Taken after my third year recital, June 2017. Photo credit: Madeline Coco.

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

In 2018 I came to the end of my Bachelor of Music at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, majoring in Performance with an Honours year in Musicology. I have been deliberately specific in the ways that I have discussed my music degree on this blog. I have limited my discussions to my own personal feelings, my inward thought processes which are obviously no one’s responsibility but my own. I never want to be the person who does not take ownership of their own wellbeing, and the myriad of things they can do to address their own mental and physical health. Indeed I hate it when people complain and whinge without doing anything about it.

But a few things have led me to consider publishing a less filtered reflection of my study experience. I recently began my first ever full-time job, which means over the next year I will be making my first contributions towards paying off my HECS debt. I no longer feel like I need to censor my thoughts because I was able to postpone my fee payments until after completing my degree (something I am deeply appreciative of!)

I went through multiple depressive periods during my university studies. I am not attributing that to anything but my own brain chemistry. But after eighteen months of being out of the university system, I have been able to think over those months with greater clarity. I have identified some of the triggers which I encountered during those incredibly stressful periods, where it occasionally felt like the life was being sucked out of me even though I was supposed to be studying something I loved.

After my second year recital, November 2015. Photo credit: My Mum, probably.

Most musicians who end up in a music degree, especially one at a Conservatorium which positions itself at the top of the academic pile in Australia, are perfectionists by nature. After all, you’d have to be a pretty high-achieving eighteen-year-old to have goals like performing with the Berlin Philharmonic, and playing pieces like Rachmaninoff piano concertos. Speaking from my personal experience, it takes a certain kind of deranged singer to daydream of tackling roles like Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, which is a fiendishly difficult undertaking demanding the all stamina, flexibility and dramatic impact of several different kinds of soprano voice, all contained in the one body… And if that wasn’t enough, only a tiny percentage of professional sopranos ever get a chance to sing it! (Doesn’t stop me daydreaming, though…)

Talk about self-inflicted pressure and the potential for neuroses! It’s no wonder that most Hollywood films centred around classically trained musicians show them having a nervous breakdown, or killing someone to further their career…

I’m aware that young musicians have the kind of personality and temperament that places them at greater risk of mental fatigue and illness. And that’s not the fault of the institutions that train them. But why, oh why, isn’t this issue being addressed head-on? Performance psychology is widespread throughout the elite sport industry. Some lucrative football teams in the UK employ a squad of performance psychologists solely to work with the athletes. I learnt this fact during an interview with Cailin Howarth, a classically trained singer with a degree in psychology, who recently established her own performance psychology studio. During this interview, Cailin articulated many thoughts I’d had in passing myself, enforced by the years of research she’s done on the subject.

In costume as Sister Claire, as part of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s production of Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogue of the Carmelites. August 2018.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being a perfectionist, or a degree that pushes young musicians to be the absolute best they can be. But I think it’s irresponsible, not to mention completely counter-intuitive, to ask young people to throw themselves into highly disciplined routines and subject themselves to rigorous self-critique, without giving them a toolkit of cognitive techniques to develop resilience and a positive relationship with their instrument. This is the hill I am going to die on!

If music degrees incorporated performance psychology subjects into their core structure from the first year, it would effectively counter the huge potential for harmful mental habits forming in students’ brains. The fable of the otter and the hare rings true here: there’s no point reaching The Met if you immediately have a nervous breakdown and never sing again. Musical institutions need to produce performers who are able to function under immense pressure, and sustainably deal with that pressure over the course of their (hopefully) decades-long careers. Melbourne Conservatorium of Music offers a subject in performance psychology as part of the core structure of its Masters of Orchestral Performance, which is commendable. But why is this same content not included in an undergraduate degree?

This is one of the two major issues I take with the music degree I went through. Here’s the second- it should go without saying that you should leave a performance degree a better and more experience performer than when you started. Or, with the realisation that a performance career is not for you (which is completely valid). The degree that I went through barely gave us enough performance opportunities to work out whether performing was the career we wanted.

At my graduation of my undergraduate degree, July 2017.

I really hated recitals. That’s not the case for every singer, but I felt suffocated by performing in concert attire with only a single pianist accompanying me on stage, and nothing to react to. There’s a particular kind of adrenaline which floods your body when you are performing in a show with an ensemble- you feed off your energy, your fellow performers’ energy, the energy of the audience… That dynamism simply isn’t there when you’re performing a recital of seven songs for a panel of adjudicators in a small room.

