Dear New England community
I wish to say a heartfelt thank you to all those who welcomed a Queenslander into the region just over two years ago. With my wife Janine having accepted a position in a large Brisbane-based company in March, I’m now having to cut short my time as CEO of NECOM as Janine currently deals with a number of health concerns all surfacing at the same time. The New England Conservatorium of Music is truly a leader in Australian music education, and I’m glad that one of the many people who elevated NECOM to that status is now able to return in a caretaker capacity, in the form of the previous Director, Susanne James. My last day of official CEO duties will be Wednesday 17th July, during which time Susanne will resume the helm of this outstanding organisation.
Thank you to those who supported my visions for increasing community engagement. I grew up in a poor home in rural Queensland, and music was my emotional and creative outlet from the age of 5. I know first-hand the transformative way that music can shape lives and personalities, and it was my pledge from my first week in Armidale to find different ways of inviting New England residents to glimpse the many facets in this “jewel” of NSW. To that end, I will take with me fond memories of presenting silent Charlie Chaplin films in the NECOM Auditorium and the Armidale Mall, while the “Night Tours” of the Old Teachers’ College were more popular than any of us had anticipated. I very much enjoyed conducting both the Armidale Symphony Orchestra and the Armidale Youth Orchestra in 2018, the Ben Venue PS Orchestra in 2019, and teaching the Armidale City Public School brass students over the past two years.
Some of the greatest personal rewards came from playing piano for the clients of the Jacaranda Club and the Autumn Lodge Dementia Units, and also going up to the Newling Kindy twice a week to teach the young students educational songs. Similarly, entering floats in the annual Autumn Festival allowed a wider demographic to glimpse a snapshot of who we are and what we are about. Creating a huge cardboard piano in 2018 (the year we took out Champion Float) was timed to help introduce our new Piano program, and I’m glad that I leave Armidale in three weeks with this new initiative finally humming along. So too, the new Percussion program has afforded students an avenue for learning percussion and playing together in small ensembles, and I trust that this then pays off when those same students go back to their own school ensembles as confident, well-rounded percussionists.
It was a pleasure to help form a Dixieland Band which played to a huge audience at the 2019 Tamworth Country Music Festival; I look forward to hearing of this band continuing to entertain Armidale residents in the future. This region is blessed with a large number (and variety) of musical ensembles, from community string groups like ‘Con Brio’ to vocal ensembles, symphony orchestras and the like.
Finally, it was the students of Ben Lomond Public School who delivered me one of those moments of epiphany that happen only a few times in your professional career. Answering the call from my friends at ABC North West in Tamworth, I travelled up to Ben Lomond last year to sing some rock’n’roll songs with my son Toby, as part of a “giving back to the community” event for the folk who do it tough in this small rural town. Ben Lomond PS is a small school of only 16 students, and when I saw how they all sang and danced and laughed along with the performers that afternoon, I remembered my own childhood and the opportunities that music gave to me. A pledge was made that day to the school Principal, Kirsten Reim, that NECOM would establish a band program for the nine students old enough to begin wind and brass lessons. One year later, the school has their own set of high-quality instruments (thanks to the wonderful donations from “Gift of Music” and Rural Aid), and lessons have commenced, with financial support from the Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums.
NECOM has so many strings to its proverbial bow, with many of them leading the state in what they deliver and the degree of success to which they do so. I refer here to the wonderful student choral programs, the NECOM string ensembles, the outstanding studio teaching happening daily, and the numerous workshops and masterclasses presented almost every month. The biennial “New England Sings!” continues to cement its reputation as one of Australia’s most important Choral Festivals, and after 10 years the Chamber Music in Schools program led by Deidre Rickards continues to deliver professional chamber music to small schools, a program which must surely have no equal anywhere in New South Wales.
The NECOM Board Directors have taught me much about management and operations, and I thank them for being patient with me as I pitched a number of new initiatives over the past two years. The NECOM Admin team has been simply wonderful to work with; I pay tribute here to Corinne, Kate, Sophie and Nicky. So too, the NECOM teaching staff have been very supportive of me in my role as CEO and I am in awe of their dedication and commitment to transforming our young musicians into emerging artists.
Thank you for whatever part you played in strengthening and colouring the musical tapestry of New England. It’s quite fitting, I think, to leave you with the words of Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson who, in his poem Ambition & Art, says –
And the world’s concerns with its rights and wrongs
Shall seem but small things —
Poet or painter, a singer of songs,
Thine art is all things.
So the painter fashions a picture strong
That fadeth never,
And the singer singeth a wond’rous song
That lives for ever.