BY MYLES OAKEY, 2016 CUTCOMMON YOUNG WRITER OF THE YEAR
The CutCommon Young Writer of the Year Competition searches for new voices in Australian arts journalism that not only have something to say, but tend to say it particularly well.
This year’s CutCommon Young Writer of the Year Competition winner, 19-year-old Celine Chong, showed a sense of style and musicality in her writing that was individual as it was inspiring. Having now met Celine myself, it seems that only a fraction of her lively, fast-paced talk finds its way onto the written page.
Celine is incredibly optimistic, bubbly, and passionate. Her writing communicates the voice of a calm, self-assured, flexible, and empathetic young artist. Yet, underneath her infectious positivity, there’s a mild but relatable sense of anxiety or fear about what’s to come. “It’s easy to compare yourself to others, but it’s important to do what you want to do,” Celine says.
“I fear regret more than failure. That was my thought in entering the writers’ competition: try what you can, and see what works.”
Perhaps, like many of us young performers, composers, curators, and writers, Celine is still figuring it all out. But a sense of exploration in unfamiliar musical territory, inquisitiveness, and passion may be some of the most valuable qualities in the work an emerging arts writer.
“I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can about arts journalism, about the possibilities for me in this field,” Celine says. “I’m going to try as much as possible. I’m excited to get some of my ideas on paper – or, on screen,” she laughs. “That’s so exciting.”
During this year’s competition, young people from around Australia gave their two cents about the value of classical music in the lives of young people. Reading through the entries, CutCommon judges Lucy Rash, Stephanie Eslake, and I were presented with a breadth of styles and voices: some imaginative and idealistic, others passionate and rigorously argumentative. Standing out in the mix, Celine’s writing presented someone who takes care of her reader. Her writing portrays a certain character and intellectual commitment to make clear sense, and practice the patience to do so.
“I think it’s really important to get your message across as clearly as possible, in an engaging way, and that makes people want to keep reading,” Celine says on the challenges of writing.
Now in her second year of a Bachelor of Music/ Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland, Celine has established herself as an outstanding academic and classical pianist. This year, Celine has already received the University of Queensland Dean’s Recognition of Academic Excellence, and the First Place in the Redland’s Eisteddfod Open Piano Championship and Open Baroque Composer categories.
Just this month, Celine returned from the Townsville Australian Festival of Chamber Music where she collaborated with a variety of performers and ensembles performing the music of Faure, Ravel, and Brahms. “Performing more chamber music has been fun; I love it. I’m looking forward to getting into some new music repertoire, too.”
Between multiple practice sessions, university lectures, H.I.T classes at the gym, and enjoying social life around campus, Celine’s does well to juggle her daily commitments. “I think when doing the heavy stuff all the time, you need a balance, ” she says.
I asked Celine what her music listening looks like in her downtime. And it’s not quite what you’d expect.
“I love my Ed Sheeran,” Celine says with her face buried in the palms of her hands. “Ed’s probably my favourite. I used to indulge in some T-swizzle,” she says – a confession of enjoying Taylor Swift.
Celine reaches for her iPod and begins scrolling. “Bruno Mars, Coldplay, Jason Mraz…oh my gosh, there’s some Justin Bieber on here!” she exclaims. “Oh, Despacito, I love Despacito.”
Like many young musicians, Celine has multiple musical selves, and projections of these parts of her identity cross between potential career paths. “I want to do as many thing as possible. So if people ask me to do this or that, I can just say ‘yes’. I want to be flexible. It’s not much of a plan, but a semi-plan.”
The CutCommon team looks forward to working with Celine towards career mentorship and publication during Young Writers’ Month. We wish Celine the best of luck on her journey as an emerging writer.
Keep an eye out for her work (including her winning blog entry) along with other pieces from talented new arts writers in CutCommon this month. Read about the runners-up in the 2017 competition.