Hello, my name is Marcus Michelsen, I’m 15 years old and I’ve been playing the violin since I was five. I’ve been playing in several of the SYO ensembles on and off since 2011, and currently I’m playing in The Sydney Youth Orchestra.
I’m fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work with Jay Laga’aia on the Jay’s Classic Christmas project, performing in the Sydney Opera House. The show is designed to give kids aged 2-10 years old the opportunity to experience, firsthand, several typical classical instruments such as cello, violin, trumpet, clarinet, flute and percussion. Performing with Jay has been completely different to anything I have done before. Jay has an amazing skill for capturing the attention of young kids. During our rehearsals and performances, he has taught me so many valuable lessons that I’ll be able to use in my future performances.
Here are a just couple of the many interesting things I’ve learnt from Jay and this project so far:
#1 BE CONNECTED TO THE AUDIENCE
We must be fun, dynamic, spontaneous, and ready to handle and react to different situations and responses from the audience as the performance unfolds. Kids are immediate and totally honest in their response. Jay has emphasized that if we as musicians need to focus on our music notes more than we focus on the audience we’ve lost the connection to the kids, and their focus will move elsewhere. Under these circumstances it’s even more important to have this connection than to play the right note. In other words, we must know our music extremely well, so we can play it while focusing on the kids.
#2 MAKE THE PERFORMANCE VISUAL
The visual part of the performance for kids is also super important, so when they look at the musicians they see them act in sync with the music. Things like tapping our feet, exaggerated movements with (in my case) the violin, and facial expressions are super important. This is very different to our traditional approach for playing a serious symphony by say Brahms, where our focus on the music is so intense that we usually forget how we look or act. I believe this is an important lesson, which should be adapted in the world of classic music. In order for us to capture the younger generation of audiences we must not only sound great, but look great (although I’m not talking about pretentious acting, which I’m very much against.) There is a huge difference between an orchestra where many musicians sit slouching leaning back in their seat and one where everybody is standing up looking energized and showing genuine passion for the music.
#3 BE SPONTANEOUS
Jay is very spontaneous, so every performance ends up being very different from the next, and this adds much fun and challenge to being part of the ensemble, never knowing what’s coming around the corner.
During the second performance, he suddenly called on me and commented on the Santa Claus hat I was wearing (knowing that the real reason I was wearing it was because of a haircut by a friend that had gone wrong the day before.) Jay immediately saw the comedy opportunity and the kids had a good laugh.
15 mins before Friday’s performance he suddenly asks me to accompany him solo on stage to sing Humpty Dumpty for the kids, he hands me the notes and I had 15 mins to sight-read and learn by heart ready to accompany Jay. Tough, but I thanked in silence Jay for not choosing a piece by Wieniawski.
If you are an aspiring musician, I can recommend you play for children and, even better, have more experienced performers like Jay to guide you. This teaches you hands-on about perhaps the most important part of music: how we best connect with our audience.
Jay Laga’aia’s Classic Christmas is running until Sunday 17 December. Tickets are still available via sydneyoperahouse.com.
Written by Marcus Michelsen – Marcus has been a member of the Open Academy Rising Stars pre- college program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music since 2011, giving him the opportunity for frequent solo and chamber music performances. Currently his teacher there is Ole Bohn. Marcus joined The Sydney Youth Orchestra in 2009 where he has taken part in many exciting and inspiring projects. The weekly SYO rehearsals, the comradery amongst the musicians, the ever-present intensity and aim towards perfection, and the performances at major Sydney venues, form a crucial foundation for Marcus’s music life.