I remember a time when I would do one of these reflective messages every six months. Things have certainly changed over the last ten years, and it’s a good moment for me to pause, take stock of the last two years, briefly look at the last ten (for reasons that will become obvious), and to look even more briefly into the future. The last two years have been very important to me, but I could not have done them without the last ten. I’d like to share some of this with all of you, as many of you have contributed to this progression in your own way. I’d rather avoid making this post a rudderless ramble, and I’m also aware of it turning into an elongated mutual appreciation society. Of course there are many people, organisations, and opportunities to acknowledge amongst other things.
From mid-March 2016 through to early December this year, I have undertaken 15 concerts, with roughly nine hours’ worth of scores prepared. That works out to be an average of one concert every six weeks, and an average of one rehearsal every eight days for 96 weeks! No wonder I’ve been starting to feel a bit worn out lately. Probably the most important lesson for me has been this: it has become apparent how much I have taken my conducting skills for granted, and have to some extent been embarrassed by them. From my mid-teens I’ve always loved conducting, but I have never properly nurtured it until now. I’ve never really had the confidence to admit to myself how much I enjoy helping and seeing ensembles express themselves more confidently from my help and advice, and I’m reminded that getting to the point of building enough confidence in myself- to put myself forward for a conducting masterclass- was a big leap in itself, but also one that I see now was inevitable.
Ten years ago, when I had just been accepted into a Masters course on trombone (some of us oldies still recall when Masters students were counted on one hand, with digits left over), I felt that I had begun to overcome some personal doubts about myself that had been challenged merely by applying for the course. At the start of the degree, the prospect of finishing it was something that I could not fathom, especially since I had promised myself fourteen years earlier that my education would not end with my initial undergraduate degree. To eventually finish the Masters was something else again, and although it didn’t (fortunately) deprive me of any self-doubts about myself, it did help to disprove some of them, and to start on a further path, which involved forming the Ady Ensemble, in 2011.
I was surprised when we had so many people interested in being a part of the ensemble, and I’m proud of the way that our members have not only stayed loyal to the ensemble, but have helped the ensemble grow both technically and in developing its cultural warmth. Our project back in July of this year was without a doubt one of the best, both in the maturity of the ensemble’s playing, and also in the camaraderie displayed by all involved. I was very proud of every member that took part, and how they took ownership of the project so strongly.
However, it wasn’t until the ensemble’s fourth year (2014) that I dispensed with the dual role of conducting and playing trombone at the same time (iPhone solos not included!), because up to that time I didn’t feel that I had enough of a reputation, nor the confidence, as a conductor to do so. This will seem ridiculous when I point out that I had already been conducting ensembles for years, nay decades (I was conducting orchestras at high school, and was the deputy conductor of a community band when I was fourteen), but I think it probably says more about the importance I’ve placed (on my shoulders) of being a good (read: thorough) conductor, especially for the sake of the people you are working with, rather than any glaring shortcomings on my part. I think that I can safely say that through my own personal research and desire to serve my players better, I have become a better conductor as a result.
I had a couple of years ago toyed with doing a Doctorate in conducting, but after some discussions it became apparent that tertiary course opportunities within Australia do not provide enough actual conducting opportunities (i.e. rehearsing and performing), and as such I would have had to organise those opportunities myself: In others words, continue doing exactly what I was doing but pay to have it recognised formally. One colleague (yes, you know who you are) both suggested, and eased many of my own doubts, about going overseas, and inspired me to look further afield for experiences with larger, professional, orchestras, and the very experienced and highly respected conducting pedagogues connected with them. When I received, in early February 2016, an email saying that I had been accepted into the Dohnayni Masterclass for Conductors, working with the Dohnanyi Symphony Orchestra in Budapest, Hungary, and their Maestro, Gabor Hollerung, I literally didn’t believe it. I’m not exaggerating! For about three or so days I was convinced that it was some sort of scam, passing my phone
for others to read the message to confirm this. But when further details surfaced, details of a musical nature that no scammer could try and replicate, I began to realise that this was real, and it was time to start preparing my scores and travel arrangements.
I remember vividly my emotions as I was on the train heading to the Brisbane International Airport for this course, in July 2016. I was a complete mess. This was the first time I’d ever invested any time or money formally into developing my conducting. It was an emotional trip, filled almost daily with moments of musical and personal self-discovery. I remember that there were many tears, mostly out of relief, and some words were said to me that I will never forget, and which keep me going- even today. The course for me provided education, an opportunity- completely unavailable where I am from- to obtain professional experience with a professional orchestra, and- as equally important as the first point- affirmation. It assured me of the confidence that had only existed mildly in some areas of my mind, and nurtured them accordingly.
I was just as surprised (but not as doubtingly delusional) when I was accepted into the International Orchestral Conducting Masterclass, held earlier this year with the Janacek Philharmonic in Ostrava, in the Czech Republic, with Jorma Panula as the Maestro. If the course in Hungary was a rich source of technical and musical considerations when preparing for, and during the act of, conducting, the trip to the Czech Republic provided the opportunity to affirm many of those approaches acquired in Hungary. Although sentimentality forces me to feel warmer about my first course abroad, this second trip was also invaluable. Again, the opportunity to work with a professional orchestra for two weeks cannot be replicated back at home. On a personal level, I experienced a camaraderie and solidarity amongst the other conductors that I will treasure for many years to come.
What has been a delight for me, and which has justified these trips, has been the opportunity to bring many of these experiences and learnings back to Brisbane, and to help enrichen the ensembles that I have had the pleasure to direct before and since both journeys. For me, one of the most moving was conducting a recent performance of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem. I know for some of the members of the orchestra and choir this was a moving experience, and one that I will treasure for some time. Of personal joy to me was that on the morning of the performance it was announced that I had been voted as a 4MBS Treasured Queensland Classical Musician. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate that than to be performing a concert that evening. Although I
have always prided myself on “connecting” with the players assembled before me whilst I undergo the act of conducting, I sense that this has become more intimate over the last couple of years, and the final performances of 2017 have only confirmed this feeling, and the warm relationship with the players that goes with that. That synergy, when felt amongst all of us, is something that I have to say is not only desirable, but is also highly addictive!
So what is next? Well some rest is very welcome, and the first term of 2018 will be quieter than this year’s first term (at least it looks that way at the moment). With my first conducting commitment at the moment not until May, some quieter months will be very welcome. There is a certain Brahms 2018 project to reschedule, and the possibility of a return trip to Hungary, either this upcoming year or the next. Perhaps there’s the prospect of undertaking a doctorate, but I don’t see how that would work at present. For the moment, I’m avoiding thinking about these, which is probably the healthiest thing that I can do right this minute. However, after New Year’s Day, my mind will probably start to wander in the right direction. What is certain is that this journey of self-discovery and, more importantly, conducting, will continue into the future, and I know and look forward to it taking me into new geographical and musical areas, and with it comes the opportunity to make rewarding and good music with many more people.
I love conducting- it’s just taken me a long time to believe in myself to admit it.
I hope that 2017 has been a good year for you all. My thanks to all my friends here, in Budapest, Vienna, Ostrava, Sweden, the US, Argentina, Myanmar, and everywhere else where those that have been with me on this amazing two year journey can be found. My very best to all of you for the upcoming year, and my love to each and every one of you.
All the best,