Composing symphonies for a high-octave career

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

Leanne Nicholls, founder and artistic director of the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, says the key to success is dedication to the job

BESIDES BEING a musician in the orchestra, I am also responsible for the logistics of organising concerts. There are many things that need to be done. I handle ticket inquiries from the public and questions from the media. I also write the concert leaflets and programme notes.

I have to contact members of the orchestra to arrange rehearsals. I need to talk to my marketing manager to discuss fund-raising and budgeting.

Handling many different roles involves hard work, as most orchestras have several people doing these jobs.

After dropping my children at school every day, I practise my music at home and usually arrive at the office at about 10am. I first check my e-mails, in case I have not checked them at home. The e-mails are often inquiries about the orchestra's performances, from musicians and conductors. Even artistes from abroad, who want to come and work here, write to us.

We perform once a month and each performance needs about four or five rehearsals. These rehearsals are usually held at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Depending on the event, there can be between five and 40 musicians performing.

If we have famous musicians performing in an event, I personally go to the airport to receive them. I would most probably have been communicating with them for up to two years prior to their arrival. In such cases, I regard meeting them as an essential courtesy.

An event can take up to two years to organise, especially when we are putting together a programme involving a top artist from abroad. But smaller local events take less time. Sometimes we get requests to perform at weddings and occasionally get only a week's notice. Such events can be very unpredictable and I have to co-ordinate all the activities on a daily basis.

We do sometimes encounter problems in this profession. For example, as musicians we like to innovate and there may be a piece we would like to play that is not appropriate for local audiences. In general however, the Hong Kong audience has been very appreciative, which is extremely satisfying.

Language and communication are important to succeed in the music industry, especially during rehearsals and performances. As one of the few foreigners in the orchestra I had to get used to understanding instructions in Cantonese.

I decided to take a course and I can now speak the language fluently. I would not have been able to manage the orchestra without knowing the language. It is fortunate that I learnt it when I arrived because I do not have the time now. As a director and administrator I have many duties, which enable me to practise my language skills.

To do well in this field, one needs to be curious about music, seek new material, take artistic risks and be innovative. One must be very committed and passionate. I express these attributes through my activities all the time.

During the Sars outbreak we were the only orchestra that continued to play, which was difficult. Anyone entering this profession needs to be very dedicated to performing.

The work keeps me so busy that I was checking e-mails and doing orchestral work an hour before my baby was born. It is difficult for me to delegate work, but somehow I manage to finish it and plan for the future. I am already organising the 2008 calendar.


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