Because we spent fourteen weeks drilling the same seven songs in minuscule detail, and because there was no cohort-wide opera or showcase offered until the last semester of my third year (!!!), I often felt anxious and unfulfilled. (Disclaimer: I got on very well with my voice teacher and greatly respect the expertise of the individual teachers).

It was also disconcerting that the ‘conservative’ in ‘Conservatorium’ is alive and well, with many voice teachers taking the hard-line of being totally against young singers participating in any musicals or non-classical performances. (To the point where I had friends who would keep it secret from their teachers if they were cast in a musical). Obviously you should keep an eye on your developing technique as a young singer, but if you can’t sing fully-fledged operatic roles until your late twenties/ early thirties, surely there’s viable and healthy ‘happy medium’, where you can perform a range of styles without damaging your voice.

I am not airing these opinions simply to have a vent. It’s because during the course of my degree, I constantly came into contact with bright, disciplined, intelligent musicians who felt drained as a result of a frequently baffling course. It really doesn’t have to be that way. With any degree there will always be a certain percentage of graduates who reassess their career goals after university. But if the vast majority of a cohort have had to undergo significant reverse-brain-washing to even think of playing their instrument with a small measure of joy and happiness, you have a serious problem.

Now that I will be getting deductions for the subjects which were thousands of dollars each, I think I have a right to roll my eyes at the slogans adorning University of Melbourne advertising, such as ‘The Bravery To Be You’ (yeah… nah) and ‘Come As You Are, Leave How You Want To Be’ (definitely not what I experienced). I guess that’s the result of multi-levelled bureaucracy and a very large marketing budget.

Why I Will Always Believe in Opera’s Future

Interior detail of Opera de Paris in France. Image credit: Alessia Cocconi on http://www.unsplash.com

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

Many people believe opera is a ‘dead’ art form, a dusty old relic only meant for the ears of affluent senior citizens. I disagree. However, I completely understand why people view it that way. Many people my age have never seen an opera before. This is probably due to the very expensive ticket prices and the consistently fancy-shmansy way opera is marketed. (Diamonds and ball gowns are a non-negotiable, apparently)

As a feminist and a musicologist (a more pretentious introduction has never existed), I am the first to admit that the plots of popular operas are often deeply problematic. After all, the vast majority of them were written by privileged European men during a time where a certain level of bigotry was accepted as normal. Many of these popular operas are like James Bond films made in the 1960s – very entertaining and casually sexist and/ or racist. Vintage Ferraris! Weapons cunningly disguised in household appliances! African servants and sexually harassed women!

During the nineteenth century, European composers set their operas in far-flung locations to give them an exotic, sexy edge. They usually did this without any meaningful research into the cultures of these places and the people who lived there. After all, Georges Bizet wrote Carmen without ever setting foot in Spain.

Despite this ridiculousness, Carmen is actually one of my favourite operas and one which actually fares very well when compared to some of the other operas written in the ‘exoticism’ style (to name a few, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Léo Delibes’ Lakmé, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Sampson and Delilah, Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, W.A. Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail). This is probably because the libretto was adapted from a novella written by a Prosper Mérimée, a French historian who actually did spend time in Spain and took inspiration from a story told to him by a Spanish aristocrat. The genuine interest in Spanish culture at the foundation of Carmen sets it apart. 

The ‘noble savage’ was also an inherently problematic trope which would appear in operas at the time. Eastern cultures were somewhat patronizingly viewed by Western cultures as seductive, wild, and savage, an example of a baser form of humanity.

Another obvious issue widespread throughout the operatic canon is the treatment of women. It is a running gag among female opera singers that if they successfully forge a soloist career, they will be dying on stage every second night. However, this issue is no longer being treated as a light-hearted joke. To quote Deborah Cheetham OA in her Peggy Glanville-Hicks address last year: “The death of a female character on stage must be an absolute tragedy, not merely an inevitable and strangely fulfilling experience.”

Why is opera so absurdly melodramatic? It comes back to the age-old concern of show-business: to put bums on seats. Composers had to make sure their piece became a hit so they would be commissioned to write another one. The head of an opera house wanted to feature storylines that were heart-wrenching, uproariously funny, scandalous, shocking (or a number of other adjectives). This led to the tropes we see so much: murdered women, whores who are punished, couples going to extreme and illogical lengths for love, and really silly depictions of cultures that the composer and librettist knew nothing about.

