My Music Journey
“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination” - Drake
A phrase that has really stuck with me, was at the end of my final clarinet lesson in high school, my clarinet teacher referred to my ‘music journey’. Back then I didn’t quite understand what he meant, and when he talked about discovering who I am during university, I shrugged it off, and in my head, I just said, “I know who I am, I want to be just like you, a woodwind doubler and fantastic teacher”. However, over the years, my musical interests have changed, and I truly have discovered what my strengths and weaknesses are, what inspires me, and where I would like to be in 5 years. Let’s start from the start.
I was a quiet achiever who kept to herself, and always had a love for music, but hadn’t quite discovered it yet. I had danced since the age of three, and had times where I wanted to be a dance teacher when I was older. I grew up dancing to Tchaikovsky, watching the Barbie movies based off ballets, and choreographing in my room. We had a baby grand piano at home that used to sit in the corner unplayed, so I taught myself simple Christmas Carols, and the Simpsons and Harry Potter themes. In my first year of high school, the hundreds of students in my year level got seated in a small hall where the school’s Concert Band performed Wallace and Gromit and SpongeBob SquarePants for us. I thought this was so awesome, and I wanted to play Wallace and Gromit so badly, so I came along to a band recruitment night. Each instrument was demonstrated, and we were told about storing large instruments in a storage room. That ruled out any large instrument for me haha. There was a girl I used to be friends with in Primary School who played the clarinet in the Concert Band. I had always looked up to her, mainly because I thought she was so pretty, and I wanted to be just like her. I only tried the clarinet on the recruitment night, and got a sound out straight away. I remember feeling like Lisa Simpson with the vibrations I was making with the reed. We had to complete a preference form for which instrument we would like to play. Mine was as follows:
2. Alto Saxophone
I got my first preference of clarinet. My mum went to the music store later that week, picked up a Yamaha 250, Standard of Excellence, and some Rico 1.5 Reeds. As soon as she got home, we figured out how to put it together, how to put on a reed, and I went upstairs and started teaching myself the clarinet! I think my first practice session was about an hour, and only stopped because my siblings had to go to bed. I remember asking my dad what time I was allowed to practice until. I enjoyed practicing late at night, especially because if I left my curtains open, I could watch myself in the window reflection. During my first year of playing, I had group lessons with a few other girls, and was in a Training Concert Band. The clarinet section had about 12 players, and I looked forward to rehearsal every week. My stand partners would always ask me how to play notes in the pieces, and I remember freaking out about a piece called “Alleycat Rumble” when I saw a low E.
During the rest of my high schooling, most of the clarinet section quit. I was moved up to the Senior Concert band in only my second year of playing, where I remember freaking out when I saw a trill, and practicing “Abracadabra” by Frank Ticheli for hours until I got it perfect. When I was in year 9, my mum’s partner told me what he did for a living. He was a clarinettist in the Royal Australian Navy Band. I had never really thought about the fact that I could play music as my future job. Before music, I thought I would end up being a mathematician or engineer! I went along to a few Navy Band performances, and met heaps of the musicians. I fell in love. Concert Band was the highlight of my week, so I knew playing in a service band was my dream job. My family knew I was serious about the clarinet, so for Christmas in year 9, I received a Yamaha 650 wooden clarinet, which was my combined birthday and Christmas present, as well as clearing out my childhood savings of $500. In year 10, the only clarinet buddy I had left started learning the saxophone. I didn’t want him to leave me, so I started to learn too. My family couldn’t afford to buy me a new instrument, so I borrowed the professional Yamaha saxophone my mum’s partner had. My real passion was for the clarinet, but I continued with both clarinet and saxophone lessons.
