Posted by Niki Johnson
Tuesday 22nd April, 2014

Australian Youth Orchestra’s Young Symphonists program was an incredible musical experience! It was a privilege to be exposed to some amazing musical talent and to benefit from the shared knowledge of my peers and tutors.

The percussion repertoire, despite being a little confusing at first, ended up being one of the major highlights for the week for our section. The percussionists were set the task of arranging Bela Bartok’s Bulgarian Dances, from his piano works Mikrokosmos, for 4 percussionists - 2 marimbas. Two percussionists played the left hand and the other 2 played the right. The parts were split where necessary and there was jumping around octaves due to the marimba being much smaller in range than the piano, which added an extra dimension to the performance. The piece was a challenge to learn in such short space of time, it was nevertheless so much fun and definitely worth the extra effort. John Cage’s Living Room Music was a whole different story, resulting in a hilarious, theatrical performance involving setting up on stage a crazy living room, with the players playing on mugs, paper cups, briefcases, plates, food platers, toasters and tables.

Rick Miller, our percussion tutor, made the experiences so much more incredible because of his outgoing, crazy personality and his incredible love for the music. We even spent time jumping polyrhythms on a trampoline and an exercise ball.

Max McBride was just as influential and inspiring with his understanding of the music and his ability to pass on his knowledge. With his guidance we came together as an orchestra, enabling us to pull-off the contrast between Symphony No 2 A London Symphony by Vaughan Williams and Autumn from Glazunov’s The Seasons and Nuages and Fetes from Debussy’s Nocturnes on Saturday night's concert.

The week wasn’t only about classical music either, on Thursday, Day 6 of the camp, Ben Clapin on Sax and Jacques Emery on Double Bass and drums led the evening with some funky jams featuring Sol Dasika, Darcy O’Malley, Tetsuya Lawson, Matt Reichardt, Adam Melzer and Billy Nicholson. Orchestra and staff were treated to a wonderful impromptu jazz evening where members of the orchestra shared their love of playing music.

One of the invaluable parts of the camp was the 30 minute instrumental warm-up at the beginning of each day led by a different tutor. The warm-ups were extremely varied including jumping on a trampoline in time to samba rhythms, yoga and stretching, breathing during relaxation exercises, basketball, and even a stroll down to the beach. On a small scale, they were important because they warmed up our bodies and minds, preparing us for the rehearsals ahead and helping us realise the importance of warming up in order to make the most of rehearsals. On a large scale, they helped us with calming nerves before and during a performance, as well as making us aware of posture and how to use it to our advantage when playing.

One particularly interesting and useful event that occurred during the week were our sessions about the Alexander Technique. This technique involved discussion about methods to reduce the likelihood of and/or fixing playing-related injury. Through several sessions throughout Wednesday, Day 5 of camp, we learnt about the muscular system, the spinal cord, and how an understanding of our muscles and bone structure can help us use them correctly, resulting in reduced unnecessary muscle movements and tension.

The camp wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing work of Helen Tillinh, Jacinta Ewers, Lucy Ericson, Qian Ying Ong and Sam Torrens, and the extremely talented and supportive tutors.

The camp wasn’t just about playing music together and learning pieces, but it helped us with taking care of our bodies, coping with stress, maximising muscle movements and overall helped us become better and more efficient musicians. Thank you to all those people who have made this wonderful experience available for musicians under 18. 


- Niki Johnson, percussion

image by Julia Nichols