If you think your favourite symphony or choral piece has transcended the passage of time, let me tell you something: that’s because the composer didn’t have to find a popular novel and set it to music. You can let the sonic waves of a Beethoven symphony or Bach concerto wash over you, without any of the sobering reminders of how humans used to treat each other. (Not that things are perfect now, of course)

When we stage an opera today, there are many ways we can frame its plot. After all, operas used to be presented in a far more fluid way, in collaboration with the living composers. New arias were constantly being written and old ones were constantly being scrapped. Rossini did this all the time! So why do we feel so chained to the opera score?

We can respect the intentions of composers while exercising an interpretive voice with what is on the page. We can also simply use accompanying material, such as pre-concert talks and program notes, to frame the issues and highlight the themes in these works of fiction. Art is not simply a flashy method of shocking and provoking an audience. Art is a powerful force, which should be used discerningly and consciously. There is no need to blindly sensor any challenging material, but we must confront it openly.

I have discussed opera’s uglier side in detail now. So why do I still love the art form, with all its warts? Why do I believe in its future?  

Well firstly, operatic singing showcases the absolute limits of the human voice. I remain flabbergasted every time I listen to recordings of Maria Callas, or currently-reigning stars like Jessica Pratt and Joyce DiDonato. Maria Callas is a unique case- she undoubtedly changed the course of operatic performances forever with her electrifying stage presence. It’s also fascinating that her voice was hardly most ‘pure’ or ‘beautiful’ soprano voice to ever exist. At times it sounded pure, at other times it possessed a fiercely raw power, dizzyingly paired with incredibly precise technique. Many people take the opinion that Maria actually permanently damaged her voice by singing every kind of soprano role, from Wagner to Mozart, sometimes only a few nights apart (again, proving the limits of what’s humanely possible!)

I digress. I could talk about Maria Callas for pages and pages but that’s not what I’m here to do. The point is, listening to opera can be a life-changing, soul-shaking experience. While it might take some getting used to, it possesses something incredibly special that deserves to be experienced by as many people as possible.

Secondly, we can look to music theatre for inspiration on how a musical art form can be adapted to a wide range of human stories. There are already many encouraging signs of what is possible. In 2011, my high school singing teacher Angus Grant wrote a one-act opera called Contact! about the trials and tribulations of a suburban league women’s netball team. I saw it performed at the Melbourne Arts Centre when I was sixteen and a complete newcomer to opera. I wasn’t used to hearing operatic voices sing in English, but I thought it was very funny and full of zingy one-liners. (You can read more here)

Last year, I attended Gertrude Opera’s production of chamber opera As One. Through a series of fragmented scenes, As One charts the gradual transformation of protagonist Hannah as she navigates a male to female transition. As One is written for a string ensemble and two voices: a baritone (Hannah Before) and a mezzo-soprano (Hannah After). As One was refreshing in a number of ways- the worthy and underrepresented story, the interest and simplicity of two voices interacting, and a tailor-made video projection which functioned as an immersive set design. Composer Laura Kaminsky worked with librettists Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed to illustrate many moments she had experienced herself as a transgender woman.

I’m not suggesting that opera should replace musicals, rather that the two should happily co-exist. The diversity of musicals is something that opera should take a cue from. Musicals represent a rainbow of genres… the homage to Motown of Dreamgirls, the glorious and affecting Jewish folk of Fiddler on the Roof, the orchestral insanity of West Side Story, the 1950s rock and doo-wop of Grease, the power-ballad fantasy of Wicked… Undoubtedly, some stories are best complemented by more contemporary vocal styles. But the art form of opera gives composers and librettists the chance to juxtapose of kinds of human stories, with the technical mastery and power of the classical voice.

So let’s write some new operas! Write early and write often. As much as everyone worships Puccini, let’s stop programming Madame Butterfly six times a year at the expense of anything else. The best way to guarantee something stays a ‘dead’ art form, is to give up on its future and live in its past. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

Sometimes, I Don’t Even Like Music

Image by Ratfink1973 from Pixabay 

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

Some Monday afternoon thoughts-

Sometimes, I don’t even like music. Those reading this will either instantly know what I mean, or will be really confused. What do you mean, sometimes you don’t even like music? You’ve done a degree in music, you work in the industry, and you maintain a music blog in your SPARE TIME! How could you possibly not like it, you liar!

