Every year, Australia’s most promising young music connoisseurs come together at AYO National Music Camp for two weeks of immersive writing, exciting concerts and in-depth exploration of the world of music journalism as part of the Words About Music program. Learning the ropes of publishing and broadcasting can set you on many different paths, and our previous students have gone on to do some incredibly diverse and interesting things.
Meet five AYO alumni and discover where the Words About Music program has led them.
Words About Music 2014
Now works as: Founder and Editor-in-Chief, CutCommon
Did you always dream of being a writer?
I’d originally wanted to be an academic – not a journalist. I always enjoyed writing, but throughout my media major I’d associated a career in journalism with what I was learning about hard news coverage of political and criminal issues. I felt a complete disconnect with my passion for classical music. It’s an extremely niche area to report on as a journalist. In my final year, I decided to research ways that I could try to make a career out of writing about the things I loved. The most glaringly obvious step for me was to apply for the Words About Music program. So that’s what I did, and have been lucky enough to work as a freelance journalist reporting on music and fine art ever since.
What gave you the idea of starting CutCommon?
I wanted to start my own publication, and I realised there was a void for young classical music lovers that needed to be filled. There was nowhere that emerging Australian musicians could really read stories about and for them; stories that support what they do, and stories that are directly relevant to their careers and futures. I had such a fantastic experience with my fellow WAM participants at National Music Camp – I didn’t want the journey to end and I wanted to learn more about the amazing talent within the Australian arts community. CutCommon has been a way for me to pursue these dreams while continuing to create something new with people I cherish and admire.
Founding an online magazine is a huge job, what were your first steps?
The first step was to decide whether or not I wanted to build it and if so, what I was willing to put in. I knew it wouldn’t be easy – but I was hooked on this culture of talent and exciting music and projects. There was no way that I could walk away from the dream. I approached my fellow WAM participants asking if they’d like to write for a magazine of this nature. They did – and one of those people, Lucy Rash, is still with CutCommon as Deputy Editor today. Over the years, fellow WAM alumni have also come on board – notably, one of our leading writers Laura Biemmi who took part in the camp just this year. These are friendships that we make for life. Although it’s been a huge undertaking, I have never felt more connected to the industry and the incredible things that young people are doing in this country.
What advice would you give to any aspiring writers out there?
It’s like music – you have to practice. The more you practice, the better you get, and the more writing projects you can start to take on. It will get to a point when you grow familiar with your personal voice and you begin to write with confidence. If you are passionate about your subject area, then you’re bound to do it justice by nature. So get out there and give it a try! It is a powerful form of communication – and most certainly a fun one when you get to write about what you love!
Words About Music 2015
Now works as: Deputy Editor, Limelight Magazine
What was the most useful thing you took away from National Music Camp?
There were so many useful things I couldn’t just choose one. There are so many things I use in my professional life now, from the kind of deep listening and immersive, careful research that goes into the best program notes to interview techniques and all kinds of strategies to communicate the unique, complex and wonderful experience of hearing music.
What are your favourite topics to write about?
Contemporary music offers so much variety in its sounds and influences – that’s always been a passion of mine – but anything where music and literature or other art forms intersect fascinates me. I love to read as well, so when I can pass that off as ‘work’ (or claim books I want to read on my tax return) all the better.
You’re also a talented flautist, what kind of performing projects have you taken on recently?
I’m very interested in new music for the flute as well as new sounds and techniques beyond the more conventional ‘pretty’ flute sound. One of the most fun projects I’ve been involved with recently was a collaboration – Cabinet of Oddities – between composers, flute players and writers that came together when the Australian Flute Festival and Canberra’s speculative fiction convention Conflux happened to coincide. New works were created by composers based on new short stories written by the writers – a number involved performances with a narrator. We performed at the convention in Canberra and then took the show to the Melbourne Fringe the following year.
At what time of day is your writing most productive?
The pace is intense working for the magazine – between writing up features for the print mag and juggling live reviews of classical music and theatre for online – so I had to quickly learn to write at any time of day or night (it’s a brutal but effective way of getting past writer’s block). But when the pressure’s really on, the quiet hours just before dawn are when I can get the most effective work done.
Words About Music 2015
Soon to be working as: Producer, ABC Jazz
What are you up to these days?
I’m still completing my undergraduate degree, but later this year I’m excited to be working as a Producer with ABC Jazz to backfill one of their staff on paternity leave. Earlier in the year I worked with ABC Classic FM as a Digital Producer, managing social media and some website content. These opportunities followed on from my time spent working and networking with ABC Classic FM and ABC Radio National as the 2015 Music Presentation Fellow.
What made you decide to do the Words About Music course?
I wanted to do Words About Music because I loved the idea of being able to share a love of music. I was lucky to grow up in a home where ABC Classic FM was playing most of the time, and so much of what I know about music came from their passionate presenters and interesting programs. I remember wanting to be able to communicate about music with as much passion as their presenters, and WAM seemed like the perfect program to learn those skills. I was a particular fan of New Music Up Late on ABC Classic FM, and when I saw that Julian Day was a tutor for WAM in 2015, I jumped at the opportunity to learn directly from someone active in the industry whose work inspired me!
