What draws a person to music, to become a professional musician, to play in public and to engage audiences? What path determines a person’s particular specialisation in music, whether teaching, composing, playing, and what instrument? Meeting ANAM alumni is a wonderful way to delve into young musicians’ lives and be enlightened on these mysteries.
Stephanie Dixon (oboe 2016), who prefers to be known as Steph, grew up in Brisbane in a non-musical family, but with very supportive parents. At school she played the piano and violin before settling on the oboe for its distinctive, earthy sound. The oboe, a double-reed woodwind, has a history of evolution from the ancient shawn and the 17th century hautbois. It holds a strong and essential place in the classical repertoire, less so for jazz, blues, folk and rock. It seems a perfect instrument for Steph’s ambitions and personality.
She studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music after considering other study possibilities, modern history, politics and law. It is easy to imagine how Steph would have made a success of many different careers had she not followed her dream of a profession in music. While she found the first year of music study a struggle she has achieved her goal of becoming a professional oboist. Talking about the rigours of life as a musician covering both teaching and performance, it is only the essential reed-making that she dislikes!
She greatly treasured the orchestral and chamber music projects during her time at ANAM. In particular, during her final year, she received valuable lessons and coaching from then newly-appointed Music Director, oboist Nick Deutsch. An earlier inspirational teacher was Jeffrey Crellin, principal oboist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and ANAM faculty member. Already in her professional career, Steph has secured impressive engagements with Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Sinfonia, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and also appearances at Brisbane’s Baroque Festival and Cats musical run.
While she embraces all the moments of her professional progress, a standout for Steph was a season in Les Misérables in 2014. This music theatre engagement seems a perfect example of her resourcefulness and initiative, and her ability to seize opportunities. New to ANAM, she was able to negotiate with faculty staff to perform in the Les Misérables orchestra for five months with eight shows a week. Nightly repetition of performance was not a problem for her. Another highlight was the 2016 Tristan und Isolde concert performance with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and singers Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton. These dramatically different genres of music were memorable for the voices and colourings of the music. Apart from a passion for musicals, she especially loves the music of Brahms, in particular the Fourth Symphony, and Mahler.
Every music performance has potential for vulnerable and nerve-wracking [read scary] moments. Steph’s time with Mahler Chamber Orchestra, as a scholarship recipient, playing 2nd oboe in concerts in Essen, Dortmund and Köln, provided such examples but the nervous moments ultimately provided the benefits of playing alongside some of the world’s leading musicians.
Steph’s three-year ANAM experience provided the essential path to complete the journey from her studies to professional musician through the many performance opportunities given by faculty and guests. In addition, the collegiate environment nurtured friendships and networks that will undoubtedly support and sustain her during her professional career.
Steph has been fortunate to have had time overseas early in her career. The demands of travel have enabled her to become better organised and self disciplined, especially meeting the challenge of finding suitable rehearsal space.
Away from her music, Steph has a disciplined life balance that seems perfect for her and her instrument – running, including currently training for the Gold Coast marathon in early July 2018, yoga, meditation and reading. She prefers not to listen to much music. The active running and yoga provide perfect body maintenance for a woodwind player – core strength, respiratory and cardiovascular benefits.
Steph has various music projects in her busy schedule that include engagements with Orchestra Victoria and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and being co-director, with fellow alumnus Justin Beere (clarinet 2014), of the newly-formed ensemble the Melbourne Chamber Players.
What does Steph have to advise for ANAM musicians and indeed any musician studying and on the cusp of a professional career? “Do as much as you can!” and “Seize all opportunities that are presented.” are her enthusiastically succinct replies, referring to the rich variety of programs offered at ANAM. She also stresses the importance of looking ahead during the final ANAM year to life beyond, and listening to others.
A naturally engaging conversationalist, Steph mentions other aspects of music that interest her – composing, arranging and improvising. She recalls especially the 2015 ANAM residency of David Dolin, master of classical improvisation. Through his teaching and guidance she was able to unlock in her musicianship a previously undiscovered freedom. An important learning for Steph from this residency (as from her later time with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra) was to recognise and embrace the fear of performance and use it to explore, experience and understand.
Meeting Steph, it is easy to understand why she was awarded the 2016 ANAM Board of Director’s prize, reward for her three richly-experienced years at ANAM. She is a person who takes full responsibility for her destiny and self-fulfilment, making the most of any and every opportunity and ensuring she is positive and happy in whatever she is doing. This is a wonderful approach to life from a gifted, engaging and balanced person, and will ensure that her fortunate audiences are stimulated and moved.
Photo courtesy of Cameron Jamieson