Saying that sometimes I don’t even like music is hardly as controversial as bringing up politics at the dinner table or debating the meaning of life. But I think it’s a bit of an open secret- when you live, eat and breathe music, sometimes that means you really, really don’t want to go to a classical music gig. (Or any gig.)

I guess the more correct way to put it is, sometimes I don’t have the energy to immerse myself in music. That’s how I function normally. I listen to a piece of music and if it rustles my jimmies, aurally speaking, it really gets into my bones.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

But if I am exhausted, which has been my usual state during this pandemic, I don’t want to listen to richly layered or challenging music. I don’t have the space in my brain to process a Bach cantata or a Verdi opera. As much as I love that kind of thing when I am in the mood!

For many musicians, the act of learning and performing music is one of their major life passions. But funnily enough, this exists alongside listening to music to simply unwind. I know that many classically trained musicians listen to other genres when they want to relax, because if they listen to classical music, they inevitably put their ‘I want to dissect and perform this piece’ thinking caps on. And because variety is the spice of life!

Anyway, long story short: Please don’t feel like you are any less of a motivated, insightful, considered musician if you enjoy listening to structurally-simple pop music to unwind. Or if you find yourself definitively not in the mood to listen to a piece of music incorporating guttural sounds and experimental non-linear landscapes. You’re only human.

Mind Over Manuscript: Natalie Nicolas

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

I had the chance to speak to Natalie Nicolas, an emerging composer, performer and music educator. I first came across Natalie’s work during my time interning with the team at Making Waves New Music, a website promoting the work of Australian composers. Natalie’s lush and filmic piece for string quartet, The Rose That Wept, was included in a monthly playlist. If you’d like to keep up with Natalie’s work, you can follow her through her website, Instagram or Facebook page.

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

I’ve been writing music since I was a young girl, though it was predominantly in a popular style- because that made up the bulk of what I was listening to at the time. I learnt piano from a young age, and loved listening to artists like Alicia Keys, so naturally I started learning her songs on the piano and found I also loved to sing along. This seemed to progress really naturally for me, and my ten years of piano and theory tuition kept me accountable. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I knew I wanted to compose full time. But I always knew that music had an insurmountable hold on my attention, and it was something I would be silly not to follow through with to spend my life’s work on.

Photo credit: Paul Stanhope

What styles of composition are you particularly attracted to? Related question, who are some composers who particularly inspire you?

I’m really attracted to composing music that emotionally evokes, and/or drives the listener- whether rhythmically, emotionally or both. I’ve been particularly inspired by composers like Ludovico Einaudi, Peter Sculthorpe, Johan Johansson, Hans Zimmer, Yann Tiersen, but all for really different reasons. Also, I have to say that my musical background is incredibly diverse, and I’m equally inspired by musicians like Asgeir Trausti, Gang of Youths, Radiohead, and Sigur Ross. Music of almost every genre inspires me, and I love to draw influence from anything I align with. I have a pretty mixed bag of inspirations, and it seems to nary follow a pattern! I actually feel pretty lucky about that.   

What do you think are some of the essential qualities required to be a resilient composer? (Not necessarily to keep churning out pieces, but to keep creating and putting your work out there)

Some of the essential qualities to being a resilient composer I believe, revolve around authenticity, grit, and staying on top of your headspace. Composition is largely an expression of self… if you don’t take care of yourself, that has the propensity to terribly inhibit your creative output. Authenticity and intent are qualities that shine through in your composition, and I believe audiences are really perceptive to these things. Every note, gesture or sentiment in your music needs to be real and purposeful.

Photo credit: Joseph Franklin

Some of the most incredible music I hear addresses the composer’s own voice foremost, and the performing ensemble/performance situation next. Both facets are so important, but make sure not to sacrifice the former for the latter! It’s an easy pitfall to encounter as an emerging composer.

I think as a composer you need to strive to find your voice. This is your ultimate tool in your career, and something that will enable you to be gritty through the inevitable criticism, highs and lows of your compositional career.

Lastly- always work on your craft. You will never stop learning as a musician, and this is such a wonderful aspect of what we do. I love learning from my fellow composers too- we’re all in this together. Stay humble, keep an open mind, try anything that interests you, and stay hungry for knowledge!

