In Conversation: Sam Beagley

In Conversation: Sam Beagley

On preparing for the future, listening avidly and keeping your eye on the prize. 

Sam Beagley
Melbourne, Australia

In Conversation: Sam Beagley

On preparing for the future, listening avidly and keeping your eye on the prize. 

As the principal trumpet of the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, and having spent the last four years rising through the MYO ranks, you’ve been exposed to the orchestral canon from a young age which is so important for any classical musician. Can you tell me about your experience getting started in the orchestra and being thrown into the world of symphonic repertoire?

My first experience with MYO was playing Star Wars and that had been one of my musical dreams, so I really started on a high! I was not expecting to get in that year, so when I found out that not only did I get in but I got to start the season by playing one of my all-time favourite pieces of music, I was so overwhelmed. It was such a fun year and we had so many great things to play. There was also some standard repertoire on that program which of course helps when I play it again now, four years on. I remember that we also got to play some Hindson with two orchestras side by side and a drum kit in the middle and that was my first real experience with contemporary classical music. That was pretty cool! 

Do you think those opportunities set young players up for further study and orchestral work? 

Absolutely! In 2016, we were really lucky to play a full year’s worth of symphonic repertoire from the canon - Brahms, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky - all huge pieces that come up all the time in professional orchestral programming. The opportunity to sit in the orchestra and get to know the work and rehearse it for an extended period of time is invaluable, particularly when you have to play the piece a second time or part of it appears on an excerpt list. Even if you end up playing a different part, having the opportunity to sit in the orchestra and soak it all up really makes a huge difference. 

Because those big standards always become your audition pieces! 

All the pieces we played last year have standard excerpts in them for all instrumentalists, and while it’s fine and useful to work on excerpts in isolation in the practice room, going into an audition knowing the context of the entire orchestration is really important. 

How do you learn your excerpts?

I like to listen a lot! For trumpeters, style and sound is really important, so the more you dive into the character of the works the more you can get out of the excerpt. That’s what panels are looking for, too - how well you can characterise your playing.

Can you practice style or is that something you develop over time? 

I think it’s a development thing: it’s not just something you can pick up overnight. It’s definitely something you learn by listening to other people. Being surrounded by musicians helps - you can listen to everyone around you and think about how to incorporate ideas into your own playing. For me that’s been super invaluable: just listening and watching.

From this beginning stage of your career, what have some of the biggest learnings been that have influenced the way you play in an orchestra?

I guess for me the thing I’ve learnt most is how to really listen. There’s so much more to playing in a large ensemble than having a great sound. Also, the ability to follow is really important! Not just the conductor, either; something I’ve picked up recently is learning to follow the concertmaster, because you get this immediacy of sound and you can respond really quickly if you tune into that. There’s so many little things to do with contributing to that ensemble, whether it’s listening, following or knowing when to lead as a point of interest. You can’t pick that up from playing excerpts because you’re always the most interesting voice! There’s so much to be said for supporting: that role in an orchestra is completely crucial. You can hear the best orchestras have a great idea of what’s going on around them, and which instruments have a leading voice at any given moment, while also being attuned to all the different nuances and personalities within the symphony. That level of communication is how you pick an outstanding orchestra. 

Having been in MYO for 4 years and getting to know everyone that you’re playing with - has that had an effect on how the ensemble performs?

It makes a difference and it’s a good way to begin the orchestra journey. When you’re with people you’re familiar with you can almost anticipate what they’re going to do or how they’re going to breathe, so it gives you an extra millisecond of time back, I suppose, because you know what might come next. It’s been special though, growing up with the MYO family.  

For young people getting started and possibly thinking about MYO as a possible next step in their orchestral journey, what would you say the real benefits are of playing in an orchestra? 

There are so many benefits. For me, playing in an orchestra is more than just a musical experience, it’s also social and I have made so many amazing friends through MYO. There are also ensembles for everyone to play in regardless of where you’re at technically, which means you can work your way up as you improve as well. In a musical sense though, if music is something you’re considering as your career, getting orchestral experience is crucial. Being at MYO will help you figure out where you want to put your priorities too - you might figure out that you’d prefer to be in a concert band or a big band - and any genre you decide, it gives you a grounding. I have figured out that being in an orchestra is what I want to do with my life and MYO has been a huge part of figuring that out. 

If you want to be a soloist, getting strong ensembles experience still has to be hugely important, right? 

Completely, and in MYO we do get the opportunity to work with amazing soloists frequently! Their Virtuosity program that I was part of this year allows you the opportunity to play in front of the orchestra, which is completely amazing. It’s a really special opportunity to stand out the front of the orchestra, but I do I think that you can learn heaps from visiting artists about style and confidence when you’re playing as part of the orchestra.

Has the experience of performing major orchestral works with MYO influenced the way you approach smaller chamber repertoire in any way?

I really think that the skills you learn in an orchestra are really easily transferable when it comes to preparing and performing chamber repertoire. Playing solo pieces out the front is pretty different in lots of ways, but playing in a chamber group is just like playing in a smaller orchestra! You just have to focus everything down. Listening is still the most important thing - you’re part of a team - a really tight-knit chamber group - and it is such good fun when you’re listening and bouncing off each other. In big orchestral works, communication can get muddled sometimes which is why you work with a conductor, but in a chamber group it’s just you and you get to focus in.

In terms of career development, where would you ideally like to be in say, ten years?

I would really like to be playing in an orchestra! Maybe overseas, maybe here; I’m open to anything. I want to accept as many opportunities as possible and just see what happens. Honestly, I don’t mind where I am as long as I get to keep playing music. 

The Melbourne Youth Orchestras Gala Concert and Fundraiser will be held at the Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 12th November. More information and tickets here.