In Conversation: Kenny Keppel

In Conversation: Kenny Keppel

On moving overseas, auditions and becoming a well-rounded musician. 

Kenny Keppel
Melbourne, Australia

In Conversation: Kenny Keppel

On moving overseas, auditions and becoming a well-rounded musician. 

Hey Kenny! You’ve been accepted into the Norwegian Academy of Music – congratulations! How did you pick that you wanted to go and study in Oslo? 

In my first year at the Australian National Academy of Music, I spent a summer in Europe doing some masterclasses – one in Italy and one in Norway. We spent four days in this big conference centre and among other woodwinds, there were about fifteen clarinettists. We had the opportunity to work with two teachers, Andreas Sundén from the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Björn Nyman from the Norwegian Radio SO, which was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed working with both musicians. I went back to Oslo in February, and as the Academy holds their auditions early in the year I thought that I’d better audition! I had a lesson following the audition with Björn and that really confirmed for me that it’d be a good idea to study in Norway. There’s so much I can learn there. 

What are you hoping to get out of your time in Norway? 

I think my main goal for the Master’s degree is to figure out what is necessary to become a super reliable and exciting performer. I also kind of just want to learn how to sound great all the time, too! So many players from that part of the world seem to be able to do it, so being surrounded by amazing players will help. I’m also hoping that during the time I’ll be able to meet a lot of new people and be introduced to new kinds of music. Exploring new compositions and new music interests me equally to working towards an orchestral position. I’m super into interesting performance experiences and I think being somewhere new will open a lot of possibilities. 

Is having a portfolio career a goal of yours? It sounds like performing lots of different things in many different formats is a priority! 

I absolutely love performing with an orchestra and if I could get a position doing that I’d be really happy, but I do want the flexibility to push boundaries in other musical ways – through solo work, commissioning and working with new compositions, playing chamber repertoire. A lot of people who sit in orchestras now seem to be prioritising that: Plexus, for example, do a series of concerts that include almost all new repertoire! I would love to be performing that kind of work and not be purely tied to an orchestral schedule. Having room to explore is important. Being at the Australian National Academy of Music really gave me a taste for that, as their program is particularly experimental and flexible. Now, having spent the first half of this year freelancing, I’ve learnt about creating my own work schedule and finding time to make my own projects happen, which has been quite an experience. I have been working on The Up-Bow Down-Low as well – a podcast created for ANAM – and that has been a great outlet in a different way. I’m not sure if anyone listens, but it’s been great to use the platform to explore different ideas! I’d love to be able to do an array of projects in the future: creating new types of experiences for audiences. You can’t wait for other people to make things happen, you have to jump in and do it yourself! 

Do you think all your different projects influence each other? Does the busy-ness actually help? 

Having your mind in lots of different places kind of forces you to figure out how you’re going to fit everything together and it certainly gives you a wider perspective on the arts. I’ve been trying to get experience in this way for a while: when I was in Auckland Youth Orchestra I was on the committee and was a player representative. I was also part of the marketing team for a while. There were no real guidelines, which meant we had to be creative and learn those necessary skills as we went. I think learning how to promote your own concerts definitely heightens your involvement and understanding of the whole scene, which is what my work with AYO and now the podcast work has done. It also makes you feel like you’re really contributing something worthwhile. 

When you were just starting out in promoting your own projects and performances, what do you wish you’d known? Do you have any advice for your younger self?

I wish I’d known that you’ve really got to think of everything! There are so many things that go into a concert that you might not realise. Once you’ve printed flyers, how do they actually get to people? Where should you put up your posters? How much will everything cost? A potential patron must see an advertisement for an event three times before they’ll action it, so you have to make sure you’re getting your marketing in the right places. I think being proactive has been the biggest learning curve. 

It’s almost time for you to make the big move overseas: why do you think it’s important to travel with your music? What will you and others get out of leaving Australia for a time to study? 

You get a different perspective on how people think about music in different parts of the world. The way music is treated in different societies is really varied and travel allows you to be introduced to new concepts both on your instrument and in a broader way, which can only be a good thing. I think when you get super comfortable in one place it’s easy to get complacent and take the accelerator off, so spending some time in a new place reminds you to push harder. Meeting new people and teachers and experiencing a different environment can be really good for your musicality because it keeps your viewpoint wide. Moving to a different country can also really challenge you in ways you never would imagine – you discover things about yourself and how you react to social situations. If you can put yourself in a new situation and observe your own actions and reactions you can learn a lot about yourself. I think a big international move can open up a process of self-discovery. Once you figure out all the initial stuff and the dust settles a bit, you can find you’re a little more confident and self-aware. Maybe a little humbler! It’s really good for figuring out who you are. 

Kenny Keppel presents The Clarinet Goes to Norway on Sunday 30th July at the Australian National Academy of Music at 6pm. Make a donation to his crowdfunding campaign here