A musical melting pot

Leonard Weiss (BMus '14)
16 Dec 2022

Growing up in Canberra, I knew so many people at school who immediately wanted to move interstate. I wasn't one of those people. In fact, I love Canberra, so studying at the Australian National University was a no-brainer to me.

Being a small city, there is a strong sense of community and I've found that a lot of people who work at ANU are committed to contributing to it. That's why I had the pleasure of taking lessons with Alice Giles, former Head of the Harp department at ANU; and that's how I knew there was a lot I could learn at the ANU School of Music.
Studying at ANU, I was immersed in such a supportive atmosphere. I remember composition classes, with all the composition students in the undergraduate cohort, and it was this curious kind of melting pot of people, personalities and ideas. Each week, we would chat about a different topic - whether that was a genre of music, or a particular composer - and people would get up and contribute to the discussion. It felt like an early 20th century bohemian kind of experience, where we were all sitting around as artists with all these thoughts and actions that we wanted to get out and tell people about. I think back on those times quite a lot.
This course was also how I met Calvin Bowman, the University organist and my composition teacher for the last 1½ years of my degree. Calvin and I just clicked. He is the sort of person who always comes back to fundamentals of music teaching and that's something I really wanted to strengthen. His whole musical language is grounded in the 'absolute' rules of the 1600s; I continue to carry many of these ideas with me in my music practice.
I've been lucky to maintain an ongoing connection with Calvin, even performing a concert together in Canberra a few years ago. It has been great to work with someone so talented, yet incredibly humble. Despite the fact he met me as a teacher, Calvin has always been open to sharing his experiences in the music world, their impacts, and learning opportunities. Now that I am a teacher too, I try to carry this through with my students.
The bar had been set high by teachers like Alice and Calvin, when I returned to ANU to teach. It's exciting when I see that I've made an impact on my students or that I'm really getting through to them. I get to see talented individuals grow both musically and academically, then go off on these amazing trajectories with their lives and careers. Some people that come to mind are Donica Tran and Lily Bryant. Both are students whom I taught and performed with when I conducted the Canberra Youth Orchestra; Donica plays the violin, Lily plays the flute. They have both gone on to further study and are now at the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne - in fact I had the pleasure of working alongside Donica a few weeks ago in New Zealand - and I'm sure they both are right on the cusp of some exciting career moves.
As creators of art, it is easy to blur the lines between who you are as an artist and who you are as a person. Giving students the support and skills they need to overcome these obstacles, and go off and do great things, is incredibly fulfilling. It's encouraging to know that everyone wants you to succeed and gives you the strength to keep working at what you love. A community that fosters this support, like ANU does, is something I will always be proud to be a part of.

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