I am reasonably comfortable speaking to an audience, or was in the past, but playing a musical instrument in front of anyone gives me the heebie jeebies. Well, that’s not strictly true, I was once the leader of a Ukulele Choir that had more than two dozen members. (I like the idea of an instrument that you measure by the dozen – like bread rolls, or fruit!) The Ukulele is such a friendly and forgiving instrument, and we had enormous fun in our choir; a big audience didn’t faze us at all … much. But these days I am playing serious music, because I am a student at the Murray Conservatorium. Initially I made the mistake of thinking that a rural music school claiming to be a Conservatorium was a bit high handed, but I was entirely wrong. There are more than 600 students at ‘The Con’, and the teaching staff are musicians of the highest calibre who perform all over the place. Graduates from here regularly go on to study at the Sydney and Melbourne ‘Cons’ and become professional musicians. It’s a great place to go every week! My teacher says we are studying Baroque Recorder, which I think distinguishes us from School Recorder. I imagine that’s the idea, as the humble recorder has a rather hackneyed reputation. It’s a great mistake to undervalue the recorder: the 400 year old Baroque Recorder is an incredible instrument capable of playing the most challenging repertoire from every era. It is chromatic, complex and nuanced. In lessons we play duets by Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Telemann and others, and it’s as demanding as anything could be, and beautiful and exhilarating.
Earlier this evening I was playing at the Murray Conservatorium in in front of a small audience, but an audience of considerable talent. The concert was for those who had written a piece of music for performance (which I had!). The opening piece was written and performed by a high school flautist who will doubtless go on to far greater heights. She was accompanied by a young man of the same age, who played a complex piano accompaniment with great panash. Her piece is to be her scholarship audition in a short while, and it was just dazzling*!
My much shorter piece was titled Bamboo, which is good because you don’t really expect bamboo to dazzle, do you? Bamboo can just be its unique and unsymmetrical self, it’s appeal is simplicity; calming and sedate. More earth-honest than all those fancy orchestral instruments! That’s the conclusion I reached while the school students were offering their considerable musical talents.
A few days ago I was practising my piece, Bamboo, on a piece of bamboo. Instead of recorder I had written for Shakuhachi, and end-blown Japanese flute that is literally a couple of feet of bamboo with five holes and an angle cut on the top to create a ‘blowing edge’, known as the urugachi by the shakuhachi literati. While practising I lost concentration as a vision of the upcoming performance crept into my thoughts, and my hands began to shake so much that I had to put the instrument aside for a while before I could play properly!
My Baroque Recorder teacher was my accompanist this evening, playing tenor recorder. He is a terrific musician, in demand as a performer here and overseas, and is actually the head of the conservatorium. I’m very privileged to be studying with him, and to have him as my accompanist for Bamboo. When our turn came we sat down out the front and tuned (not that you can really tune a piece of bamboo …) and I said under my breath, “you know they are looking at us”, which he kindly repeated to everyone in his big, confident, boss-of-the show voice.
I stayed up till midnight tonight to write this all down (after staying up till 2 am last night worrying about performing) because I need to tell someone how ridiculously satisfied and rewarded I feel; how deeply peaceful and purposeful such a moment can be. The performance wasn’t perfect, but neither was it a flop. It was modestly good I reckon, and the seasoned musicians in the audience were genuine and appreciative in their comments. Gosh, it was a thrill! From the weeks leading up to the concert, refining my simple composition, through to the intense preparation for a single recital. It was an experience that seemed to embrace all of my physical, emotional and spiritual being. And again I feel so very fortunate. I am grateful for a field of endeavour, something delightfully consuming, somewhere to point my own small boat.
* I wrote this essay on November 11th, and since then we have attended another concert where a composition by the same young student was performed with a full orchestra, herself as flute soloist before returning to the percussion section for the rest of the concert. Quite a talent.
As always, please say hello!