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I have recently come back from directing the Young Composer School at Gondwana Voices National Choral School, a role that I have relished as it combined the paradox of creativity with the responsibility of quality choral education.
Creatives who are choral composers are always asked to straddle the line between imaginative possibility and what choirs are able to do for them. Write a work that is too specialised, and only the very best choirs with well-developed technical ability can perform them. Write a work that is too juvenile and simple, and choirs will find it unsatisfying on both counts. Even more than for instrumental writing, choral composition requires the composer to write as both a creative and an educator.
Write a piece that resonates with choristers of a certain age-bracket and ability, enhances their vocal development, and expands their performance confidence + sound, and you will have a sustainable and well-loved piece of repertoire which has the power to affect choristers long after the final performance of the piece.
And this is where I find complete joy; trying to find that sweet spot. I write like an educator, always looking for words that will stick, and what feels good on the voice, and how to create a choral framework whereby a developing choir will feel and sound good performing my pieces. I also seek to extend and develop quality vocal technique but in the “Mary-Poppins-spoon-full-of-sugar” kind of way, through embedding choral technique in a way that it is unnoticed until you have reaped the rewards of it through rehearsing and performing an engaging piece of music.
And this is what I have spent that last week mentoring and teaching to the young composers at Gondwana NCS.
I had an incredibly nostalgic realisation during the choral school; that when I was 25 years old, someone took a chance on me as a young composer. That someone was the artistic director of Sydney Children’s Choir, Lyn Williams, who saw something worth developing in my writing and in my love of choral education. Now, at age 37, I realise that my time for looking for mentors is being overlapped by actually doing the mentoring myself. Rather than cold-calling for mentorship, I am now cold-calling to mentor. When I see that spark of determination, uniqueness of voice, a love of the voice, dedication to developing as a composer, resiliency, and a talent that resonates with my own creative values, it is my job and privilege to offer to nurture that talent.
And so I did this. There were two stand-out composers in my small group of 7, and I wrote emails acknowledging the manner with which they embraced the composing school, their quality of work, and their ability to collaborate in a healthy and productive way whilst still maintaining their creative voice.
It’s now my responsibility to look for places where I can shine the torch on the brilliant and innovative young talent coming through. And what an honour to look at things so differently, whilst still having the chance to work as a creative myself.
It feels enlightening to be holding the torch and illuminating the journey from the other side!
Heart: “I want to bawl my eyes out, these guys are killing me today. WOW, WOW, WOW…!”
Head: “Don’t you eff-ing dare. You don’t have time to lose it. You keep it together and fill in those damn assessment rubrics!”
Year 12 Music Class of 2018. I am so proud of you. 🙌
T H A N K Y O U. 😊
Moderation done + dusted! 😎
A chance catch-up with a very special Brighton old scholar who is making waves of the best sort here in New York. Hilarious that Australians can never get their act together to catch up when they live in the same city, but can do it on the other side of the world.
Such a joy to hear of all your successes + adventures, Anthony Zatorski!
Yes, I’m a Year 6-12 Specialist Classroom Music teacher, but being in a secondary school comes with hilarious and awesome benefits. Like being asked to RIDE A STUDENT-BUILT HOVERCRAFT!
This was the coolest thing ever. We had Year 8 Science Week and a KID BUILT A HOVERCRAFT, from a leaf-blower, piece of wood, and a lightweight plastic chair.
WHAT. A. CHAMP.
We had one very germy Miss Year 12 who came in especially to do her Solo Performance assessment today before going home to die quietly.
As she was getting ready, a one Sir Year 12 took a can of Glen20 from the side pocket of his backpack, (where the water bottle normally goes! ), and proceeded to spray a protective circle around himself and the healthy members of the class.
“I am NOT getting sick this year. I REFUSE to get sick this year!”
Poor Miss Year 12 is now feeling FABULOUSLY LOVED, and choking back incredulous laughter in between the coughing and spluttering.
And then he holds up the Glen20 and very seriously asks: “Ms Kwok, do you want a protective barrier as well?”
“Sure, why not?! Bring it on! Give me the Glen20 treatment!”
Next-level hypochondriac or smart-kiddie?! You decide.
My goodness, this unbelievably articulate card from a Sir Year 10 music renegade, with the bit that totally affects me:
“You are quirky but serious, strong but fair, and truthful yet compassionate and understanding. You have been a rock for me over the last semester particularly, and so supportive and nurturing. You are truly one of a kind. Also, you pull off outfits no one else could!”
What Year 10 sir writes like that, so authentically + articulately?!
I thanked him last night at Lessons + Carols for his beautifully written words and he said, “Well, they’re FAR more articulate on the page!” And then I remembered that he has a stutter. I’ve taught him for 3 years. He just has such good stuff to say that I don’t notice it until I think about it. Amazing.
Email from Sir Year 12 Composing + Arranging kiddie with the final version of his Major Work attached:
“Dear Ms Kwokkie,
Here’s my left lung to go with the kidney I gave you this week.
Enjoy, because I’m literally dying a painful death right now.
Sir Year 12.”
This is the card I received on the last day of school. My heart overflowed.
And the words inside:
And my last day of school?
One of those unexpected, extraordinary days made all the more present by sheer exhaustion…! My amazing Year 11 crew rallying to get a fellow student to perform when I had nothing left, an old Brighton parent out-of-the-blue giving me the most warm + generous thanks that left me speechless with wonder + gratitude, the response from the Friends of Pulteney presentation last night, farewells of dear colleagues + students, and then this card that appeared on my desk from one of my Year 12s with a bag of Haighs chocolate frogs.
Tears + tears + tears, from exhaustion + joy + wonder.
Happy holidays everyone! We’ve made it! 🌟
In Week 6 this term, I received this gorgeous thank you gift from one of my Year 12s. She had come into school especially with her Dad (carrier of gifts), to personally thank each of her teachers + hand on the present she’d chosen for each of us.
I was teaching Year 7s at the time, but they were in one of their rare moments of quiet, so I gestured for Miss Year 12 to come in.
She proudly presented me with her pot plant and a beautifully written card.
Me: “You got me a PLANT?! It’s beautiful, thank you! But now that means I have to keep it alive!”
Miss Year 12: “It’s okay, Ms Kwok. I have faith in you!”
Me: “No, you don’t understand…I’ve killed a cactus before. “Cactus Heaven” exists because of me. Its entire population is due entirely to my outstanding plant-nurturing skills!”
Miss Year 12: “Well, I know that you’ll be able to do it, just like you had complete faith in me from the moment you picked me up as a Year 12. Thank you so much for all the time you’ve put into me. I seriously wouldn’t have survived without you, and I’ve gotten so much better because of all your advice + support.”
And she gave me a huge hug.
But all of that wasn’t the most beautiful part of the process; it was the reaction of my Year 7s…they broke out into spontaneous applause.
And as I waved Miss Year 12 good bye, Miss Year 7 came up to me and said:
“That was the best thing ever. I’m so glad I got to see that!”
I turned to her and asked her with warmth + surprise: “How come?”
Miss Year 7: “Because it makes me believe that I can do Year 12 Music, and that I will be loved for exactly all my talents, and that even if they’re not perfect, I’ll still get to improve + be the best I can be.”
And that was my magic moment inside a magic moment.