BY LUCY RASH
CutCommon feels like far more than an online publication. It’s mutual ground, in a way. It has the uncanny ability to bring together thousands of artists in the early stages of their respective careers. We work with a diverse range of musicians, writers, managers, and arts administrators, each with their unique take on what it means to be a young person living out a contemporary evolution of the classical tradition.
The CutCommon Young Writer of the Year Competition is no exception. It brings us closer to some of the brightest young minds in music journalism today, a cohort of writers whose backgrounds and journeys into music vary significantly. The body of work submitted to our inaugural competition was as nuanced as it was entertaining; each response beautifully constructed and articulated, a product of the writer’s personal history and knowledge. Each was curious, and many fiercely impressive. Perhaps none more so, however, than that by winner Myles Oakey, the 26-year-old classical/jazz guitarist and fourth year Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Education student at the University of New South Wales.
It’s a Thursday night in mid-April when we first speak. At 8:30pm sharp, Myles’ face flashes onto the computer screen. He is softly spoken and dangerously articulate, a joy to interview. Although an avid supporter of musicians’ taking the leap to broaden expressive ability through writing, he admits writing was “not always something I was interested in”.
“Not long ago, I started to work harder on my academic writing,” Myles says. “I started to get good feedback and more encouragement. It was the content which first captured me: once I realised that I could write about things that captured my interest – in much the same way as the feeling you get playing music you love – then that’s when my interest in writing grew.”
As part of his growing passion for cross-genre projects, Myles says he began researching websites and blogs whose central goal was to support the new generation of classical music with the interests of young, innovative artists at its heart. “What really captures me is the challenge of expressing in words what we’re feeling as musicians. It doesn’t always come naturally. It’s been something that I’ve really enjoyed exploring, something to which I’ve narrowed my attention. I’ve caught the bug”.
With formative training in classical guitar, Myles now wears a number of hats as a musician. His involvement in the music community at university has extended beyond the standard BMus/BEd program to his being a member of jazz and contemporary ensembles, as well as the UNSW Balinese gamelan ensemble Suwitra Jaya.
It’s clear that Myles sees great artistic benefit in sinking his teeth into many and varied projects. “We’re asked to be in a box a lot of the time,” Myles says, before pausing. “From one perspective, it makes sense. If you’re a performer and want to master your artform, you have to choose to take what you do very seriously.
“But so many musicians I’ve spoken to enjoy doing deep periods of study in one area, followed by a move to another. Eventually, the study ends up merging.”
The resulting cross-genre projects are the kind in which Myles now finds himself involved. So many of the most accomplished musicians – such as jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington and pianist Robert Glasper, as Myles points out – have spent years deeply involved in one area of their art before moving on to explore another.
This begs a simple question: just how did a classically trained guitarist come to be involved with gamelan – the distinctive, percussion-oriented traditional chamber music of Indonesia? Myles was introduced to the field of ethnomusicology via a subject at university. He felt an instant, inherent pull towards the method of enquiry and the potential it provided for intensive study of music in its social context.
“Two years ago, an opportunity came up to do a fieldwork trip to Bali, to immerse ourselves in culture, learn local music, notate compositions, perform at a local temple, and make audio and visual field recordings at a temple ceremony.” The effect on Myles was profound and provided a solid foundation for further exploration of traditional Balinese music. He returned for the annual Bali Arts Festival in 2015 and performed works by Balinese composer Agung Alit Adi Putra and Australian composers John Peterson and Andrián Pertout.
“Watching master musicians from different cultures respect, learn from and be inspired by one another left a lasting impression,” Myles says. “Through collaboration, we built friendships with young Balinese musicians, even though we couldn’t verbally communicate.”
Myles’ journey into music paints a colourful and expressive palette of experience for a student still in his 20s. So it is that once our interview formalities have ceased, the conversation morphs into a cascade of grand ideas for CutCommon’s Young Writers’ Month in June. I ask Myles what it is he’s most looking forward to about writing for CutCommon. He shoots a big grin across the screen: “The opportunity to find out more about the interesting, small-scale projects musicians have on the go. The grassroots stuff.”
It’s thrilling be on the receiving end of Myles’ plans. As any writer would quickly realise, however, including all of them here would add far too much to our word count!
So exactly what do Myles and the broader CutCommon family have planned our inaugural Young Writers’ Month? For that, you’ll have to wait and see. Rest assured, however, that there’s no way we’ll be ambling with the norm.
This feature is part of CutCommon Young Writers’ Month. About the author:
CutCommon Deputy Editor Lucy Rash is a musician, writer, music administrator, and community arts advocate. Having completed her formative training in Art History, Sociology and Musicology, Lucy worked at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music managing community arts partnerships between the university, the Smith Family, and regional Victorian schools before joining the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s administration team in 2012. Lucy is currently employed as Co-ordinator of The Pizzicato Effect, the MSO’s flagship community music program providing free instrumental tuition to children living in the City of Hume. An experienced multi-instrumentalist, Lucy also maintains an active role in the Australian music scene. She is a classically trained violinist, a member of alt-folk outfit Forest Falls, presents pre- and post-concert talks for the MSO, and her written work has bolstered many a band’s press kit. Very sneaky indeed!