At the beginning of year 11, my parents received a call from the school. My clarinet teacher (who was my second teacher at this point) was leaving, and I was getting someone new. I was terrified, because I loved my old teacher so much, and I was told this new guy was really serious about the clarinet. This teacher has ended up becoming one of my best friends. He was a woodwind doubler who frequently performs in musical theatre, and a clarinet specialist. When I told him that I wanted to go to University to study clarinet, I think he had a heart attack! Sorry Paul haha. In my first lesson, I played him the second movement of the Mozart Concert. I had a double lip embouchure, tone was non-existent, and let’s not even talk about my finger position. He worked me hard, constantly working to develop my embouchure, asking me to do so many things out of my comfort zone including singing, and abstract ideas such as listening to the room before you play. I came along to sit in the pit when he was playing Little Shop of Horrors. I was amazed at how quickly the musicians needed to swap between Eb clarinet, Bari sax, flute etc. I wanted to do this. So, I went on eBay and bought the cheapest flute I could find. A nickel Yamaha for $300. I taught myself where to put my fingers, watched videos from Just Another Flutist to learn how to blow, and taught myself Disney songs. I started having flute and sax lessons every second week, in addition to my weekly clarinet lessons.
I completed my VCE studies in clarinet, and ended up getting an A+ on my final exam. It was time to start applying for music schools. I learnt the piece Oblivion as my final Concert Band Performance for clarinet solo with band backing. My teacher showed me a recording of Oblivion by Ensemble Liason, a Melbourne based ensemble, including clarinettist David Griffiths who was the teacher at Monash University. My teacher mentioned that he studied off him briefly, and could get me in contact with him. I had a lesson at Dave’s house, and walked away feeling a bit overwhelmed. My abs were so sore the next day I could barely sit up, because he pushed me so hard with air support. He told me I was doing rubato wrong, and I felt like I had two teachers telling me different things. This is when my teacher told me about my music journey. Everyone has their own path. We learn at different speeds, we have been learning for different amount of time, and we have all had different struggles. But I would continue to learn more about myself during my University studies. I looked up to my teacher so much, and wanted to be just like him. So, I decided to study clarinet and teaching so I could also be a teacher, and went to study with David at Monash.
I was so excited to finally have some clarinet friends, as no one else in high school was serious about the clarinet, and by year 12 I was the only clarinetist in the Senior School. Unfortunately, during the first clarinet workshop, I found out I was the only clarinetist in my year level. I made friends with the clarinetists in 2nd and 3rd year, and was shocked when I was invited over to the 3rd years’ apartment to have tea! These musicians have become some of my best friends, and I look back on these years as some of my favourite. I practiced hard. During my first year I didn’t have a drivers licence, so I would get up early, and get home when it was dark. I would go to the practice room between every class I had. My nickname became ‘dark horse’ because I started uni with a nervous vibrato, no air support and terrible finger position, and fixed all of these issues by week 6. This year was tough on me financially. I had no licence, so could only work on weekends. I needed to upgrade my mouthpiece, and clarinet. I saved up as much as I possibly could, borrowed a couple of thousand dollars from my then boyfriend, and bought a Buffet R13 Prestige.
Second year of uni was extremely challenging. There were many times where I would have $6 in my account, an empty tank of petrol, and stranded at uni. It was at this point where I realised I needed to put money first for a bit. I started picking up more shifts at my retail job. This meant that I had less practice time, and had to say no to a lot of rehearsals and performance opportunities. I worked hard, and progressed a lot that year, and even travelled to Italy with the university for a chamber music unit. Toward the end of my degree, money wasn’t an issue anymore, and I found a better work and study balance. I had the opportunity to receive masterclasses from Sabine Meyer, Paul Meyer, and numerous Australian clarinetists. I have now just finished my Music and Education degree. You can find me freelancing in orchestras around Melbourne, teaching woodwind instruments to Primary School kids, and sharing my creations, thoughts and progress on social media! In the future, I am hoping to continue to teach the clarinet, as well as hopefully becoming a part of a service band.
Remember, we are all on our own journey, that has our ups and downs. Sometimes life comes first. Sometimes you don’t want to touch your instrument. It’s all part of your journey and makes you who you are. Would love to hear about your own journeys too!