‘We play music, music doesn’t play us’: a message to future musicians

With almost 50 years worth of experience and involvement in art-music, Paul Grabowsky AO is one of the most significant musicians in the Australian musicscape. When he is not playing the piano, conducting, or producing music, he is a professor at Monash University preparing the next generation of talented musicians to contribute towards the everchanging realm of Australian music.

Back in 1980, Grabowsky spent five years of his life expanding his musical knowledge outside of Australia in Europe and the States. “What I gained from being overseas for a long time was starting to see Australia from a different angle, and starting to appreciate what it was about that place, which could be an opportunity for me, not a hindrance,” he reflected.

Being able to perceive Australian music differently can bring out a new realisation of what kind of substantial future it can hold. More light is now being pointed towards the value of studying music, and the opportunity to rejuvenate the next generation of Australian music with bright new talents.

Grabowsky established the Monash Art Ensemble otherwise known as the MAE in 2012, which showcases selected student-musicians from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance. “The whole idea of the MAE was to create a situation in which students could play shoulder to shoulder with professional musicians,” Grabowsky said. “Which embraces the twin ideas of improvisation, and notation, so bringing those worlds together.”

When asked about his breakthrough as a starting musician, Grabowsky shared that entering the comedy circuit was a memorable stepping stone in his career. Working with comedians helped Grabowsky develop a good sense of “being in the moment”, and taught him how to think and respond swiftly with music. Grabowsky said these are essential skills for an improviser.

Although there is no one right pathway to make it into the music industry, novice musicians are often faced with a recurring obstacle: the fear of failure. As much as professionals experience roadblocks in their career, young musicians are susceptible to an early defeat.

“The mistakes and the inability to do something, it’s all part of the journey. What we have to really learn as musicians is how to work with those things, not against them. We play music, music doesn’t play us.”

With digitisation, the music industry is constantly changing. Publishing and distributing music is now different from what it used to be. “There’s a lot more indie activity, and musicians having more control over their own intellectual property…the music that you make is yours.” Artists are now propelled with a much bigger audience from the nature of music being more accessible to the public.

This development in the industry is also contributing to the shift of what Australian music is. Diversity is now reflected through the music we make, and the people who make them – as it should.

“The idea of being Australian is constantly changing…and that’s a very good thing as far as improvised music goes, because in a sense, we are improvising what it is to be Australian.”

With existing researchers and data, it is enough to be aware that music is good for people, and an important contributor for a healthy society. Fortunately, studying music is a great start for rising musicians, it allows students to meet like minded people at their own age with similar goals to contribute to society. Being part of a community is a great opportunity for new artists to explore the capability of music in building thriving communities.

The mission to produce the future line-up of Australia’s musicians is an ongoing project. There are spots to fill, and communities to be represented in the hopes that soon, Australia can introduce their next grand ensemble of inspiring young musicians.

Book your spot to see the Monash Art Ensemble here.


Written by Gabriela Fannia.