During the final week of September, Amiti String Quartet travelled to Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium to act as Artists-in-Residence at the annual String Camp alongside educator Patricia Pollett. The quartet’s residency was part of AYO’s 2023 Momentum Ensemble program.

Violist Helena Burns wrote a reflection on the intense yet rewarding four days.

Amiti String quartet smile on stage while standing in front of a Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium banner.
From left to right: Jasmine Milton, Helena Burns, Lili Stephens, Erna Lai.

Our travels from Brisbane commenced one day before Momentum Ensemble began, as our dear friends Anna Rabinowicz and Jeremy Stafford presented a wonderful flute and guitar duo concert titled Horizons in Ballina. Ballina is about two hours into the drive to Coffs Harbour and the eclectic concert was the perfect way to spend our Sunday afternoon. The program featured dance styles from the Baroque Era to Latin America and also featured a work called Mountain Track by Brisbane-based composer Robert Davidson. Anna and Jeremy truly showcased the possibilities of their instruments through the blend of their sound and vast array of colours they conveyed during their performance.

The following morning we continued the drive to Coffs and arrived around lunch time. We checked in to our accommodation and headed to Park Beach for an afternoon swim. We later learned that Park Beach should probably be called ‘Shark Beach’ instead, but fortunately the QLD in us means that we are strong swimmers, so we lived to tell the tale!

Three musicians jump on the beach in Coffs Harbour.

Tuesday morning was the official start of our residency at Coffs Harbour Conservatorium and the first day of their annual String Camp program with students ranging in age from eight to 23.  

We headed to the Con where we met our wonderful tutor, Patricia Pollett and had a discussion about career pathways in Regional Conservatoriums with Patrick Brearly. We had a quick rehearsal as a quartet and followed by a 45-minute tutorial with Patricia before jumping straight into the rest of the jam-packed String Camp schedule.

We met the students for the first time in a side-by-side rehearsal in the orchestra which was conducted by Coffs Con Head of Strings Annabelle Swainston. Amiti then led individual sections for two hours to work on specific parts of the repertoire.

Four musicians walk to accommodation with instrument cases on their backs.

After these sessions we led a Q&A discussion. Some of the questions we received included ‘How did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?’ and ‘How should I go about studying music after school?’ We answered that even though we had other disciplines we were passionate about such as science and history, we eventually realised that our passion for music outweighed these areas and that if we worked hard we could build our careers as musicians in Australia. We also explained that the application process for different music schools in Australia can look very different and that students should look into the schools that interest them while still in school to ensure they meet the entry requirements.

We were also asked how we choose repertoire for auditions, and we explained that usually there are set pieces for auditions. We also encouraged the students to select pieces that they love so they can enjoy preparing and performing them.

Wednesday was another big day filled with side-by-side rehearsals, sectionals and one-on-one studio classes with Patricia and the other members of Amiti. Although the pieces were improving, there was still lots of work to do!

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Thursday, Amiti’s concert day, was here in a flash. In addition to side-by-side rehearsals, Amiti had another tutorial with Patricia and ran their own rehearsal whilst AYO’s incredible CEO Kimbali stepped in to lead some group masterclasses for the students where they performed solo repertoire. Following the much-anticipated pizza party for dinner, the students, friends and families all trickled into the recital hall for our concert.

Our program included Ross Edwards Ecstatic Dance No.2 as well as Dvorak’s ‘American’ String Quartet, finished with a bang with the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F minor, Op.80 No.6. The concert was so much fun to play and was very well received by the Coffs Harbour audience. We were also very grateful to our friends Jonah Spriggs and Feodora Hohenlohe who had both travelled several hours to see us perform and headed off for some delicious Italian food with them afterwards to celebrate.

Amiti String Quartet perform on stage at Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium.
From left to right: Lili Stephens, Jasmine Milton, Helena Burns, Erna Lai.

The last orchestra rehearsal of the String Camp took place on Friday morning before the concert at 12pm. We were particularly impressed with how the students improved their dynamic range, bow distribution and memory skills, as the last piece was learnt by ear and performed entirely without sheet music! The concert was a real testament to the hard work of the students and the quality of music education in regional Australia.

The program featured Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Playful Pizzicato from Britten’s Simple Symphony and some inspiring solo performances by String Camp students Mercedez and Amber.  

We certainly learnt a lot from our residency with Coffs Harbour Conservatorium and are privileged have witnessed the profound impact AYO’s Momentum Ensemble has on music-making in regional parts of Australia.