What it takes to win a music scholarship

16 Oct 2018

What it takes to win a music scholarship

Primary-age children display remarkable talent, hard work, tenacity and sheer joy in their craft to win a music scholarship.

Their efforts can pay off, too. By their senior school years, many are already veterans of concert halls at home and abroad, leading to higher study and successful careers.

“I love the idea of developing an intimate relationship with violin and being able to play certain repertoires of highly technical works,” says David Carreon, a year 12 student at Sydney’s Trinity Grammar School. He’s played violin for 14 years.

“It’s a privilege to perform some of the pieces I have seen my idols play.”

Local and international competitions and performances are a key ingredient for success, in which some young musicians thrive on the challenge of high-profile contests.

Dr Christian Watson, director of performing arts at St Andrews Cathedral School (SACS), where music is part of the daily DNA and scholarships are offered from year 4, says “healthy competition” produces strong musical outcomes.

Celine Kang, a year 12 music scholarship student at MLC School, agrees.

“Competitions created a pathway for me to have a performance debut at the Musikverein Vienna, BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts Brussels and Carnegie Hall,” says the young star.

“Playing piano, oboe, violin and voice, I could participate in co-curricular commitments including senior choir, chamber choir, concert band, symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, chamber music ensemble and the piano duo.”

However, the dedication needed to pursue musicianship at this level isn’t for the faint-hearted.

David Carreon, who wants to become a professional soloist, has a demanding schedule. He starts daily practice at 7am, followed by classes, rehearsals during lunch and again after class until 5pm. “My rehearsal routine is a massive part of my life that I’ve had to get used to,” he says.

A music scholarship doesn’t mean students just focus on one area, however, says Kell Daniels, Trinity’s director of creative arts.

“Scholarship students, like all of our students, are nurtured to grow in mind, body and spirit, for a holistic education. The scholarship is a pathway to all the opportunities available.”

As with many Sydney scholarship winners, David started playing music as a toddler. At some point in the ensuing years, he realised he could think big.

“To perform on a worldwide stage and to join The Juilliard School in New York and the philharmonic orchestra will be the ultimate dream,” he says.

The world stage already includes his contemporary Brian Kim, a 2017 Trinity graduate and first Australian flautist to be accepted into the prestigious Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, Europe’s best school for flute.

Many Sydney independent schools report a rise in demand for music scholarships, but sheer quality of applicants doesn’t make the selection process easy.

“There’s more competition for scholarships every year,” says MLC principal Lisa Moloney.

“The reputation of our school and the strength of our music program ensures our scholarships are always keenly sought. The high calibre of applicants for our creative scholarships means the selection process is always difficult.”

Students with music magic have diverse performances to anticipate. Popular contests include the Sydney Eisteddfod, Big Band Blast, NSW School Band Festival, Ku-ring-gai Concerto Competition, Australian School Orchestra Festival, The Australian National Eisteddfod, Vienna Virtuoso International Competition, Golden Classical International Competition and The New York Piano International Competition and Festival.

Celine Kang admits the rehearsal and performance demands – from school years to international stage – can be nerve-racking, but says it’s worth it: “The confidence I had when I performed in these prestigious halls was from the performance opportunities at MLC School,” she says.

And she believes in the reciprocity of this joy: “I hope to pursue further music studies and to return [to the school] so that I can help others discover their talents and the joy of music.”

SACS student Bangshuo Zhu says he has thrived because music is part of the school’s fabric.

“I’ve been playing ever since I was little,” the year 12 student says. “You grow to enjoy it. And once you get good at it, you really enjoy it!”

When his family heard sought-after music scholarships were on offer at SACS, he says he jumped at the opportunity to audition and in year 7 threw himself into the school’s rich and well-developed music culture, singing in the senior choir and playing violin in both symphony orchestra and chamber orchestra.

“It has been a privilege to be part of the music community,” Bangshuo says. “As a music scholar, I perform several times a term in assemblies, am part of the choir, two ensembles and perform at the annual showcase concert. This year our string quartet performed a piece I composed for music class.”

Watson is proud of the school’s ”scholar community”, where music pupils work together and support one another in common goals. “There’s a great balance between competition and support,” he says. “What is marvellous about our scholar program is how this already well-developed talent is nurtured and supported.”

Amanda Phelan, The Sydney Morning Herald,