Educating the next generation of composers in a pandemic

Making waves web

Amidst the carnage that COVID-19 wreaked on the music industry, Virtual School Victoria (VSV) and Melbourne Recital Centre have been helping young composers thrive through an innovative relationship that was born out of the pandemic.

Victoria’s social-distancing requirements meant that for the first time the school’s annual Making Waves concert – which features some of the State’s most talented young composers – could not continue in its current face-to-face format.

This was the catalyst for an innovative new relationship between Virtual School Victoria and Melbourne Recital Centre, home to a world-class venue for music performance.

‘Making Waves is a highlight for our year 11 and 12 students – it’s an opportunity to showcase their musical works and have them played by professional musicians and teachers and students from VSV’s Music Style and Composition course,’ said Dr. Tim Nikolsky, who teaches Music Style and Composition and Music Investigation at VSV.

‘Given the pandemic, we couldn’t stage the production in the current format, so we approached the Centre to help us produce and stage this year’s event as a professional online performance.

‘They were fantastic. They approached their generous donors to support this initiative and secured funding for hiring professional musicians to perform students’ works, opening the venue and hiring a production team to film and record the performances.’

Melbourne Recital Centre’s Learning and Access Coordinator, Belinda Ashe, was thrilled to be part of the initiative. ‘The Centre hosts a number of Artist Development programs, all philanthropically funded, and the potential for a partnership with VSV on their Making Waves project was a perfect fit. To connect these young composers with professional musicians for the opportunity to hear their works come to life was something we couldn’t pass up.’

Dr Nikolsky said it’s been a rough year for the students. ‘The lockdown in Victoria has meant that they have missed opportunities for physical performance and playing with other musicians – now they have a sparkling jewel at the end of very difficult year.’

One of the inspiring stories to come out of this initiative was a young composer, Nathaniel, who lives in Traralgon (a regional Victorian town around 160kms from Melbourne).

‘He was thrilled to have been given the incredible opportunity to record at the Centre. Nathaniel’s composition was played by Penny Quartet, an award-winning Australian chamber music group, and he accompanied them on clarinet. Nathaniel played spectacularly. The Quartet was extremely impressed and invited him to play with them again,’ said Tim.

Mark McSherry, another music teacher at VSV, said that Making Waves facilitates relationships between students and professional musicians, and provides a ‘real-world’ experience in an educational context.

‘In many cases, this is the first time that students are dealing with professional musicians and answering questions about their music.’

‘Our students aren’t just writing music to be marked – they are realising their musical works by having them performed by professionals in a professional environment. This is the ultimate,’ said Mark.

Virtual School Victoria is one of the few schools in the country that produces a concert of student works.

‘The students’ work is of a very high standard, with a VSV student being awarded the Premier’s Award for the highest score in Music, Style and Composition for the past three years. Students’ work also features strongly in Top Class Sound – an annual concert that features top compositions from music students across the state,’ said Mark.

This year’s Making Waves concert will feature five pieces recorded in partnership with Melbourne Recital Centre in Southbank and further works realised at Pughouse Studios in Thornbury.

Making Waves will be streamed on 16 December 2020.

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