Access, opportunity for music lovers
As a gifted flautist and soughtafter conductor, Mark Shiell has performed in prestigious company on stages across the world.
But, despite his experiences, when you ask Shiell about his future ambitions, you soon learn his focus is closer to home.
A youth music advocate, Shiell wants to create access to music and opportunities for young people in country areas.
Raised on a farm outside Jeparit, Shiell performed in the Wimmera until the age of 16, when he moved to Melbourne to further his craft.
Earlier this month, he returned to the region for a ‘Homecoming’ concert, performing a full program in the Wimmera for the first time in 20 years.
Shiell also hosted a flute workshop for students ahead of the recital at Horsham’s Wesley Performing Arts Centre.
“All the kids were in about year seven or eight. There was one girl from Nhill and the rest were from Horsham,” he said.
“We would have had a few from Stawell but we had to change the date so they weren’t able to come.”
Shiell said he hoped to offer additional flute workshops in the future.
“I’ll look at making a few trips from Melbourne, or even opportunities to teach remotely over Skype,” he said.
Shiell’s Homecoming concert took audiences on a musical journey spanning about 200 years, from early classical to ultra modern.
“I’m really happy with how went,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure how it would turn out it all or what kind of crowd I’d get, but I was really happy with the audience.”
Shiell joined forces with Horsham College music teacher and composer Nick Shirrefs for the recital.
He said the seeds for collaboration were sown during a previous trip to the Wimmera.
“I did a talk at a Probus club last year and I said I was interested in doing a concert in Horsham and asked who would be good to talk to,” he said.
“A few people suggested I talk to Nick at the high school and when I asked around I realised I’d heard some of his compositions before and liked them. It turned out he’d written a violin sonata and I after I spoke with him he volunteered to write a flute sonata.”
Shiell premiered Shirref’s ‘Flute Sonata in D’ at Wesley.
“Nick doesn’t play the flute so he wrote the piece without knowing if some things were going to be moderately difficult or incredibly difficult,” Shiell said.
“I told him to do what he liked. It was a great piece. He describes it as very visual. You could describe it as a piece for a film musical.”
Young cellist Charlotte Kube, of Jeparit, also performed at the concert.
She performed two works, including one written by Shirrefs.
“Charlotte did a great job. She played very well,” Shiell said.
Shiell had not performed the flute for a long time ahead of his Homecoming recital, instead focusing on conducting.
“There were a couple of reasons why it was important for me to do this concert,” he said.
“Firstly, I went back to playing the flute and I wanted to go back to where I started.
“Secondly, it was a chance for me to confront some demons. I had a very negative experience from a music teacher when I was a kid, that no one knew about.
“Other than that, all the other experiences I had in the region were positive and I enjoy coming back.”
Among his longer-term plans include spending more time in places such as the Wimmera.
Shiell said he would like to organise a group of musicians and singers to travel to country towns.
“I want to make music more accessible to people,” he said.
“I’d like to curate the concert so every piece played has the crowd going, ‘I love that piece’.”
Shiell said a visit to Jeparit with Ballarat Symphony Orchestra a few years ago helped cement the idea.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “I think we can do it even better and tailor the music for the audience.
“It would be great for musicians like Charlotte because it is something they can participate in locally and not have to jump in a car and drive to Melbourne.”
Shiell also plans to do further study and pursue a PHD in something that combines practical movement associated with Japanese Zen art.
“It’s hard to explain but it’s kind of like meditation in action,” he said.
“I’ve also got a couple of recitals lined up for next year. Now that I’m back playing the flute, I want to see where it’s going to take me.”
MAKING MUSIC: Flautist Mark Shiell hosts a masterclass for aspiring musicians at Horsham’s Wesley Performing Arts Centre ahead of his Homecoming concert. Pictured, from left, are Lily O’brien, Pascall Patterson, Eliza Tickner, Ameliah Smith and Eliza Creek. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER