James Judd and the Bishop Orchestra
Posted by Angus McPherson
Monday 5th January, 2015

The First Downbeat

The University of Adelaide campus is quiet and empty when we arrive on Saturday afternoon for the AYO National Music Camp 2015. The air is thick and the smell of bushfire smoke quickly begins to permeate our clothes. On Sunday we eat our breakfast huddled in a small corner of the dining hall, the sound of our cutlery echoing in the large space.

We, the six Words About Music participants (affectionately nicknamed WAMsters), arrived ahead of the instrumentalists who make up the bulk of the Camp. The only other people here were staff, the Arts Administration (AA) participants and a handful of tutors. We spent most of Sunday ensconced in our air-conditioned office overlooking leafy North Adelaide, mercifully sheltered from the heat and heavy lifting that the AA participants were being subjected to elsewhere on campus.

The instrumentalists were not due to arrive until the evening, so we had little reason to venture out into the sunlight except for meals or when our caffeine levels dropped too dramatically. We whiled away the hours engaged in discussions with WAMster tutors Alastair McKean and Julian Day on program notes, deadlines, radio techniques, and the pros and cons of various kinds of pencils. Those in AA were meanwhile setting up chairs and equipment, bracing themselves for the imminent deluge of musicians – two full symphony orchestras and one chamber orchestra – whom they will be managing (or perhaps herding) for the next fortnight.

The camp was awash with people and instruments by dinner time, the sound inside the dining hall was a constant roar, and just outside a football was being kicked around. A game of cricket seemed to rise spontaneously out of the grass. At 7:52pm Music Director James Judd conducted the first downbeat of Shostakovich’s powerful Fifth Symphony, a full eight minutes before the rehearsal of the Alexander Orchestra was scheduled to start. While musicians are generally punctual, it is almost unheard of for them to arrive early; the fact that the orchestra was tuned up and ready to play is a testament to both the enthusiasm of the musicians and the impressive organisation of the Camp.

Despite our early arrival, the proceedings really opened with the full stage and that first downbeat in the Elder Hall (and those happening simultaneously in the two other rehearsal spaces), beginning this vigorous program of musical exploration and discovery.

 – Angus McPherson

Words About Music participants will be blogging daily.