My Orchestra Project: Isaac Shieh

My Orchestra Project: Isaac Shieh

On the joy of creating music from within an orchestra. 

Isaac Shieh
Melbourne, Australia

My Orchestra Project: Isaac Shieh

On the joy of creating music from within an orchestra. 

Even though my career path has taken me to a place away from large orchestral playing with modern instruments, performing in The Orchestra’s Project’s Easter Sunday performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in A Minor reminded me why I want to become a musician. 

People always asked me why I want to become a musician. But when it comes to answering that question, it tends to revolve around the word ‘passion’ in an ambiguous way. I feel that at times, the phrase ‘a passion for music’ gets thrown around so much that it becomes vague and non-musicians still don’t get what you are on about and probably think you are slightly crazy (which in my case that might be true but let’s not focus on the negatives here). 

In a glimpse back to my past, my orchestral ‘career’ first started with Melbourne Youth Music (now Melbourne Youth Orchestras) when I was 11 years old, when I first came to Australia with limited English and playing with kids a couple of years older than me. Despite the language barrier and age difference, I never felt that I was disconnected from the rest of the orchestra. In fact, I knew that we were all there to create something larger than us as individuals; a dream ignited by passions from 85 different young musicians. Through my association with Fabian Russell during my time in Melbourne Youth Music, and later University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, I was extremely fortunate to be involved in The Orchestra Project’s performance of Mahler 6. In many ways, Fabian has always played an integral part in my development as a musician. In a glance back to the 12 year-old me, I was intimidated by such an authoritative figure, who demanded nothing short of brilliance from his players. But within that fear I have grown a tremendous amount of respect and love for the man as a musician and as a person. Fabian has always inspired us to be the better musicians than we think, and pushed us to our limits. But at its very core, he has ignited young musicians’ passion for art and united us through music of great beauty and intricate emotions. 

To be able to be a part of The Orchestra Project’s performance of Mahler 6 is incredible in many ways. To sit side-by-side next to seasoned professionals and absorb their knowledge is simply an invaluable experience; an opportunity that is still rare despite the increase of professional training opportunities. Not only did I learn the subtlest aspects of orchestral playing, I was constantly inspired by them and in turn aspired me to become the best version of myself as a musician. Undoubtedly, Fabian and The Orchestra Project provided me with the skills that I could not learn from a classroom or a practice room. In the space of three days, I improved immensely as a musician; gaining a far better understanding of the necessary questions I need to be asking myself and actions I need to take to truly become a professional musician. 

But I think The Orchestra Project transcends from being purely an educational institute for developing young musicians. Leading from the front is Fabian Russell, who himself is a pursuer of great art by searching for beauty from within. What I learnt from him during this unforgettable experience is the joy in being able to share the passion lied within such a masterpiece with not only your colleagues, but with the audiences. Ignited by Fabian’s strive for love of great art, I learnt what it truly means to be passionate about music; the ability to narrate inexpressible emotions and sensations through fantasies from within, and share those intimate and vulnerable moments from music making with friends and strangers. As musicians performing and audiences experiencing Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 in the South Melbourne Town Hall, we were all living in the same moment; from the poignant lyricism in the slow movement and the powerful hammer strikes in the finale. We all shared the same dream; an intimate dream that encapsulated great sentiments and passions through the essence of time. While The Orchestra Project serves as a great organisation that aims to propel young musicians into the professional world, it stands for something that is far greater: it is a source of passion. 

Photo by Lucien Fischer for The Musician Project.