Student Q & Arts - Abi Lee

Kaylah Joelle Baker

Get to know a student’s experience of studying at The University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Music. Abi Lee is currently in her second year of the Bachelor of Music (Performance), specialising in Jazz and Improvisation, at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.

What attracted you to your study?

A: I’m originally from Auckland, New Zealand and I heard Andrea Keller’s [Lecturer in Music for Jazz and Improvisation – Piano] music at a jazz workshop I did in Auckland, and I fell in love and found out she was teaching here, and that attracted me here. And, I have a love for Australian jazz.

Describe a typical day of study …

A: I come in five days a week and the course is structured with the balance of theory, practical and general musicianship skills. We have two ensembles for the practical and that’s where you learn how to work with the other musicians and actually create music, and then you learn to incorporate the theory into the practical, so everything is related, and they all have the same goal of helping us become a great musician.

What has been your favourite experience?

A: Making connections with the fellow musicians, who come from all over the Melbourne jazz scene. I go to their gigs and the next morning I see them in my class which is awesome, and it’s really nice to have their perspectives on the tunes they’re playing or jazz in general.

What inspires your creative experience and what are the challenges?

A: It’s kind of cliche but you are just in a different world when listening to music. And there is something inside of me that goes, ‘I really want to do this, and nothing can stop me’. Challenges could be that you have to put everything into this course, and it can get a little much in terms of balancing out your personal life. Music also used to be my hobby and now it’s my career, so that kind of throws me off sometimes because I am stressing about this so much but I am supposed to be liking it.

How have you collaborated with other students and what’s campus community like?

A: The whole community is very involved and there is always a cross-interaction with the different cohorts, as well as the teachers. In this class called “improvisation materials” you get to explore the instrument and you can discover other people’s thoughts musically and gain perspective from their ideas and idioms on music.

What advice would you give to someone considering your degree?

A: I had so many concerns before I came here, about being in a different country and throwing myself into this course, but I have no regrets. So, if you have a slight idea of wanting to come here and study music or anything else in the arts, you have to do it, otherwise that little voice inside of you will say, ‘I should have done it’.

How do you feel connected to your industry through your degree?

A: I think 80 to 90 per cent of the whole Jazz and Improvisation faculty is in the jazz scene. Through this course you are kind of in it but it’s a matter of how you involve yourself in it. You just need to find the right person to talk to and say you’re keen. University is all about saying you are keen, so be on time, be professional, and that’s when the teachers will say you can do it … and that’s how you get a gig, and then once you put on a gig, your name is in people’s hands.

What are your goals for the coming years?

A: I am still growing, and I want to keep working on really shaping myself into the version that I want to be. And just playing piano with all different people and playing my original music and developing my sound.

What does a creative career look like?

A: Being a diverse player. Some people may disagree with me, but I think being a diverse player is a way to branch out a bit more, because if the music you are creating is very niche, then it is going to limit your creative practice. Do different styles … you can do jazz, funk, blues, or go into the pits and do musicals.

To celebrate International Jazz Day (April 30) you’ll be performing with your peers at a special event on April 28. Tell us about the rehearsal process and what excites you most about performing as part of Jazz Day?

A: It’s very exciting. We are playing with Sandy Evans from Sydney, so we are rehearsing her tunes and building up to that event we are working really hard to get everything great for Sandy. Having this opportunity is nerve-racking but also fun and it pushes you to practise and explore sounds more, because her music is very unique. •


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