AYO Blog

AYO National Music Camp 2015: Blog 6
By Jessica Donohue

AYO musicians participate in a viola tutorial, while wearing tropical shirts,


There was an air of sartorial merriment at camp this morning. Despite another drizzling sky suggesting a more reserved tone would be proper, glances across the breakfast table yielded visions of exotic fruits, colourful birds and large, cheerful flowers. I hadn’t thought musicians a particularly fashionable breed (something about the funereal all black dress code), yet today turned out many campers in their intemperate best. Even a fellow WAMster appeared as a flowing brightly-coloured creation in our austere, practical computer room.

Had I missed a memo?

It appears I had, as the second Wednesday of camp was recently declared ‘Tropical Day’, a brand new tradition. More in tune with a Samoan summer than the current despondent weather, this new invention was nevertheless embraced by students, who dazzled the university campus and confidently bucked the convention of musicians in black.

The other night camp director James Judd spoke to us about some of these long-held conventions in orchestral music, such as not clapping between movements. He challenged us: are these routines a barrier to new audiences? Discussing concert dress, he asked: ‘Why are we still wearing 19th century uniform?’ It’s a question I hadn’t considered. The tailcoat is customary clothing for most symphony orchestras, but it’s hardly rooted in the fashion of musicians. It was designed around 1805 by a middle class upstart named Beau Brummell. He altered the cut and colours of country riding dress to be suitable for city evening wear, and also to show off his muscular physique. It was soon taken up by the gentleman of the era, and from there adopted by orchestras so they could match the aristocracy to whom they performed.

In the spirit of what James said, it seems appropriate to challenge traditions. Is it fitting, now, to wear a costume rooted in the adaptation of riding clothes from the early 19th century, for orchestras playing music of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and performing in the 21st? As I ponder this question, a well turned out flamingo shirt saunters past. It’s certainly an improvement on the dinner jacket, my Camp colleagues tell me over lunch, being lighter, cooler, and less restrictive. Would they like to exchange their ‘concert blacks’ for something more colourful? ‘Totally!’ says a gentleman in an artfully symmetrical blue and white flower textile. ‘No, I don’t think so,’ muses another group, which is running with a fruity theme. ‘Black looks simple and neat.’

I queried violinist Kyla Matsuura-Miller, the mastermind behind ‘Tropical Day’, on her inspiration. ‘I just realised I had a lot of pineapple clothes. Bright colours are positive, it makes everyone feel happy. It was originally going to be Pineapple Day, but I realised that might be a bit difficult. So it became Tropical Day.’ I notice a grass skirt and lei sprawled on a couch nearby, and I want to know if students came to camp prepared? Kyla: ‘No, I announced it in the Daily Bull [-etin] a few days ago. Some people bought things yesterday. I heard the Reject Shop was raided of flower leis!’

I questioned a particularly fetching orange and blue fish shirt (the fish motif set above a bowl of potato chips) where he could possibly have found such an objet d’art, especially in Adelaide. He advises me that it is a regular part of his Camp wardrobe. ‘I’ve worn it on a lot of camps. Someone usually suggests to dress up crazy one night, so I always pack it.’ Another shirt, a veritable Barrier Reef of aquatic life with loosely tied paisley scarf, informs me that it’s just usually what he wears. Perhaps musicians are more stylish than I supposed.

About 4.00pm it seemed ‘Tropical Day’ had had the desired effect, as the sky cleared and beams of optimistic sunshine bathed the campus. With the WAM office abuzz with the drama of the Musica Fever publication going to proofs, I couldn’t tell you whether musicians in the General Chamber Music concert had stayed with the staid black, or added a splash (or wave) of colour to their dress.

Meanwhile, the best quote of the day came from NMC Operations Manager Stev, who appeared in a terrifying riot of colour. ‘I didn’t know about Tropical Day.’

Words About Music participants will be blogging throughout AYO National Music Camp 2015