2016 was a year full of performance accomplishments for you, as a semi-finalist in the Dorcas McClean Travelling Scholarship for Violinists, finalist in the Open Instrumental Australian Concerto and Vocal Competition, as Young Performer of the Year in the Abbotsford Convent's Music in the Round, and, most recently, as the winner of the Gisborne International Music Competition and the 3MBS's The Talent. What was your experience like during The Talent?
Last year’s experience of The Talent is still extremely vivid. The competition helped me to find my own, individual voice – to form an interpretation from personal experiences. The peaceful but also extremely professional atmosphere encouraged me to explore the hidden depths of emotion and seek higher levels of intellect. More emphasis was on the music being created, making the whole event very inspirational and enriching. The jury’s feedback immediately following each performance invited the competitors to explore ideas beyond one’s boundaries – an individual and notable feature of the competition.
I would see The Talent more as a platform for young musicians to grow and share their music than a competition. In its duration, I felt like I could always express my musical ideas and emotions freely; this freedom certainly helped me to shape a performance with spontaneity and imagination. Unlike any other performances I have done, I was able to utilise nerves for creativity and expression. The live broadcast was another special aspect of the competition – the audience was simultaneously at the other end of the radio. This stimulated me to deliver a clearer and stronger musical conviction so that my ideas could reach the distant ears.
My first round performance in particular was the most memorable; occurring on International Women’s Day, I celebrated the music of Australian female composer Margaret Sutherland. I truly admire her works in their unique identity and capacity to mirror the spirit of nature. Seeing women breaking through the musical industry, especially in the domains of composition, is meaningful as I’ve grown up seeing the industry almost male-dominated. The collective musical experience of The Talent will prevail for a long time.
How do you prepare for competitions, such as The Talent and the Gisborne International Music Competition? Does your mindset change from the beginning of a competition to the finals?
As stressful and exhausting preparations for competitions can be, this pressure and challenge is what has helped me to improve significantly. Competitions have a high demand for repertoire and to have every piece assembled into the best condition is an enduring process. I like to think of this preparation period as a marathon - it is a test for endurance, resilience and mental strength.
Every day I strive to take a step further and view the music with ‘fresh eyes’ in hope of finding new discoveries and innovations. As with any performance, I also try to treat the piano or orchestral score like the bible. The understanding of the other parts escalates the learning process.
Throughout competitions, the atmosphere intensifies towards the finals. However, I personally feel the complete opposite, sensing more stress at the beginning of the competition and less as I progress through. The closer to the finals, the more I am able to focus on the music, perhaps as I am more familiar with the environment and have a clearer perception of what to expect. Ultimately, competitions serve as new opportunities and doorways for musicians and should be a place to express one’s soul. I always endeavour to set music as the central focus of any competition and try to contemplate on how my performance will offer the audience an emotional journey and spiritual connection.
You are a full music scholar at Firbank Grammar School, and you also study at the Australian National Academy of Music with Dr Robin Wilson. How do you balance your music and academic study, as well as a social life and down time?
Well, it is certainly very difficult but as I enjoy music, my music study acts as a relief from academic study. It is a special privilege to perform with the Australian National Academy of Music orchestra and to learn from Dr Robin Wilson; I am constantly surrounded by inspiration, making music feel more like an entertainment than a study. Music can also be therapeutic in that I can pour all my emotions into the music and immerse myself in a world away from reality.
In more general terms, I tend to focus more on the effectiveness of present and rather than getting too particular about systematically balancing study and down time as a matter of time. I like to think of my leisure time as having a mutual dependence with study, as appropriate doses of rest can be very beneficial.
You have mentioned that you started playing the violin when you were eight; quite late by some standards! What has helped you to become so successful so quickly?
I am so thankful to have so many incredible people in my life; the immense support of my family, my incredible teacher and mentor Dr Robin Wilson, ongoing inspiration John Curro and many more. However, it has been God who has been my biggest supporter, helping me to advance through my shortfalls and failures and place greater importance on the enjoyment of music. It was from these shortfalls that I learnt the real meaning of music – a special language that can deliver indescribable emotions. I think that trying to express these feelings in an honest, open way to the audience enhances any performance experience. I believe that the ability to express extreme depths of emotion comes from an experience of spiritual connection and faith.
Do you have any tried and true practice tips for other young musicians?
Yes, I think that a very important part of practice is mental analysis. The thinking process of practice should be problem-solving and logical, and it is critical to find the roots of any inaccuracies or mistakes, hypothesising possible causes and experimenting solutions. A high level of concentration is required of such practice and it is something to be continuously worked on.
When there is a high demand for repertoire, I rely on interleaved and non-linear practice, where a passage is polished briefly and is visited numerous times a day (rather than once or twice). This type of practice forces the brain to recall more actively and is far more effective in the long-term. It produces more myelin, an element of the brain that deals with speed and precision – particularly helpful for musicians.
I also cannot stress enough on the importance of performance practice. The execution process during performance practice is in a different dimension to one in the practice room. Even during the early preparation stages, performance practice can be very valuable, it is like a reflection of how well you practiced!
If you could travel back in time and choose a different instrument to play, would you? What would it be?
I have never doubted my choice of instrument - the violin has something truly special about its timbre - something very soul-ringing. At times I feel as though my violin has its own feelings, temper and spirit, and the magic in the music is only created when I connect and become one with it. It is the warmth and vocal qualities of the violin that makes it so special and spiritual!
It is also very interesting how unique each violin can be from one another, where it be more masculine or feminine, each has its own personality. It is because of this individuality that the violin can capture so many different images, sounds and emotions; the sound world is limitless and challenging. In this way, I think that the violin encourages one to keep developing and maturing both as a musician and a human being.
Photos by Cameron Jamieson Photography.