Chamber music NZ
For 45 years, young musicians have been competing in the annual New Zealand Community Trust Chamber Music Contest. The event is organised by Chamber Music New Zealand (CMNZ), an organisation that promotes professional chamber music in the country alongside its educational work. Chris Elcombe finds out about their regional coaching programme, sponsored by ABRSM, which provides tuition for selected groups in the run-up to the contest. Richard Hardie knows the contest inside out, having been involved as a participant and a coach before his current role as adjudicator. ‘In the main cities, there are all sorts of opportunities to hear world-class musicians, and much bigger schools that have really well formed music programmes,’ he explains. ‘But out in the regional centres, where you have a lot of dedicated teachers, there isn’t the opportunity to experience the same level of professional music. The coaching came about to complement what the teachers in these areas are doing, and it’s as much for the teachers to get inspiration as it is for the kids themselves.’ This is a sentiment echoed by Euan Murdoch, Chief Executive of CMNZ: ‘The vision [of the programme] is about increasing the skills and confidence of the local teachers and coaches. This funding has allowed us to send fabulous ensemble coaches out to work with selected groups all over New Zealand.’ Coaching is optional for participants, including those taking part in the composition strand of the contest. CMNZ always has to balance requests against available funds, but Richard believes the scheme has an increasingly wide impact: ‘Last year we got to 30 groups and this year we've got to 45. But it's actually bigger than that because every kid playing music in a school has the opportunity to sit in on a masterclass, so it's not just about the one-onone coaching, but also about the kids seeing their peers performing and hearing feedback.’ CMNZ ties into this its promotion of the professional chamber music scene, using affiliated groups such as the NZTrio, while they’re on the road, to coach in parts of the country that others of their peers might not reach, including a recent session in Invercargill, in the deep south of New Zealand. ‘For the kids, you’ve got people who are working with you and then going off and playing themselves in a professional concert that night,’ says Richard. ‘So part of what we do is encourage the kids to come along and hear the concert, and hear what’s been talked about put in action.’ The competition begins with a series of district contests in June, with the winners short-listed for selection for the national semi-finals and final in July. Top-placed in Nelson, a small district in the north of South Island, was Trio Dohnanyi, who benefited from a coaching session with a clarinettist from the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. ‘We got an hour of coaching, which was really helpful ensemble-wise,’ explains 17-year-old cellist Holly Dunn. ‘It’s always fantastic to have outside input, from someone that doesn’t know us all personally. ‘We were really, really pleased to win because we had put so much work into it and it’s the last year that we can do it with all three of us,’ she adds. She’s been competing every year since Year 9 (age 13), an example of how the competition is at the heart of many pupils’ musical development. ‘I remember as a student going through the whole programme in the 80s,’ Richard recalls. ‘It’s one of those things that is a benchmark for where you are as a performer. And it’s not about the contest, it’s about meeting up with kids from other schools and playing your heart out, and seeing what it takes to be on the stage and performing at your best. It fosters and sustains an interest for kids learning classical instruments – that’s clearly evident and we can chart that over a period of time.’ The best indicator of this is the ex-participants now affiliated to CMNZ in a professional capacity. ‘We’ve commissioned a piece for one of our main concert seasons, from someone who won the composition part of the contest back in about 2001,’ Richard says. ‘We’ve got professional musicians who participated in the competitions as kids coming back to adjudicate. So it feeds itself, and there’s a perception that it’s an established part of your development as a young musician, that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, you’ve gone out there and done it.’ And with musical nutrients feeding back in from the professionals at the top, whether as coaches or adjudicators, the grass roots are flourishing, with the number of groups participating in this year’s competition growing to 560. ‘Which, for a country the size of New Zealand,’ Richard explains, ‘is a lot of kids.’
This article was originally featured in the September 2010 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.