2016 AYO National Music Camp : Blog 1

The Thriving Metropolis of Canberra

Posted by Dylan Henderson
Monday 4th January, 2016

When I first arrive in Canberra it seems quiet and peaceful, and I can’t believe I haven’t been here before. The sky is pearl-white, but smudges of grey here and there seem to presage something a little more malevolent. As I make the trek down from our accommodation at Burton and Garran Hall toward the School of Music’s Llewellyn Hall, beads of rain gently roll down my umbrella and my shoes begin to squelch in the grass under the willows. Rabbits dart in and out of the shrubs, unperturbed by the weather and my gaze. I watch rosellas sifting through the grass for food, their feathers a resplendent crimson with flecks of electric blue. Now and again a flock of cockatoos erupts into a panoply of squawks, although there’ll be nothing agreeable about it as day breaks tomorrow morning. Still, this abundance of wildlife provides a welcome respite from the festering husks of kangaroos and other unnamable marsupials that litter the drive from Sydney to Canberra.

After meeting my fellow Words About Music participants and some of the Orchestral Management students - all of whom arrive ahead of the orchestral musicians - we meet our tutor, Alastair McKean. Dressed in a chequered shirt, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s librarian is different to how I imagined him. This is mainly because, unlike in his AYO biography photo, he is sporting a beard. He ushers us into what will be our office for the next two weeks. Despite an uncharacteristic absence of mildewing old books, our writers’ room exudes a mustiness (thanks to deceased air-conditioning) that quickly becomes oppressive. Alastair beams triumphantly upon realising there is an entire wall which also serves a whiteboard, and can thus be desecrated with instructions for superior writing. As the topic of discussion tangentially digresses, he adjusts his glasses and his countenance assumes a demeanour that bears a striking resemblance to Steve Carell.

Many hours later, Alastair suggests we all venture forth into the ‘thriving metropolis of Canberra’ (his words) in search of dinner. As we leave the ANU campus, the capital city seems almost as if it has been evacuated: it is the second of January and lights flicker spasmodically outside closed shops, creating a prickly sense of foreboding under a gradually darkening sky. We eventually stumble upon a Vietnamese restaurant. As we wait for our orders to arrive, I glance around; the residents of Canberra seem subdued, as if still convalescing from the New Year’s hangover, caught off guard and recoiling from the fact that it’s already 2016.

And yet, the next day, there is a different vibe. Away from the ANU campus, there doesn’t seem to be much happening in Canberra, but as hordes of orchestral musicians arrive (many for their first time on camp) and begin trundling their luggage up treacherous flights of stairs toward their rooms, something is about to come alive again. Despite the grim weather, the atmosphere among the students and tutors already seems charged with optimism and promise, so perhaps it would not be amiss to characterise such a congregation of talent as a ‘thriving metropolis’ - if only for a week or two. As I enter Llewellyn Hall once more tonight for the formal briefing and introduction, I can only think about one thing. I’m glad I’m here.

Words About Music students will be blogging from AYO National Music Camp.