By Milo Dodd
Trombonist – Australian Youth Orchestra
There’s no way you’ll ever convince your non-musician friends that National Music Camp is cool – it’s not possible. The moment they hear the words ‘music’ and ‘camp’ in the same sentence, their imagination takes over. You’ll try to explain why you’re taking two weeks out of your summer holidays to play orchestral music but it’s too late; your friends’ minds are irrevocably filled with images of you playing “Kumbayah” around the campfire in a 36-piece clarinet ensemble, or frolicking around in the Viennese countryside singing solfege with Julie Andrews. While having Richard Gill as the 2014 Director of Music Camp makes those scenarios a little closer to the truth than usual, those fortunate enough to have experienced the Australian Youth Orchestra‘s National Music Camp know the truth: Music Camp is bloody excellent. What follows is an account of my experiences at National Music Camp (NMC) and the Australian Youth Orchestra’s (AYO) February Season this year.
NMC 2014 kicked off on a warm Sunday evening in Canberra. Participants had converged on the Australian National University during the day and at 8pm the conductors of the Bishop and Alexander orchestras raised their batons to commence work on two monumental orchestral works; Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 and Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3. Also on the orchestral program for NMC 2014 were two new Australian works commissioned specially for the event; Ichirós by Andrew Howes, and Dunsinane, by Phil Jameson. While these were two very different works, they both exhibited great vision for orchestral sound and character.
For those unfamiliar with NMC, it is an annual two-week summer camp for Australian musicians under the age of 23. It offers a variety of programs ranging from orchestral performance to arts management. Two large orchestras form the core of the camp as well as a chamber orchestra and a profusion of smaller staff and student chamber groups. Brass players at camp are given the chance to compensate for the obligatory bars of rest and tacet movements with the mighty brass ensemble. The 66th National Music Camp saw the formation of two trombone sections with players from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. Some were attending camp for the first time while others were enjoying their final year.
Director Richard Gill’s opening address conveyed three key points to the campers for the two weeks ahead. Firstly, that we should seize every opportunity to listen; to each other, our conductors, tutors, and to ourselves. Upon consideration, the importance of this point cannot really be understated. The vast majority of our education in anything – especially music – is predicated on our ability to listen with the utmost care and attention to the world and people around us. So too, our ability to function in virtually any musical situation relies heavily on our capacity to listen and react.
Richard’s second request was that we ask questions. For people hoping to make careers in an industry with more unspoken rules, conventions and ambiguities than a backyard cricket match – and with the stakes at least as high – a fortnight of stupid-question-immunity in the orchestra is worth its weight in gold. And boy did I get my money’s worth.
The third point was to have fun, and as clichéd as that sounds, this aspect of music making can be surprisingly elusive to us musicians. It sometimes seems as though the more we love what we do, the more scope we have to torture ourselves over a botched performance or a frustrating day of practice. With these laudable sentiments ringing in our ears we then set to work on the musical program ahead of us.