I noticed you have written a number of pieces for string instruments, whether for string quartets or chamber orchestras. What are some things that particularly excite you in composing for strings, is there anything unique about the experience when compared to writing for other ensembles?

I write a lot for strings mostly because I find them so incredibly versatile. You can create texture in ways seemingly unbounded, and I find it so exciting to try and emanate rhythmic drive, melody, countermelody, harmony and atmospheric quality that would often require a full orchestra or a sophisticated synthesised setup, with a surprisingly limited number and group of players.

I suppose I could also attribute this passion to some wonderful, early-career tuition I had in writing for string. I’ve always aligned with the timbre of purely stringed ensembles, but back in 2013, I won a place in what was then called the ‘National Composers’ Forum’- a competition run by the Australian String Quartet and mentored by Andrew Ford. Essentially, they gave an emerging composer the opportunity to workshop an existing SQ piece with them over a few days, and then premiered and recorded the work. It was a huge learning curve for me- confronting, humbling, exciting- and at such an impressionable stage of my writing career, really sparked a fire in me for exploring writing for these beautiful instruments. To date, the fire’s still burning! I’m up to my ninth string quartet, and I feel like the more I write for strings, the more I have to learn. It’s a wonderful feeling! 

Any projects in the works that you’d like to share?

I’m currently undergoing a PhD that revolves around music and virtual reality for emotional evocation (namely calm) for children. The idea is to use music and VR written specifically to help sick children feel better in various hospital environments- it utilises compositional concepts I coined in my Masters thesis. I really love the work! I’m also excited to be writing for the SSO’s 50 fanfares project. It’s a fantastic initiative for commissioning Australian composers, and I’m chuffed to be a part of it.

Natalie Nicolas


Sydney composer, PhD candidate, and music educator Natalie Nicolas completed her Master of Music (Composition) degree under scholarship at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Nicolas is a tutor/lecturer at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, a HSC composition tutor, vocalist/pianist in gigs, and owns/runs a piano tuition school. She has written for artists such as the Australian String Quartet, Claire Edwardes, the Goldner String Quartet, the Muses Trio, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and others.

In 2020, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra commissioned Nicolas, alongside the Hills Symphony Orchestra. Nicolas awon the prestigious Harold and Gwenneth Harris Endowment for Medical Humanities Harris Award 2019/20, for her doctoral work with music and healthcare. In February, she found herself featured on ABC Classic FM’s ‘Best of Australian Classical Music, and on the International Women’s Day ‘Women of Note’ vol. 2 album, also released by ABC Classic FM.

Songs for Soothing Stress

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

Music can cater to almost any mood. However, I sometimes struggle to find music which feels comforting when I am particular kind of anxious and restless. Personally, a lot of the time I prefer silence to ambient forest sounds and whale calls.

There are a handful of songs I listen to on chronic repeat whenever I want music with an active pulse or groove, but that is still ‘chilled-out’ enough to listen to while concentrating on other things. These are the songs that I still love dearly after listening sessions of an hour straight (of the same song). I thought it worthwhile to list them in case anyone else’s brain works like mine.

Most of these songs are a particular brand of head-bopping, slickly produced, relaxed pop music which will not be to everyone’s taste, and I make no apologies for that. Here they are in no particular order:

Lost in Japan- Shawn Mendes

An all-round excellent disco-esque pop song with hooks galore.

Dance to This- Troye Sivan feat. Ariana Grande

A beaut pop song with a unique atmospheric quality.

Wildest Dreams- Taylor Swift

I once listened to this over and over while editing an important document for work for the first time. I was pretty stressed and this song did the trick.

Delicate- Taylor Swift

I wasn’t a fan of this song at first. One day it suddenly clicked in my brain and I couldn’t get enough of it after that.

Hard Place- H.E.R.

Just stunning. I really want to check out more music from this singer-songwriter.

thank u, next- Ariana Grande

A masterpiece, that is all.

Achilles Come Down- Gang of Youths

Another masterpiece from one of my favourite bands. This entire album is incredibly well-crafted, containing a variety of meaty rock textures and evocative lyrics. This song has a hypnotic quality that pulls you in, and you don’t even notice it goes for seven minutes.

Worlds Collide

Photo credit: Maja Baska

By Sally Whitwell

A note from the editor: I recently came across Sally’s piece on finding a new creative outlet during COVID-19, and was eager to feature it on Fever Pitch Magazine.

