Well, the dust has finally settled. Following the obligatory post busy period flu, I’ve come out the other side pretty much unscathed. Time now to gather together the lessons I’ve learned from Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) and Famous Spiegeltent at Arts Centre Melbourne. I’m looking to the future. Exciting times. Times of potential change, that is.
I like to think of what I did at PIAF as a “residency”, even though they didn’t publicise at such. The big ticket item was a concert with Philip Glass. He and Maki Namekawa and I performed his complete Piano Etudes, all twenty of them in a row, which was great! I’d never played to a crowd that big before (well, not as a soloist) so the buzz was pretty amazing. It was particularly wonderful to work with Mr. Glass. After all, nothing like hearing it from the proverbial horse’s mouth! The most valuable lesson I learnt was about being a composer and the importance of finding the right balance between allowing performers to interpret your compositions and ensuring they follow your instructions. Mr Glass gave me a great deal of leeway as a performer to create the kinds of musical shapes I feel when I play his music. I’m a little more pedantic and fussy than that when I compose, but I’m inspired by him to try a slightly freer approach in the future. Stay tuned.
PIAF is also involved in running the Great Southern Festival, a kind of satellite event that tours some of the main festival acts to regional centres south of Perth. I performed a concert in the Albany Entertainment Centre, a completely different program of tunes from my two solo albums. Whilst the Philip Glass Complete Etudes concert in Perth was a more traditional and formal performance, this Albany concert gave me the opportunity to be a little more informal and friendly/chatty. That is, I can be completely myself in this kind of performing context and I love it! I like talking to my audiences about the music, why I choose the repertoire I play, what makes it special to me. Generally I find that if I play it more like some pop musicians play a gig, with a bit of chat between, that the crowd are more likely to come and speak to me afterwards. They don’t feel intimidated or distanced, they can see I’m a human being and that I like meeting people. Keeping Classical Music Friendly. It’s my tag line after all!
Whilst the concerts were super exciting and fun and spoke to a great number of people, perhaps more important and life changing for me were the workshops I presented. I felt extraordinarily lucky to have been given basically free reign to do whatever I wanted to do with these bunches of kids. Although I did plan specific activities, lots of it went completely out the window as soon as the kids were there. I find this often happens, the best laid plans discarded, because you never know what kind of imagination or knowledge or experience level the group is going to have. Anyway, only two kids turned up to the workshop in Albany (out of about 8 who were meant to be there). The organisers were sweetly apologetic - “Oh, you don’t need to do it if you don’t want to, we’ll find them something else to do…” etc. I could’ve let it go, but I am very proud to say that I didn’t let it go. I ran my workshop and between the three of us, we wrote a abstract micro-opera of body and voice percussion complete with characters, dramatic structure and choreography (my original plan was quite different, to workshop a composition about the history of the local whaling industry and rugged coastline!). I was incredibly proud of the result and challenged myself to work more abstractly with the group in Perth the following day.
The Perth workshop was much simpler. I had additional help from two of the PIAF Youth Ambassadors, Chrissy and Krista, two lovely young go getters specifically attached to the Classical Music program who were happy to muck in the the kids a bit (hooray!!). Fine initiative from the festival, I must say. Anyway, I did a good deal more experimentation with my writing-an-abstract-micro-opera workshop and was thrilled that the kids were able to create something so dramatically compelling in the space of three hours. It was a kind of revelation to me, that by presenting people with extremely tight musical parameters I could facilitate the creation a piece of musical theatre by this fairly disparate collective of unique individuals. Only one thing disturbed me and that was hearing some of the PIAF staff talking about how difficult it was to find artists/performers who were also happy to do workshops. Amongst the Classical Music performers, there were really only Masterclasses and Artist Talks offered. *Yawn* I mean, they’re all great performers but they’re preaching to the converted and that does nothing for the future of classical music. Reinvent or perish, things needs must change! More on how I plan to do that later ;)
Anyway, there was little time for basking in the glory of my PIAF appearances, I was due at the Famous Spiegeltent in Melbourne to perform something quite different again. Following my failure to gain professional theatre experience at the Opera, Arts Centre Melbourne offered me this superior opportunity to create my very own solo theatrical experience. Hooray! It was not so much a steep learning curve, more of a sheer cliff face really. I wrote myself a show, a kind of ‘dramatised recital’ that’s somewhere about halfway between Meow Meow and Hahn Bin, all about why I chose to become a musician and not a ballet dancer. I wrote my own script, I played some pretty tough bona fide classical repertoire, I sang some reinvented pop songs, I acted the various characters, I danced some ballet, I played toy instruments with a stompbox livelooper, I enlisted my artist friend Pamela Lee Brenner to create a magical plastic+astroturf garden for me to play in, behind a corps-de-ballet of plastic dolls. My director friend Leonie Cambage helped me to being all these elements together into a seamless whole. It was exhilarating! It was also exhausting. But I feel that I’ve created a new performance genre for myself, something that could bring classical music out of the concert hall and into people’s lives a bit more easily - it’s a whole lotta things at once, a recital, a cabaret, a piece of musical theatre, and it’s immediate, it’s intimate, it’s about choices and that’s something that everyone can identify with, isn’t it? I think so.
The result of all this mental hydra headed activity is that I now have these three wildly different ways of performing (formal recital, informal gig, crazy cabaret) and I have these different styles of creative workshops that I can present (songwriting, musical theatre composition, cabaret/performance creation). I’ve defined them and put them out there (here and here). In the perfect personal Utopia of my mind, I see myself doing little residencies here there and everywhere with people who sign up to get a whole week of Whitwell *grin* Everyone who attends will compose, perform, create, workshop, discuss… Plus they’ll get to enjoy a couple of concerts from me too as an added extra bonus.
Music for the People!! I think I can do it. I really do.