Do you play a musical instrument?
I grew up learning classical piano and cello, and now play and program keyboards for musical productions in Hobart, Tasmania. Highlights include Wicked and Chicago.
Did you find it easy to transfer the skills you learnt at Words About Music, which is focused on Classical music, to a more contemporary field?
Definitely! I feel that many of the skills I learnt during WAM have made me a better communicator in life, be it through written or verbal correspondence. Julian Day and Alastair McKean were fantastic tutors, and I often remember their advice when I’m writing – simple things like the beauty of a short sentence, or more complex grammatical tips, such as avoiding tautologies. While the WAM course itself is directly focused on classical music as part of National Muic Camp, the fundamental skills that it teaches – how to be a clear and concise communicator, why it’s important to write with an audience in mind, and how to make stories engaging and comprehensible to listeners/readers – translates to any form of communication, be it sending emails, writing essays, or reviewing live performances.
After completing WAM, I was thrilled to be accepted for the Writers’ Workshop at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, and I’ve since written music reviews and news pieces for online publications such as Limelight, Indie Shuffle, and triple j Unearthed.
Words About Music 2016
Now works as: Communications Manager, UKARIA Cultural Centre
What was your highlight of being involved in the Words About Music course?
Having the opportunity to meet Genevieve Lacey, who was an Artist-in-Residence that year. Genevieve is one of Australia’s most eloquent and articulate ambassadors for our art form – a visionary mind with an uncommonly generous heart. I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the AYO’s Musica Fever magazine, but I got so much material that I ended up pitching an article to CutCommon.
Genevieve and I stayed in touch after that, and a few months later I saw that she was curating a festival in the Adelaide Hills, called Ngeringa 24 (now UKARIA 24). I looked it up online and saw that most of it had sold out, so I emailed Genevieve and she arranged some tickets for me so that I could write about it. After one of the concerts, I was introduced to Toby Chadd (the former Label Manager of ABC Classics), who put me in touch with Clive Paget, the then editor of Limelight Magazine. A few days later, my first review for Limelight was published online.
In September of that year I was contacted about a job that had come up. UKARIA was growing, and now needed a Communications Manager – a role Genevieve had recommended me for. It was one of those rare alignments of circumstance and everything just fell into place, but the chain of events really began with Words About Music at National Music Camp.
What does a Communications Manager do?
At UKARIA, my role is very much about storytelling: communicating who we are, what we do and what we offer for artists and audiences. This includes anything from short social media posts, to writing our monthly newsletters, to writing long form essays documenting our history.
A big part of this is also producing our annual season brochures. My challenge is to write something unique and poetic about each concert that draws you in and makes you want to be there. It’s a little like writing a haiku – every word becomes important and it can be extremely time consuming.
I also prepare the programs for each concert, do a bit of photography and make the occasional video. One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to hear amazing concerts almost every week. In addition to being such a rewarding and inspiring role, it’s also enormously beneficial for my continuing development as a musician.
What advice would you give to somebody that wants to work in the administrative side of the arts?
If you haven’t already, apply for one of the programs at National Music Camp. If you’re truly passionate about the arts, chances are someone will eventually notice, and want to help you. But you do have to be in the right place at the right time. Amazing things happen when you know the right people, and if there’s anywhere you’re going to find them as a young musician, it’s probably at National Music Camp.
Words About Music 2016
Now works as: Development Coordinator, Australian Youth Orchestra
Why did you decide to go along to Words About Music?
It’s a bit of a long story, but music has always been a huge part of my life! I started learning the flute when I was four and imagined life as a soloist or playing in an orchestra. It was in my final years of music performance at uni that I realized I was more interested in the behind-the-scenes world of arts administration. I knew I needed to get my foot in the door, so I began an internship with Alaska Projects, a community-funded art space in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Another part-time internship at Sydney Youth Orchestras then amazingly led to an offer of a full time position in development. My cousin has always been a big inspiration – he’d participated in the AYO Arts Administration course (now AYO Orchestral Management) and believed that it would set me up with the confidence and skills for a career in the arts. With his advice I decided to apply for the Words About Music program to further develop my writing skills.
Did you ever think you’d end up working for the organisation that ran it?
Absolutely not, but I’m so lucky to have been given the opportunity. It has been fascinating to participate in a program, and then get to witness and be a part of the planning that goes into organizing all our amazing programs.
What did you study at university?
I studied a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts at UNSW, with English as my major and Media, Culture and Technology as my minor.
What is development?
In Australia, most arts organisations and not-for-profit organisations need broad support and funding from the community. The development teams within these organisations play a vital role in raising and pursuing this support and funding – from individuals, foundations and sponsors. At AYO we do this in a number of different ways, through seeking grants from philanthropists and foundations, developing and running appeals, and hosting events for AYO supporters. Our supporters are greatly valued, and a key part of the role (and my favourite) is managing and developing these important relationships. One way we do this is by organising regular opportunities for our supporters to meet and engage with AYO’s outstanding young musicians. I love development because I get to connect people with their passion, and also get to see the difference philanthropy is making to classical music in Australia!