BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Owen Morris is still in his early 20s – but being young hasn’t stopped him achieving his dream job.
Owen was appointed principal trumpet of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra last year, and he’ll perform in this week’s Romeo and Juliet event in the Adelaide Town Hall.
The young muso also started lecturing trumpet this year at the Elder Conservatorium, sharing knowledge gained through performances as guest principal trumpet with the Sydney Philharmonia and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. In 2015, Owen was also granted the inaugural trumpet fellowship position with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (with which he’s performed as guest principal, too).
Owen has performed concertos across the nation and beyond with the Adelaide Youth Orchestra, Adelaide Wind Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Sinfonia and Sydney Youth Orchestra – among others. We chat with the star to uncover all his secrets…
Congratulations on your role in ASO. How does it feel to hold a principal position so early in your career?
It’s a real honour and privilege to hold such an important orchestral position at 22 years of age. Of course, holding a principal position comes with the added pressure of performing solos, and leadership responsibilities. However, with that said, I’ve always enjoyed a good challenge, and this is certainly no exception.
How did the opportunity come to you and what efforts – musical or personal – did you make to grasp it?
From about the age of 15, I decided that I wanted to be a professional musician, and the hours of physical practice started to pile up. There were lots of early mornings and very late nights involved. There were, quite literally, blood, sweat and tears. However, I always seemed to come back for more as it was all in the pursuit of something I really valued – being the best musician I could be, and sharing that.
Of course, the tough mental aspect of constantly refining, critiquing, and extending one’s craft can be difficult, and for me, seemed relentless at times. In the past few years, I’ve worked a lot on my own focus and improving my performance execution. This hasn’t always been easy, as I believe we all naturally experience a varying degree of fluctuation in the performance industry. I’ve learnt that the ability to live and perform ‘in the now’, and not dwell in the past or attempt to predict the future, is one of the most important things in attaining success in this world.
What have you learnt from playing alongside older musicians in the ASO – as well as through your roles in the SSO and TSO?
The mentorship and experience I’ve received from playing alongside more experienced professional musicians, particularly in the SSO, has been truly invaluable. I was fortunate enough to be appointed the inaugural 2015 trumpet fellow with the SSO, and was working as a regular casual with the orchestra from 2013. The likes of Dave Elton, Paul Goodchild and Anthony Heinrichs (SSO trumpet section) inspired and pushed me to better and better. Sitting in the section and hearing some of the best brass playing in the world made me work tirelessly in the hope I would someday get close to the standard they produced.
Now with my work at ASO, I’m always trying to lead with the highest artistic and professional standard possible. We have a wonderful orchestra full of talented musicians and I’m always listening to different interpretations and opinions in all realms of the job in order make my work better.
Despite your career success, you still choose to perform with community orchestras – the Sydney and Adelaide youth orchestras. What do you find performing with other young musicians offers you, beyond your musical experiences in major state orchestras?
I’ve always loved the raw energy and excitement that comes with youth orchestras. As someone that’s gone through the youth orchestra system, having played with the Sydney Youth Orchestras from 2010-2014 and the Australian Youth Orchestras from 2012-2015, I know just how important it is in one’s musical and orchestral development.
I was always so inspired by the tutors we had at SYO and AYO and the conductors and soloist that came to perform with us. I suppose I’m just trying my best to give as much of that back to the community as I can, and even if it’s only one person’s life that I can help shape, I’ll be happy!
As someone that grew up a long way from the city and without much orchestral music offered at school, it was essential that I became involved with youth orchestras to learn the repertoire and meet other likeminded, young musicians. To that end, I now mentor the brass in the recently formed Western Sydney Youth Orchestra (a subset of SYO) and make it a priority to be involved with system where I can, regularly tutoring and performing with the Adelaide Youth Orchestra and Sydney Youth Orchestra.
Do you still feel like you’re emerging? How do you, as a young musician, know when you’ve ‘made it’?
I feel like I’m ‘emerging’ in the sense that I’m still trying new things and to constantly extend myself to be a better person and musician. There are still so many boxes I want to tick and things to experience before I take my foot off the accelerator. I think the notion of feeling like you’ve ‘made it’ is an extremely dangerous one. I believe it can instil a lack of motivation and work ethic. For me, goal setting is essential, and so as long as I still have goals and ambitions, I haven’t quite yet ‘made it’.
What advice do you have for other young musicians looking for a symphony orchestra career?
There are so many stories and things I want to say that have helped shaped the way I play and why I love music. I think the most important question to ask yourself is: ‘Why are you doing this?’. The answer for everyone will be different, and can involve a multitude of different aspects in its response. Once you figure out why the hell you’re practising all day long, you will have motivation. Over time, motivation combined with commitment will get you where you want to be.
The journey we go on as musicians is a constantly changing one, and requires a huge amount of dedication and resiliency. In everything you do, don’t give up.
Watch Owen perform in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Their next concert will take place on September 7, with works by Berlioz, Bernstein, and Prokofiev in the Adelaide Town Hall.