The Words About Music team spoke to members of the orchestra about growing up, memorable moments, and what makes them tick.

Jet Kye Chong

AYO percussionist Jet Kye Chong plays the glockenspiel during a rehearsal.

How’d you find yourself playing percussion?

I gave violin a go in primary school. It was hard, I made lots of scratchy sounds, and I decided when I went to high school I didn’t want to play the violin. Percussion looked fun – I hit a xylophone as a kid and essentially just picked it on a whim. Maybe it was the instant gratification of being able to make a sound immediately, but since then it has been a fortunate case of two things coming together quite nicely.

What’s your favourite things about percussion?

The feeling when you’re performing with somebody else and you nail it: that’s unbeatable honestly. I was playing bass drum and my friend was playing cymbals in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony last year with the Western Australian Youth Orchestra, and we had to play a note at the same time. There was one time that we did it in rehearsal and for the rest of the performances and rehearsals we always looked at one another, breathed together and played completely in sync. That feeling, whether it’s with an orchestra or in chamber repertoire, is my favourite thing about percussion.

When you’re not doing anything musical, what do you do?

I’m doing a double degree. Maths is my other passion. To me maths is about thinking, about abstraction and trying to apply one idea to something else which would otherwise be unrelated. Maths is good fun. I also make things, I do some DIY. Often it involves building instruments.

Any other music?

Funk, jazz. Right now Jacob Collier and Snarky Puppy. All them groovers.

Stephanie Sheridan

AYO bassoonist Stephanie Sheridan plays her instrument during a rehearsal.

How did you find yourself playing your instrument?

I began on oboe, and I played for two years. It was okay, but I wasn’t having the most fun, and after a while, without making much progress, my teacher – who also played bassoon – asked if I thought I wanted to give bassoon a go, so I did. And within about three months, I had surpassed where I was with oboe.

Why do you like your instrument specifically?

I think the bassoon has a fun role in the orchestra. It has these quirky staccato solos and then it also has these beautiful melodies. It just encompasses all these characters.

So when you’re not making music…?

I have to make reeds!

Anything non-musical?

You don’t get a lot of time when you’re making reeds. I have a very nice thread collection for my reeds, and I like playing with my cats. Sorry, I’m very boring!

Isla Biffin

AYO harpist Isla Biffin plays a harp during a rehearsal.

How did you find yourself playing the harp?

When I was a little girl I had a stuffed hippo I really loved, and I would always play with the ears and my parents thought that looked like the hand shape of a harpist. My mum was touring in Europe at the time and she came back with a little pixie harp and I just really loved it.

How long until you realised you wanted to keep playing?

It’s only been very recently… in the last two years, I’d say. My parents were both musicians and my brother is a musician and I’ve been playing three instruments for my whole life. And it’s always been sort of – not pressure, exactly – but I’ve been pushed in the direction of music. I just wanted to make sure it was something I wanted for myself.

What kind of music do you enjoy the most?

I love playing orchestral music, anything that has a good harp part. But apart from that I really love romantic music. That’s probably my favourite genre, because I just love beautiful melodies and harmonies. I enjoy a bit of film music also, to be honest. It’s so epic but it can also be really intricate.

When you’re not playing?

I love baking. I’m the designated birthday cake maker.

Marcel Kocbek-Malepa

AYO tuba player Marcel Kocbek-Malepa plays his instrument during rehearsal.

How did you find yourself playing your instrument?

My school has a band program where you do an introduction to the instruments in year two, and you get to indicate which ones you’d like to play. I didn’t even try percussion or wind, I went straight to brass. I actually started on Euphonium in year three, and then at the end of year four, my conductor said to me: “Hey there aren’t any tuba plays at the school anymore. Would you like to play tuba?” And I thought: “Oh, yeah, why not?”

What do you love about your instrument in particular?

I like the fact that it’s unique. Even when you’re playing with an entire ensemble, you’re still a present element in the texture.

What is the most fun you’ve have playing your instrument?

Probably when I went busking with some of my friends last December. We played from a book of Christmas carols. I wore a really weird Santa hat and wrapped my tuba with lots of tinsel.

Monty Wain
Double bass

AYO double-bassist Monty Wain plays his instrument during a rehearsal.

How did you find yourself playing double bass?

It’s a bit of a funny story actually. Both my parents are classical musicians, and they both wanted to get us kids onto musical instruments quite early. So I started playing piano from a young age and in Grade 3 my school had a string ensemble that my mum wanted me to play in. But being a Grade 3 kid, there was no way I wanted to do that. So I figured that by picking bass she would think: “he’s just being difficult, let’s not even bother!” But Mum stuck it out, got me a bass and I haven’t looked back since.

What do you love about your instrument?

I think it’s underrated as a solo instrument. If you get a good bass player playing way up high it can sound really beautiful and most people aren’t familiar with that sound. In an orchestral context, we’re the anchor of the whole orchestra. We’re the bass note of every chord. We hold things together.

When you’re not doing music what do you do?

It was maybe two years ago that I had this idea to play a game with some of my friends where we’d get someone to pick four random instruments and then give ourselves an hour to write a quartet for those instruments. It usually sounds terrible, but it’s really fun. That’s a fun thing I like to do with my housemates in Brisbane. I also like solving Rubik’s cubes; in fact I do it competitively. It’s easier than people think: you’ll get it if you just sit down for two hours.

Scott McDougall

AYO pianist Scott McDougall plays the piano during a rehearsal.

How did you find yourself playing your instrument?

My first instrument was the saxophone. I played that through primary school, and I loved it. But I had to stop playing at the beginning of high school because I developed this problem with my soft palate where it would collapse whenever I played. I went to a specialist, and he said I could never play saxophone again. We always had a piano at home, so I thought I’d give it a go and I just loved it so much. I still miss saxophone, but I’m glad I play piano. It was for the best I think.

What do you love about the piano?

I love how I don’t need an ensemble to make a nice full sound. When I’m playing piano it’s the full picture all the time; I can play the bass, the melody and the harmony. And when you play with other people, it adds even more.

What’s the most fun you’ve had playing?

My first National Music Camp in 2017. I hadn’t played any chamber music before and I was put into the group playing Schumann’s piano quintet. I loved locking in with everyone and making a unified sound. Performing with everyone was much more satisfying than solo piano, and was such a thrill.

Ruby Shirres

AYO violist Ruby Shirres plays her instrument during a rehearsal.

How did you find yourself playing the viola?

I went to a primary school where music was compulsory. I was originally going to play the cello, but decided on the spur of the moment that viola was the one for me. It was in the middle, and I liked being in the middle.

When did you decide to pursue music?

I realised early on, I think I was 11 or 12. Viola inspired me so much, and I looked forward to playing it almost every day. It was also amazing meeting wonderful people because of music.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had playing viola?

At a National Music Camp. I played in the chamber orchestra a few years ago, and we played Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The intimate way our ensemble worked came through in the performance, and that was really special. I’m pretty sure I cried at the end.