Sally credits her renewed energy during these difficult times, to learning to tap dance as a complete beginner. Sally has been using an online course by Bill Simpson called Just Tap, which can be accessed here

You can keep up to date with Sally’s composing and tap adventures through her Facebook page, website, and Instagram– Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I wanted to write a few words on my new hobby, learning to tap dance, and how it has helped me to be creative again.

Every day since the 2nd of April I’ve been practising tap dancing.

Tap dancing? Yes. I’m popping on the metronome, slipping on the tap shoes, drilling all the steps.

Ball Heel.

Shuffle Ball Heel.

Paradiddle Shuffle Ball Heel.

Now, when I started out on this lark, I believed myself to be a reasonably coordinated human, enjoying many years of ballet training in my youth. The trouble is that there are places where you hold tension in ballet, particularly in your ankles to keep from injuring yourself in pointe shoes. These tensions appear to be the opposite to tap. So I’m very much a beginner again, which is hard for me because in my profession as a musician, I am so accustomed to always being the expert in the room. My faltering baby tap steps are causing me both hilarity and frustration, fortunately much more of the former than the latter!

My little digital metronome has that feature where you can set it to increase speed automatically, notch by notch, after a particular number of bars. So I don’t need to stop and change it all the time to practise getting faster, it kind of speeds me up by stealth! It’s a feature I use frequently in my piano practise. In fact, I find myself instinctively employing many of the same practise techniques here that I do in my piano playing. Negotiating tricky weight shifts between tap steps is not dissimilar to negotiating large leaps between chords on the piano. Can’t say I imagined that my practise concepts would be transferable thus, but here we are.

And it’s a very similar state of mind, dancing and playing music. My psych tells me it’s called flow state, that feeling of being completely in the present moment. She says I’m lucky to have in my life, but that I associate it too much with my profession. So she then suggested, as a foil for my current levels of anxiety about COVID-19, that it might be a good idea to try to find flow state away from my profession…

She recommended various options:

Yoga — nope, too hippie

Meditation — nope, too static

Cardio workout — feck no! Too many plastic smiles, ponytails and abominable music.

But this tap dancing thing I found… it’s the best! And it is so similar to the things I love most about performing music, particularly minimalist music.

I love the pulse of it. Pulse gives life. The mathematical precision of how the dots line up in a piece of minimalist music gives me the same feeling as this tap thing. Look, I’m not winning any awards for choreography, but the first time I worked out how to put four of these beginner tap steps together into a routine that had no breaks in the pulse… what an amazing feeling! It’s the same feeling that attracts me to the music of the minimalists, post-minimalists, and various electronic dance music genres.

It is harder to get that feeling if you’re not actively engaged. Passively listening or watching just doesn’t cut it. I’m reminded of notable times when I really felt this deeply…

On the dance floor at Mardi Gras (quite a few times!)

As a student, listening to Terry Riley’s In C for the first time ever

During a live performance of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach

I find it deeply emotional to play this repetitive minimalist stuff; the way it locks together, being a small part of a bigger machine. It kind of reminds me how I’m just an infinitesimal speck in an infinite universe. I guess that’s why I just really don’t like Puccini operas, because the pulse disappears all the time so the singers can have a big wank on stage. I will never understand why people find that more emotional. It’s annoying, self aggrandising behaviour, forcing the amazing machine of musicians who are supporting you to wait around while you get your jollies singing that high note. Ugh. As I say to my piano students all the time, what happens when your heart stops beating? You die. It’s the same in music. Keep the pulse moving.

This whole experience is bringing me back to my creativity, after a month in lockdown caused me to think I’d never find it again. I finally feel like composing. Maybe I can initiate a project that brings together minimalism and tap? Hm, interesting.

I love it when my worlds collide!

Fever Pitch Magazine enquiries can be sent to Stella Joseph-Jarecki through stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com

Sally Whitwell

Composer, pianist

Award winning musician Sally Whitwell maintains a busy freelance career as pianist performer, conductor, composer and educator from her base in Sydney, Australia.

Recent solo concert appearances for Sally have included the world premiere of the Philip Glass Complete Piano Etudes for Perth International Arts Festival and Ten Tiny Dancers, an all-singing-all-playing-all-dancing cabaret piano recital for the Famous Spiegeltent season at Arts Centre Melbourne.  In 2014 Sally travelled to Los Angeles and New York City to perform again with Philip Glass, his complete piano Etudes, in addition to performances for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney Australia as part of their recent exhibition of portraits by American artist Chuck Close.

