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30 July 2009

The birth of the NSW Regional New Music Forum

Sam Kelson of the Kurrawong Ensemble Image: Sam Kelson of the Kurrawong Ensemble  

Some time ago, on a previous visit to Tamworth, I met the inimitable Brett Thompson, composer and flute lecturer at Tamworth Regional Conservatorium. After a day of adjudicating woodwind & brass eisteddfod entrants, we discussed music making and the various and specific challenges of regional music making as we clutched our medicinal glasses of red. Jane (Robertson), Director of the Tamworth Conservatorium, joined in. Several questions dominated the discussion: How do composers and musicians of one area meet the composers and musicians of another? How do we encourage students to make and develop their own music for its own sake, not as a way of fulfilling the tired, old Australian content requirement of exams? How do composers connect with an ensemble they don’t know personally? How can an ensemble inspire composers to write for them, and then develop a relationship in which ideas be exchanged? How can we better play a role in developing musicians of the region? Where is the platform for the composers of the region? We realised that, from our individual perspectives, we had common frustrations. And then – someone sing a major 6th!!! – out of the debate came an idea: the Tamworth Conservatorium hosts a New Music Forum and the Kurrawong Ensemble is the ensemble in residence.

So, the NSW Regional New Music Forum was born. In August 2008, composers of the New England and North West regions were invited to submit new works. These compositions were sent to Kurrawong early this year, and some were chosen for performance at the Forum. Also, as a vital part of the Forum, there were instrumental masterclasses, young composer forums, and, as a grand finale, student concert. The entire weekend was about Australian music.

Compositions by Stephen Thorneycroft, Richard Maddox, Ann Ghandar, Benjamin Thorn and Brett Thompson were performed from the Forum submissions, with several premieres amongst them. Kurrawong performed these alongside the premiere of their new transcription of Peter Sculthorpe's Landscape 2

I have grown up in what is considered a regional area myself, and been dependant on those few musicians around me who cared deeply about Australian music making. We have perhaps all experienced the value of people, such as Brett, who are so passionately committed to music in their town and region. Brett showed all the hallmarks of a zealot in his organisation behind the scenes, as we brought together eight composers, five Kurrawong members, an entire conservatorium staff, and around 60 students. It was particularly fascinating to see how all ages – composers or performers – responded to being involved and connected to the genesis and/or final stages of new compositions over the two days. Following are some quotes from students involved:

'It was so cool having a lesson with Steve [Thorneycroft]. He wrote a piece for me to play and then helped me learn it.' (Nick, 13)

'I really liked the marimba piece [by Plankenhorn], but after a while it didn’t make sense.' (Charlotte, 11)

'The best part was being able to play in the students' concert.' (Jacinta, 12)

'The class with Lamorna was really cool, and she had cool hair.' (Amber, 12)

'The composition class was amazing. I learnt a huge amount in a short time.'  (Joel, 17)

'I didn't like Mr Thompson's quintet much, but I was happy to play it.' (Alyssia, 14)

'Sam showed me heaps of things to improve my clarinet playing.' (James, 9).

'I loved everything in the [Kurrawong] concert.' (Gabriella, 10)

Working with Brett and Jane over the last year has been a great pleasure: the Tamworth New Music Forum was an incredibly positive and rewarding experience for the Kurrawong Ensemble. The way the students, teachers, performers, composers and administration came together to produce their own music shows how a healthy music culture can grow.

I particularly look forward to the continuing exchange of ideas with the composers and students of the region. A big thank you to the Tamworth Regional Conservatorium and all involved for such a fascinating and enriching experience!

Further links

Kurrawong Ensemble (www.kurrawong.com/)
Tamworth Regional Conservatorium of Music (www.tamworthregionalconservatorium.com.au/)

Sam Kelson Gray is a clarinettist and the Artistic Director of the Kurrawong Ensemble.


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