Then and now: The Elder Conservatorium
Past and present, the Elder Con continues to provide the perfect environment for young musicians to find their groove.
The Elder Conservatorium of Music is one of Australia’s oldest and most distinguished tertiary music schools.
Named in honour of its benefactor, Sir Thomas Elder, and established in 1898, the Conservatorium has played a leading role in Australia’s musical landscape.
Among Elder Conservatorium alumni are Natalie Williams, who graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor or Music (Honours) majoring in composition, and Anna Freer, who graduated last year with a Bachelor of Music (Honours) majoring in classical performance.
Since graduating, Natalie has pursued an academic career which has taken her across the globe.
Her music has been performed by orchestras and ensembles throughout the world.
Anna was loaned a 200 year-old Gagliano violin to play during her time at Elder. The violin was once played by a child prodigy who attended the Conservatorium. The instrument was then donated back to the Conservatorium many years later by her grandson.
Still fresh from graduation, Anna is now busy teaching violin and singing with the Adelaide Chamber Singers, and is working towards the Masters Program in Violin Performance in Zurich. She hopes to one day become the concertmaster of an orchestra.
Performing in the orchestras and ensembles was always exciting. One particular performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony in Elder Hall, as a viola player with the orchestra, was life-changing.Natalie Williams
We take a look at their time studying at the Elder Conservatorium.
What are your favourite memories from your time at Elder?
Natalie: Performing in the orchestras and ensembles was always exciting. One particular performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony in Elder Hall, as a viola player with the orchestra, was life-changing – the feeling of being completely swept up by the force and power of the musical sounds around me. I also remember listening, for many hours, to the vinyl records in the then basement of the music library. In the days before YouTube, this was how I learnt the musical repertoire.
Anna: The incredible sense of community that comes from a group of people trying to create art through discipline – that is a really special thing that brings a lot of memories with it. There’s also a lot of silliness that comes with being cooped up in a practice room for six hours a day, then heading out to the common area to interact with other people who have also spent six hours alone in a practice room that day.
How many hours a day or week would you spend composing/playing?
Natalie: I composed anywhere between 10-20 hours per week. This would sometimes be across a six to eight hour period, or broken into smaller sessions each day.
Anna: I would say that a ‘good’ day involved maybe four to seven hours of concentrated and focused practice. There were points mostly in my first and second years where I got into waking up ridiculously early and coming into the Elder building to do my scales in the dark, which was pretty fun and a good thing for my technique and mental discipline!
What is your favourite thing about performing?
Natalie: Engaging with an audience. Performing is an exhilarating experience, translating musical sounds and ideas in real time along with other players. The experience in itself is inspiring and uplifting, but to reach an audience emotionally is the biggest reward.
Anna: When the preparation is done and the ‘work’, the ‘job’ side of it recedes into the background – then performing really becomes about sharing, about having something to say, a story to tell in the most beautiful way humanity knows how.
Performing really becomes about sharing, about having something to say, a story to tell in the most beautiful way humanity knows how.Anna Freer
How has the Elder Conservatorium shaped your music career?
Natalie: The Elder Conservatorium provided a solid foundation on which to build a musical career. The undergraduate training and professional opportunities within Adelaide combined to provide my first steps into a larger musical world. This training and preparation enabled me to enter the field with valuable professional experience.
Anna: Being at the Elder Conservatorium and having it essentially function as a second home for the last five years has solidified my intention of pursuing music professionally. It provided me with opportunities as a soloist and in ensemble situations that would potentially not have arisen had I studied at a larger institution. I was also lucky enough to have two teachers throughout my time at Elder that truly cared not only about my progression, but about me as a person. The Elder Conservatorium gave me the opportunity and environment to develop individually, to learn to work on my own, and to believe in the work that I do.
Biggest career highlights?
Natalie: A symphony that I composed for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in 2014, celebrating the life of Sir Donald Bradman AC.
Anna: Leading the Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra and playing big concertmaster solos are experiences like no other – you are surrounded by so much support from all your colleagues in the orchestra.
Help students access important musical works from across the world: alumni.adelaide.edu.au/bslappeal
Story by Renee Capps
Photos of Anna Freer by Meaghan Coles
Photo of Natalie Williams by Megagraphics Photography