AYO Blog

AYO National Music Camp 2024: Blog 4
By Ed le Brocq

A youth orchestra rehearses in an auditorium.
A youth orchestra rehearses in an auditorium.

This is the place where perfect is practised. Not the burnish of the final sound, not the organic miracle of one hundred people under one pulse, not the sheen of the concert performance. The first week at National Music Camp is the factory floor, the maker of musicians.

NMC began 76 years ago, the same year the Big Bang was some weird new theory and not a TV comedy, Don Bradman was bowled for a duck, computers had a memory of 32 words (yes, 32) and the first Holden sped off the production line in Australia.

So NMC has been going a long time. And those years have not only provided Australia and the world with exquisite musicians, this time also means the camp is very, very well-organised. We are talking mouse-in-the-shed-at-night organised. (For reference).

The AYO team takes what could be a syncopated, volatile experience and turns it into a fortnight of order, structure, care and kindness. If you want to have hope in our future, look to the AYO.

First rehearsals can be a playpen of subtle negotiations and ice-breaking, and Beethoven does not necessarily have a reputation as a man who might be useful for any of this. Let’s face it, he can be a tad stern, that Beethoven, yet he was the perfect ice-breaker in the first rehearsal for the Bishop Orchestra. Toby Thatcher, conductor, Beethoven-bringer, endurance athlete in the sweat of the close space, compelled his musicians to parry and counter, defend and bind, converse and counter, and this was only the first rehearsal. The play-through of the Symphony No.7 was not just music, here was an experiment, a provocation, a call to musical arms for the next two weeks.

Sitting in on rehearsals in a studio generally means you are stuffed into the side of the space among the violin cases (not wonderful) and hear unexpected sections of the sound (so wonderful). The second horn part has never sounded as impressive or important and, if you ever have a chance to sit next to a second horn, take it. You won’t regret it.

Full of sweat and music, the conductor called for a small break to cool bodies and instruments down, and yet everyone stayed. Why cool down, when you’re sizzling?

‘It’s good… It’s good but it’s not excellent.’ Sophie Rowell, director of the Brislan Orchestra. At the AYO there is no musical allowance for youth.

So yes. This is the place where perfect is practised.