Why study is essential to your performance career

Two ANAM graduates tell us what they gained through their Professional Performance Program



If you are emerging into the Australian classical music scene and you want to gain skills to succeed in your industry of choice, it may be time to consider your pathways for formal training.

One major music institution providing courses for students to develop knowledge and practical experience with their instruments is the Australian National Academy of Music. Its Professional Performance Program is now open to applicants. But is it the right choice for you?

We team up with ANAM to chat with two leading young musicians who graduated from the school. Tamara Kohler and Graeme Norris share their study stories so we can learn why this school was their top pick, and where it has sent them in their careers so far.


My story: Tamara Kohler

From the first day I heard about ANAM, I was determined to eventually study there. There was always a fascination to know more about what was happening behind closed doors to produce such inspiring concerts and alumni. Watching a lot of friends thrive at the academy made me super keen to join in. I was also very influenced by the incredible diversity of Australian and international artists I was watching the ANAM students collaborate with, often developing in ongoing personal connections.

Let the music speak for you

You can achieve a lot in a small amount of time. I remember a seven-week stint of non-stop concerts, varying from a concert of Baroque music, to my first experience performing Ferneyhough. Each week presented me with an entirely new program of music to learn and perform, for either a chamber or orchestral setting, and this stint of course overlapped with my major solo recital. ANAM taught me to learn in a fast and efficient manner, and to always throw myself at it because I knew that while the workload seemed impossible at the beginning of the week, I would always conquer it successfully by the end!

It’s easy to get in the way of yourself mentally in these situations, and the pressure can make external life stresses seem a lot bigger than they are. Reflecting on my time at ANAM, it’s now clear to me that in these busy work periods, sometimes it is best to take yourself out of the equation and let the music speak for you.

At ANAM, I found my tribe! I discovered a bunch of like-minded musicians who think like me, have the same interests as me, share the same desire for high quality art, and enjoy brunch just as much as me! As a result, I am now the co-director and flautist of Rubiks Collective, a contemporary art music ensembles that focuses on storytelling and cross- art collaboration. Rubiks is made up entirely of ANAM alumni, and our long-standing ensemble supporters continue to be the amazing beneficiaries that we met through our time at ANAM.

Find your niche and commit

My advice for others is: Find your niche and commit. While it is, of course, vital to spend endless hours perfecting your instrumental technique, be sure to know why you’re doing it, and that you truly believe in the end result. I think it is really easy for musicians to occasionally float along mindlessly without really considering why they dedicate so many hours to their art. Be sure of this and really push yourself to achieve and exceed your end goals.

Be the most informed and well-rounded human you can be. This will make you a more sympathetic, interesting and naturally compassionate member of society, and believe it or not, this will also make you a much better musician.

About Tamara

Tamara is alumna of the Australian National Academy of Music and holds a Bachelor of Music with Honours from the University of Melbourne. She has studied internationally throughout Italy, Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden as a recipient of the Skills and Development Grant from the Australian Council for the Arts. Tamara is also the host and producer of music podcast MythirdEar.

Tamara is a founding member and co-director of Melbourne-based contemporary ensemble Rubiks. Festival credits include the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Metropolis New Music Festival, the inaugural Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab (USA), Bang on a Can Summer Festival (USA), Darmstadt International Festival for New Music, and the 2015 Australian Flute Festival, performing as a soloist in the Australian premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Il Cerchio dei Suoni. She has held multiple artistic residencies at the Banff Centre in Canada, and recently presented the latest in her Piece in the Shape series at safARI Festival, Sydney.

My story: Graeme Norris

I was originally from Melbourne but had spent the previous two years studying in Sydney with Alice Waten. When she took up the position as Head of Strings at ANAM, I came back to Melbourne and it was an offer too attractive to turn down. Along with continuing with my teacher, I was exposed to a variety of world-class visiting artists and a wide range of performance opportunities. It wasn’t just about practising, though – there was fantastic camaraderie among the students and with such a collective drive, it was an inspirational place to be.

You had to work hard, but also be smart about your time

I think one of the most important things I learnt at ANAM was about my own personal capacity for working and practising. There were so many performances, masterclasses and lessons that you had to work hard, but also be smart about your time, practising and rehearsing with as much efficiency as possible. The other important takeaway was the importance of work/life balance. It’s very easy to burn out in our field, so having something, anything else to share your attention with – whether it is a sport, a side business, or anything else – is essential.

Being surrounded by like-minded individuals in a high pressure environment motivates you to work harder than ever before. Having contact with professionals who were at the top of their game exposed me to the kind of work ethic required to succeed as well as a huge amount of accumulated advice to think about.

To be the best, the work never stops

A career in music can be incredibly rewarding, but for most, it won’t come easily. When you watch incredible performances (maybe the likes of which have inspired you to continue studying), it’s important to remember that it doesn’t just come from a moment of inspiration. If you want to get to that point, it takes years of hard, concentrated work. To be the best, the work never stops.

About Graeme

Born in Melbourne, Graeme graduated with a Bachelor of Music Performance from the Victorian College of the Arts and spent two years on full scholarship at ANAM. Graeme is Principal First Violin with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, having first joined the orchestra as Acting Associate Concertmaster during the 2015/16 seasons. From 2006 to 2010, Graeme was Associate Concertmaster of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and from 2010 to 2015, Sub-Principal Second Violin with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

A passionate educator, Graeme has previously held positions at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide and as a faculty member of the Adelaide, Malaysian Philharmonic and West Australian Youth Orchestras.


Would you like to pursue formal training and study? Applications are now open for the ANAM Professional Performance Program. This 12-month intensive is designed to set its students on track for a career in the industry.

Click here to learn about the application dates, process, and repertoire requirements for the 2018 ANAM Professional Performance Program.



Images supplied.

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