Teacher Spotlight – Camilla Tafra

Camilla Tafra: Cello teacher, Chamber Music in Schools, Ensemble Conductor

Camilla grew up in Armidale on unceded Anaiwan land, where she began learning cello with Susan Metcalfe at the age of five. She holds a Bachelor of Music with Honours from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, where she studied modern cello with Markus Stocker and Molly Kadarauch respectively. In 2016, she moved to Toronto, Canada, to study baroque cello with Tafelmusik’s principal cellist Christina Mahler. Camilla is interested in alternative spaces and frameworks for classical music performance and education and has recently returned to her hometown where she hopes to explore these possibilities through independent performance projects and teaching.

Tell us about your musical background in Armidale

I grew up in a musical family, falling asleep to my dad practising classical guitar many nights and constantly surrounded by the gentle lilt of my mother’s singing around the house (and the supermarket, and anywhere, really). When I started school, dad asked me if I wanted to play an instrument and I ended up on cello because he knew Sue Metcalfe was a great teacher (and so she was!) I joined the AYSO in primary school and in later primary, the AYO. In early High School I started playing with ASO as well. I was in the first New England Sinfonia under the direction of Errol Russell, and I played in a string quartet with friends as well as a larger string ensemble (Highly Strung? I think that’s what we were called) in later High School. I was also involved with productions by the Musical Society, theatre productions around town, the Bach Festival, school ensembles and of course the Cello Choir… Basically I was all over the place and got a huge amount of experience playing in different contexts and expanding my musical fluency.

How did you become a music teacher?

I started teaching a little bit towards the end of High School, starting off a couple of beginners. I’ve taught cello in some capacity in every city I’ve lived in (except when I lived overseas for a year). I honestly feel I “became” a music teacher out of necessity (girl’s gotta eat!) but in terms of how I learned to teach, I take a huge amount from the way Sue taught me to play and, perhaps more importantly, how she taught me to practise.

What do you enjoy most about teaching music?

I enjoy re-living the discovery of music, of playing techniques and even of practise techniques. You don’t get that with every student and I don’t think you even get a clear acknowledgement, but I love seeing that little twinkle in students’ eyes when you show them a practise technique and it’s like you’ve shown them how to unlock the next level on a video game, or when you give them examples of phrasing and you see their mind opening to the infinite possibilities contained in one set of notes.

What’s the best part about teaching at NECOM?

The people! I always feel I’m greeted with enthusiasm in the NECOM office and there are so many helpful and incredibly talented and experienced people around to go to for advice or a laugh.

What would be your best piece of advice you could give your students?

Play for yourself. Over the years I have practised for my teacher or for an audition panel and this has often led to disappointment, stress, dissatisfaction and feeling inadequate. It’s not an easy thing to do, but if you can commit to playing the best that you can and constantly improving simply because you want your playing to sound a certain way, because you want your musical voice to sound strong, sweet and your own, because you want to serve the music as best you can and with your own style… whether you’re playing for your mum, your teacher, or a judge, jury and executioner (!) you will find satisfaction, meaning and an artistic drive that nobody else can take away from you.