As a solo recording artist, Sally has four albums to her name. Her debut album Mad Rush: solo piano music of Philip Glass  won her the 2011 ARIA for Best Classical Album.  Her sophomore album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward is a truly unique compilation of film music where she played not only piano but toy piano, harpsichord, recorder and melodica. All Imperfect Things; solo piano music of Michael Nyman won the 2013 ARIA Award for Best Classical Album as well as Best Engineer for ABC Classics very own tonmeister Virginia Read, the first time that a woman has ever won this award.   Her most recent release I was flying is a collection of her own compositions in the art song, choral and chamber music genres, which enjoyed five weeks in the top ten of the ARIA Core Classical Charts, was nominated for the 2015 ARIA Award for Best Classical Album.

Sally is very active as a conductor, composer and accompanist in choral music. In 2015 she has enjoyed an extensive tour of China, Hong Kong and Inner Mongolia with Sydney Children’s Choir, with whom she regularly works. She also presented at the International Federation of Choral Music World Choral Expo in Macau in November and is currently enjoying her first subscription season as Music Director of Sydney based community chamber choir Coro Innominata. Her choral and vocal ensemble compositions have been performed by Juice vocal ensemble, Gondwana Choirs, VOX (Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ youth ensemble), Moorambilla Voices, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, Luminescence, Hunter Singers and the Woden Valley Youth Choir.

Currently, Sally is concentrating on a number of composition projects, with several commissioned works soon to be premiered by Acacia Quartet, Ensemble Offspring, Gondwana Voices and Hunter Singers

Six questions with… Jackson Fumberger, violinist, composer

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

I had the chance to fire some questions at Jackson Fumberger, violinist and graduate of a BMus in Interactive Composition. Jackson plays both traditional and electric violin and has a number of composition projects in the works. You can follow Jackson’s work through his website and Instagram.

What prompted you to pick up the violin?

I decided as a ten-year-old that the violin was a cool instrument. Yikes… I remember wanting to play drums when I was little – possibly after my older cousins put me up on a drum stool and let me bash away on their kit. Then in early primary school I had a couple of friends who played guitar, which prompted me to pick up the violin because obviously guitars are far too popular and I had to be special.

At this point in time, what does your ideal mix of musical careers look like? (Balancing performing/ composing, etc)

There are so many things I want to try but haven’t been motivated to start, so I guess my ideal balance would include teaching and gigging but would leave some time for new ideas every week. It’s very much a jack-of-all trades/master of none kind of mentality, but the allure of something different and intriguing is too good to pass up.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy performing?

Folk music is absolutely the most fun a string player can have in a concert. When there’s a combination of energy and ease, you have that brief window to let go of any inhibitions and really have fun. Playing in a big orchestra used to feel like that, but that spark can quickly fade in a professional environment where every minute of call time counts.

What kind of composition are you interested in?

I’m particularly interested in using lots of effects and loops to make music, so my music is often a big collage of orchestral strings and ambient soundscapes. I’d love to be more creative with harmony or rhythm like one of those fancy real composers, but I enjoy music that sounds nice and that’s enough for me.

Do you have any projects in the works?

I have a few group collaborations coming together now that have been really fun. One is a minimalism and process music ensemble currently working through some Steve Reich arrangements, and another is an EP I’m co-writing with pianist and synth player Reuben Leng. In the future I’d like to reboot my solo project reGen, which combined live surround sound looping with code art – maybe not until I’ve figured how the heck this coding stuff works.

How has your life as a musician and teacher changed in this temporary COVID-19 environment? 

I’m actually way more productive when I work from home, especially when there’s no work! Seriously though, I’m glad that I haven’t been adversely affected by the situation and can still work and stay occupied by making music. I could be far worse off and I’m very grateful for that.

Jackson Fumberger

Violinist, composer

Jackson is an ex-classical violinist and composer based in Melbourne with a love for orchestral music and music tech. With a 5-string electric violin and guitar pedals he creates soundscapes of texture and colour live, layer-by-layer.

His latest project is a collection of pieces centered around different ways of using live looping to create music that unfolds and reveals itself over time, combining strings, beats and anything in between.