Greg van der Struik (Principal Trombone of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra) spoke with Brendan Collins about his life as a composer, educator, trombonist and bus driver.
Greg: You currently teach composition at Barker College and have also had a successful career as a performing artist. Could you give an outline of your professional activities since your studies at the Sydney Conservatorium?
Brendan: Well before I graduated from the Conservatorium I was determined to make a career as a musician. My philosophy was simple – say yes to everything!! This meant that I would spend most nights, weekends and occasional days (when I should have been in lectures) playing in anything from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to not one, but two Elvis impersonator bands. I worked regularly with the Seymour Group, Warren Daly Big Band, Tommy Tycho Orchestra and Australian Brass Quintet. When I was a second year student I landed the full-time job playing Cats at the Theatre Royal. That was quite a busy year. I loved the diversity of being a freelance musician and was disappointed when these opportunities quickly dried up after winning my first orchestral position.
In 1991 I won the Associate Principal position with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. This was an excellent time in my life and I loved mixing with such a great group of interesting and dedicated musicians on a daily basis. I held this position for 11 years and I look back on this time with great fondness. While I did value this position highly, towards the end of my time with the orchestra, I did start to wonder if there was a life for me outside of the orchestra and perhaps outside of trombone playing altogether. I am passionate about music and wanted more opportunities than the orchestra could offer. I started examining for the AMEB, teaching at numerous schools and composing music – mostly for my students, ensembles, bands and orchestras.
My wife, Philippa, and I formed a group called Little Maestros, which provided music and entertainment for young children. The group became somewhat of a ‘hit’ with ABC for Kids and we had regular concerts, television and radio appearances and local and international tours. During this exciting time I developed great working friendships with my fellow ‘Maestros’ Saul Lewis and Peter Wiseman.
At first, I arranged simple and traditional children’s songs for the group, but as time went by I became more adventurous and created a vast number of original works. We released one independent CD and two CDs with the ABC. It was this experience more than anything else that forged my burning love of composition.
In 2003, Peter Walmsley invited me to do some brass teaching at Barker College. For two years I taught many students and directed a number of ensembles. During this time I composed music for HSC candidates, brass ensembles, bands and choirs and was appointed the Composer-in-Residence in 2005.
In many ways this is my dream job. It allows me to combine my two loves, composition and teaching. I work with all our senior students, preparing them for their HSC composition submissions. I also get many opportunities to compose music for all sorts of ensembles.
Aside from music, I work quite regularly with Barker’s Outdoor Education department and recently got my bus driver’s license – a necessity for all composers.