Interning with a music festival – part 2

My experience with the Canberra International Music Festival


In this story, Elsabeth reflects on her experiences learnt at the festival. In part 1 of this blog, Elsabeth wrote about her expectations at the beginning of her internship.


I recognise this feeling.

This is the sort of feeling you get when you’ve just had a fortnight of intensely creative, caffeine-fuelled hard work. When you’ve been both exhausted and exhilarated by the emotional rollercoaster of concert after concert. When you’ve forged eternal friendships in the fires of stress, deadlines, and shared musical experiences.

And then, when you realise that it’s all over.

In other words, it’s the feeling that I’ve found in the aftermath of the Canberra International Music Festival. If you’ve ever been on a music camp, or a summer music school, or if you’ve ever done a festival yourself, you’ll know the feeling I’m talking about.

‘Sinking’ doesn’t begin to describe it.

Yet at the same time, I’m excited about the future. As a media and marketing intern at the festival, I had the opportunity to write in many styles, for different audiences and a variety of media outlets. I was privileged to sit down with some fascinating people in the arts industry and have insightful conversations with them. (I also – totally low-key – took a selfie with Elena Kats-Chernin.) With everything I’ve learned, and everyone I’ve met, I’ve made a bigger pile of building-blocks for that future. The adventure’s not over yet!

There may even be further internship opportunities on the horizon – I certainly hope this isn’t my last as well as my first such experience. Now that I have a better idea of how to approach this sort of thing, I’d hate the skills I learnt to go to waste! But even if I don’t make it back to that world, there are plenty of emerging music professionals, of all backgrounds and disciplines, who will. Perhaps some of the things I’ve learnt about music internship can profit them, too.

So what did I learn from interning at a music festival?

First on the list – be flexible.

If necessary, it’s handy to be able to drop what you’re working on to give someone else a hand. There are many ways to be useful: when I had writing to do, that seemed to me like the most pressing thing on the schedule. But I was still just one person on the management team, and some other task was often more essential to the festival itself. The press release can wait for a bit, but the lanyards have to be assembled for delivery by the time the doors open at 10.30am, and they’ve run out of people to ask!

At the same time, it’s important to take responsibility for your own learning.

Ask questions, seek out people and opportunities, and use initiative in finding more and different work to do. If there’s someone at a concert whom you think you should network with, whether a musician, a journalist or a diplomat – go for it. Choose your moment, of course (no one likes to be buttonholed two minutes before curtain call), but when the time seems right, take a deep breath, put on your best smile and politely introduce yourself. I can pretty much guarantee you that they will be charming, you won’t trip over your own tongue and you’ll walk away from the conversation with a new appreciation of how nice people can be and possibly a useful business card in your pocket.

Go everywhere with an open and curious, but critical, mind.

Internships and fellowships expose you to a wealth of new ideas, some of which you will humbly beg to disagree with, and some of which, after thinking the matter through, will change your own thinking. I remember having a politely heated discussion with someone on the nature and purpose of program notes at a concert. We maintained different views on whether a writer should explain a work’s emotional content to the audience. I parted from them with confidence in my own opinion, but as I mulled their arguments over in my mind, and examined the foundations of my logic, I realised that they really had some good points. So I changed my mind. You have to be prepared for that, too!

This one’s for all the other secret introverts out there: don’t pass up the opportunities to socialise.

Where else are you going to find such a unique blend of experts and amateurs, international and local musicians, established performers, young artists and music-loving audience members? And back at the office, the production team and the volunteers alike are mines of information and experience. What an opportunity for the aspiring music professional! These people are good fun to hang out with – and then, who knows what you might learn or what chances you might pick up? Mingle, get to know them, tell your story and listen closely to theirs.

And I know that it’s hard (believe me), but in the midst of all the looming deadlines and that atmosphere of excitement, try to remember that you have a body.

This isn’t a race to see how many hours of sleep you can do without. Eat well, sleep rationally, and try and get at least some exercise, even if it’s just jogging between venues. You will get so much more out of the overall experience if you’re alert and healthy – and you’ll offset the effects of the upcoming after-party, too!

Ultimately, it’s not that complicated. If you’re a helpful, curious, relatively intelligent human being, you’ll make it through with flying colours. So if there’s an internship opportunity coming up – or a fellowship, a summer school, a masterclass series or even a festival – don’t hesitate to apply. Broaden those horizons! If my experience is anything to go by, it’ll be so worth it.


About Elsabeth Parkinson

Adelaide-based Elsabeth Parkinson is a writer, a teacher and a pianist. She recently completed a Bachelor of Music at the Elder Conservatorium, and participated in this year’s Words About Music program at the Australian Youth Orchestra’s National Music Camp. She reckons her media and marketing internship at the Canberra International Festival of Music is the next step in taking her writing to the world.


Featured image of Canberra Youth Orchestra. Credit: Peter Hislop (read our interview with the photographer).

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