This 2023 school year brought new opportunities to photograph more teens and young people in the Melbourne area. One organisation I thoroughly enjoyed working with was the Melbourne Youth Orchestra.
The MYO provides performance opportunities for over 580 young musicians in the greater Melbourne area across various ensembles, ages, and ability levels. Musicians range from 8 years old to teens to near professionals. Meeting on weekends for rehearsals, each MYO ensemble performs at least three concerts a year to showcase the pieces they have been working on. I had the privilege of photographing seven different ensembles for their winter concert series in August.
After the concerts, I spoke with Brett Kelly, MYO music director. Here he shares his music journey and thoughts on the importance of music education in the life of our young people.
Hi Brett, thank you for sharing with me your perspective on the Melbourne Youth Orchestra as the music director. How long have you been in this role as music director of the MYO? I conducted a number of individual projects with MYO in earlier years but officially became Music Director in July, 2018.
What are your primary responsibilities in this role? My primary role is as the Conductor of the Flagship Melbourne Youth Orchestra, but I also contribute across all artistic areas of the entire organisation. This includes the other orchestras, ensembles, bands and special programs like summer and winter schools.
Tell me a little bit about your music background like what instrument do you play and how old were you when you started that journey. I began playing trombone in a Newcastle brass band when I was just 12 years old. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful musician as my bandmaster, teacher and mentor.
I then did a 4-year high school music teaching diploma, became principal trombonist of the Australian Youth Orchestra, the Orchestra of Opera Australia at the Sydney Opera House, and principal trombonist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 1981 until 2019.
I started conducting in 1989 and since then have conducted all the orchestras in Australia and New Zealand and more than one hundred movie soundtracks.
The MYO has been around for several decades. Could you give me a brief history of the MYO as an organisation, and how it has evolved through time? The Melbourne Youth Orchestra was founded in 1966 and has had a central and growing presence in the musical life of Melbourne and Australia. Hundreds of professional musicians had their careers nurtured through the invaluable education and experience they gained in MYOs.
What is the mission and vision of the MYO as an organisation? MYOs program is designed to instil a lifelong love of music because we know that only a love of music motivates lifelong learning and participation. No young learner should ever be excluded based on disadvantage and our diverse learning community brings together students from all backgrounds and walks of life.
On any given week, how many musicians are practicing in an MYO ensemble and across how many different ensembles? Around 500 young musicians take part in the various ensembles of MYOs each week and MYO’s January summer school this year had 845 participants.
Share with me your thoughts on the differences, maybe pros and cons, of performing in an ensemble versus being a soloist. Playing in an ensemble, whether large or small, requires teamwork, flexibility, sensitivity and a very focused awareness. You need to play in an almost symbiotic way with your colleagues and the conductor.
I met many of the conductors the weekend that I photographed the concerts in August. They all brought with them their own unique style and personality, yet there was some unifying characteristic across all of them. Share with me what makes a great conductor for the MYO.
Conductors working with young people from 8-year-olds right through to the almost professional young musicians of the Flagship orchestra need to be highly attuned to the specific needs of their group’s developmental stage. Their approach needs to be very flexible, sensitive, resourceful, and dynamic. Often the conductor will need to experiment with a number of different methods before hitting the target. The conductors also need to make participation fun while also building social connections within their ensembles.
And finally, what would you want to say to parents who are considering the MYO for their child, but are concerned about the time or travel commitment or costs? Being involved in the MYO is a significant commitment but the rewards are multifaceted and really quite holistic. Being part of an orchestra or ensemble requires collective effort in working towards a performance outcome – this stretches each young person to be the very best version of themselves. I can’t imagine a better use of a young person’s time.
OK, this is the rapid fire round. What is your favorite instrument in the orchestra? The French horn – the range of colours and flexibility the horn can encompass is just magical – not to mention the utterly epic parts composers often give them.
Who is your favorite composer of all time? An impossible choice, but if I must it would be Mahler.
What is your favorite genre of music? This I definitely cannot decide – my favourite genre is almost everything – but I definitely couldn’t survive without symphonies.
What is the best place in Melbourne to listen to live music? Depends on the style, but the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall of the Recital Centre is very special.
Thank you for your time, Brett! I wish the MYO great success in the upcoming summer camp season and preparing for the new 2024 school year.