During AYO National Music Camp 2023, bassoonist and Words About Music participant Alison Wormell spoke to Elissa Seed, Mason Stanton and Meg Collis about their experiences of the Orchestral Management course and how it prepares participants for life after camp.
Elissa Seed – Orchestral Management Tutor
What does the course involve?
This course is fairly production-heavy. Students are learning everything from reading instrumentation, to converting that into stage plans and interpreting them, to setting the stage and starting rehearsals. That’s as well as running concerts and all the documentation, planning, and organisation which goes into that.
We also talk about marketing, sponsorship, sound production, orchestral manager roles and duties, library and finance. I want to ignite the cohort’s interest with an overview of other facets of orchestral life they might want to explore in the future. It’s not just onstage or backstage – there’s all these other roles that make it possible for an orchestra to perform.
So what are you trying to set the participants up for?
I’m trying to give people insight into production and orchestral management particularly, but also enough bits of everything else, so that they’re versatile. And one of those bits might ignite their interest, so they can go and pursue further information in another area.
What are your biggest challenges when running the course?
Fitting everything in! I love to chat, so actually the biggest challenge is trying to squeeze all the information that I want to share with people into just two weeks, and in the midst of so many rehearsals and concerts.
Then there’s managing fatigue. It is full on; we’re the first ones here every morning and usually the last ones to leave. So Challenge No. 2: trying to manage the expectations and also trying to give people sufficient breaks so they’re not absolutely dying by the last day.
Why were you excited to run the OM course and to tutor it?
Being a participant in this course [in 2013] opened my eyes to something that was like… this role suits my personality really well. This is what I need to do. It has literally given me a career. I feel so privileged that the AYO believes I’m skilled enough to lead this course.
When I was invited back to teach, I thought ‘this is incredible’ and I couldn’t wait to experience the energy that AYO has. It’s energising just being around my peers, who are amazing musicians, and all the other tutors. Being part of that group is such an honour. I’ve jumped at every opportunity, and I’ve loved every one of the camps. I come back bubbling with energy, even though it’s been exhausting.
Mason Stanton – 2023 Orchestral Management participant
What does the course involve?
A lot of it is being inducted into the logistics of an orchestra’s operations. And managing people and their demands! We’re learning about an orchestra as an organisation and as an organism. It’s a whole different world backstage. Elissa is teaching us as we go, we’re learning as we go, we’re DOING as we go!
Primarily what we’re trying to achieve is to make camp concerts as seamless and smooth as possible. This involves scheduling and working with the artists to find out about their staging requirements. It’s very production-heavy; you’ve got to be a nice mix of organised, resilient and adaptive.
So overall, we’re managing the orchestra, the rehearsal logistics, and liaising with the librarians/tutors/other people around camp to make sure that when we get to concert days, it’s all systems go. Everyone knows everything that needs to happen, when it happens, and what’s required of them. Essentially it’s this big countdown to when it’s show time, and when the musicians are on stage we can breathe a little easier.
Why are you doing the course? Where do you hope it will take you?
I like helping people. I like the orchestral network, I like interacting with musicians, I like creatives. We’re all just kind of in this underground culture.
I’m not sure where this will take me – I’m still exploring my options because we’ve been exposed to so many different orchestral departments. I’m really excited about that. For me, I’m wanting to use that creativity in an impactful way, beyond playing. And while practising many hours a day is meaningful in itself, I personally want to make magic via other means.
What drew you to camp?
My relationship with AYO is significant to me. It’s been an integral part of my upbringing and my education, and I’ve always come away from any program I do exhausted and fulfilled. Youth orchestras and playing professionally still feels like a home to me. I’m at a point in my career where I think I can make [an] impact in ways other than playing my instrument [cello]. Rather than being on the stage and being the performer, there’s so much I can use my creativity for offstage while still being part of the creative process. AYO National Music Camp is a perfect setting to explore other musical pathways; I think it confirms that there’s not one way to have a career in music.
Meg Collis – Residential Coordinator and previous Orchestral Management participant
What was your experience of the Orchestral Management course?
I did the course in 2019 and my tutor was Angela Chilcott, then head of orchestral management at Orchestra Victoria, and now director of orchestral operations at the San Diego Symphony. The OM team that year shared all the roles of orchestral management; stage management, people management, and artistic liaison. I was heavily involved across all of those but I particularly enjoyed stage management.
This involved drawing stage plans, briefing your stage crew, and choreographing every stage change. The course taught me that, as an orchestral manager, I have no artistic input. You’re there to support the artistic output. But I think placement of a musician or music stand actually has artistic impact. Choreographing stage changes is enormous and so fun!
Where has the course taken you?
In January 2019, I had just secured my first full time job at the Sydney Symphony as Philanthropy Coordinator. It was really interesting work because performing musicians forget that so much of what they do is only possible through the generosity of donors.
After going to camp, I was desperate for something a lot more practical. Annette Brown (a fearsome ex-AYO-Ressie) allowed me to volunteer with the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra. That’s where I really honed my stage management skills. I attribute many of my successes to Annette’s generosity. I then got a casual job as a stage manager with The Concourse, the home venue of the Willoughby Symphony. As a volunteer and employee, I stage-managed most performances at The Concourse until covid. It was so, so awesome.
I got my current job at the Australian Chamber Orchestra as Learning and Engagement Coordinator at the end of 2019. I went for it because, again, I was craving something more hands-on. In my role at the ACO, I do anything from running auditions for ACO Academy and the Orchestra’s Emerging Artist program to touring with a national kids’ show. I’ve realised in the last year or so that my passion is producing children’s theatre. It’s such a niche thing and I would not have been led to it had I not been to AYO.
What drew you to camp?
So many people told me about it. I knew pretty early on in my BMus that I didn’t want to do performance but I really wanted to do something creative. Near the end of my time at uni I didn’t really know what to do and I spoke to some Sydney Symphony people I knew who had previously tutored me. Every single person said: ‘You’d love orchestral management. Do AYO!’ So I did!
Alison Wormell is an alumnus of the Words About Music program, AYO National Music Camp 2023.