Meet Xiaole Xhan: Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

Meet Xiaole Xhan: Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

Get to know a student’s experience studying at The University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Music. Xiaole Xhan is studying a Bachelor of Music (Honours) at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.

What attracted you to your study?

Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s (MCM) world-class faculty and facilities as well as its location at the centre of the bustling arts scene of Melbourne. I was also extremely encouraged by my performance audition results and scholarship offer. It was really thrilling to be invited to be a part of a community of top musicians. I moved to Melbourne from Auckland for university, so it was quite a big decision to study at the Melbourne Conservatorium! But I feel I’ve found a sense of home both as an artist and as a person through my studies at the MCM. I remember walking across Princes Bridge in my first year and seeing the Arts Centre spire and lights of the city reflecting on the water and feeling extremely excited that I was a part of the city now too.

Describe a typical day or week?

I’m currently in my Honours year of specialising in composition. Beyond my academic subjects, I’ve also had a lot of fun getting involved in extra-curricular projects with my peers or through IgniteLab, the professional development programme at VCA and MCM led by Susan Eldridge. A typical week involves having a composition lesson with my teacher Miriama Young and then attending composition seminars with all composition students across all stages of our degrees. I also have a passion for research, so I am writing an Honours thesis this year through the thesis/dissertation elective.

What’s been your favourite experience?

Collaborating with other students! My most recent musical project Comma Means Breathe was the result of eight months of collaboration with four student composers, four world premieres, eight student performers, a guest choir, and excerpts from 10 hours of student interview recordings that snapshot the joys, struggles, hopes and fears of student life. The first half of the concert involved a collection of student-composed chamber works while the second half of the concert was a premiere of a five movement co-composed work for piano, percussion, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, two singers and electronics titled “comma means breathe” which excerpted and responded to recordings of student interviews. It was thrilling seeing our work culminate in a final, incredibly successful concert. •

What inspires and challenges you?

I am a writer as well as a composer, so I’m interested in collisions between words and music. I work closely with text in my compositions – last year, I wrote a musical setting of my prose-poem Cambrian, which was published in Going Down Swinging for percussionist, water amplified by hydrophone, and electronics. Another composition Think An Empty Room, Moonly With Phoneglow for laptop, pianist and offstage singer shares the title of an essay I wrote which won the 2023 Kill Your Darlings Non-Fiction Prize. As a queer, chronically ill Chinese-New Zealand artist, I’m also interested in socially engaged work that tackles themes of culture, heritage, racism and queerness.

What advice would you give?

Being a student isn’t the only way to become an artist, so it’s worth thinking about whether university is right for you, your practice, and where you are in life. For me, I think the course is extremely helpful in helping me find the artists who inspire me, understand my work, and who I want to collaborate with in projects beyond uni. I’m extremely grateful for the people I’ve met through my degree, as well as the large number of opportunities that the MCM provides. Ultimately, being a student in fine arts means that the grades don’t matter as much as the connections you make and the things you create. So, my biggest bit of advice is if you have an idea for something really cool, just do it! Don’t wait until you’ve graduated or become a “real composer” – find others around you who also want to create something cool and go for it! Uni is probably the best environment for you to try out musical projects with the resources and connections you have available to you.

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