flaws. The main one is that every voice
is different and will mature at its own pace. A role which is a satisfying but
achievable challenge for one soprano at the age of 25, can be a strained and unhealthy
experience for a different soprano at the age of 25. We are also all aware that
random life events can completely change our well-laid plans, and that occasionally
people unexpectedly fall into performance careers when they were on their way
to becoming scientists or lawyers.
During my undergraduate
degree, I started to feel the strain of constantly pushing myself to be the
best singer I could possibly be. I knew I was incredibly passionate about
singing and wanted to be on stage professionally, but I knew that I was
passionate about other career prospects too.
I soon realised something- if I was burning out already in the safe harbour of uni, a place where nothing is really at stake (in the sense that no one is being paid and you are viewed as a developing student, not a professional), I could not handle the stress of a professional career unless I really changed my attitude. I didn’t want to burn out, because after all, there is no point reaching the Metropolitan Opera if you immediately have a nervous breakdown and never sing again. Performers are constantly riding a rollercoaster, one which peaks with thrilling moments of adrenaline and dramatically plummets during the quieter periods in their careers. A professional performance career will always involve heightened emotions and the possibility of mental strain and illness. You need to have strategies in place, ready and waiting, so you are not taken by surprise each time you feel anxious or depressed in the aftermath of an exhilarating show.
This realisation led me to take an extended break from singing, and spend my Honours year at university studying musicology. This was an incredible learning experience, as I wrote over 30,000 combined words of assessment over two semesters. I would love to return to singing in the future, but after three and a half years of it being such an intense focus in my life, it was a relief to devote my time to other skills.
The biggest tactic I have learnt from being in the situation of having many careers call my name, is deliberately not pushing a label on where I am at in my life. Whether I end up singing professionally, singing for fun, combining singing with other careers or not… Whatever happens, I am not forcing myself into a particular path. I am working on things which excite me, letting it happen and embracing the fact that I might end up experiencing quite a different career path than the one I first imagined for myself. I have learnt to sit with the discomfort of not knowing exactly how my career is going to look, or exactly how I am going to combine my skills.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote
the bulk of this article twelve months ago, before I had any inkling that I
would create and edit an online music magazine after university. I have found
it incredibly cathartic to embrace a ‘go with the flow’ attitude, and understand
that things might happen at a completely different pace from what I originally
imagined. If you are experiencing major doubts about your creative path, my
biggest suggestion is to take things day by day. As scary as it might seem, try
to grab the scary but exciting opportunities which come your way.