If you haven’t had the chance to be one of the ‘WAMers’ at National Music Camp, you’re probably wondering what it is that they get up to. Angus McPherson took the time to tell us about his experience of putting down his flute, and picking up a pen, a notebook, and a microphone.
Writing has interested me for a long time, but my studies as a flute player always tended to take precedence. It was only when I saw that the AYO offered a ‘Words About Music’ (WAM) program at the AYO National Music Camp (NMC) that it occurred to me I could combine my passions and add another facet to my career.
The WAM program ran parallel to the orchestral programs at Camp, but our rhythm was very different – deadlines cascaded over the two weeks, and by the final days, when the orchestras were rehearsing madly for the last concerts, our programs had gone to print and we were debriefing. Day-to-day we researched, wrote and workshopped program notes for the concerts, planned articles for the camp magazine and blog, and worked with our mentors on radio techniques and production. We spent hours in our office, writing quietly or poring over scores. We inhaled coffee and wrote frantically into the night to meet early deadlines. In workshops we discussed grammar and how to encapsulate a symphony in 500 words.
Through the WAM program, I was fortunate to be selected for the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra Fellowship. The brief sounded simple: write program notes for each of the orchestra’s subscription concerts. The process ended up being much more involved. In addition to researching and writing notes, I was proofreading programs (and trying to memorise the esoteric symbols proof-readers use to mark-up documents), editing artist biographies, liaising with designers, conductors and musicians, and interviewing composers about new works. My mentors from the industry were dauntingly knowledgeable, warmly encouraging and very thorough. There were moments of suspense: a marimba part, which I had specifically mentioned in the program notes, was cut from the orchestration moments before the print deadline!
Overall, the fellowship was incredibly rewarding, and I have a far greater appreciation for the effort that goes into creating programs. Now, whenever I attend a concert my eyes skip down to the byline to see who wrote the program notes and I find myself scouring the program book for misplaced apostrophes! A particular highlight of the fellowship was interviewing Elena Kats-Chernin about her work Re-Collecting ASTORoids.
The other significant opportunity that came out of the WAM program was an introduction to WAM alumna Stephanie Eslake, who founded the classical music website CutCommon. In the year following NMC I’ve been writing articles, conducting interviews and reviewing concerts for CutCommon and I’ve recently started receiving commissions to write for other publications as well.
I’m in the process of completing a PhD in Music, majoring in performance. The skills I’ve gained through the WAM program and the opportunities that followed have been a valuable compliment to my studies. I will always enjoy performing, but I think it is important – and immensely satisfying – to engage more broadly with music. Through writing I have been able to explore repertoire in a completely different way, and I believe the diverse facets of my career enrich and enhance each other.
My advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career in music writing is this: read as much as possible! Read everything from program notes, articles and concert reviews to novels, biographies and anything else you can get your hands on.