Russell Bauer, New director of The New England Conservatorium

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The New England Conservatorium welcomed their new Director in June, Russell Bauer, who is excited to be a part of NECOM’s bright future. Russ took some time to tell us about himself recently …

It’s a brave Queenslander who takes up a new position in NSW just three days before the second State of Origin match in Sydney … If it’s any consolation, I’m a Test Cricket tragic, not a league fan. I’m very excited to be moving my family to Armidale to begin a new career as Director of NECOM. I’m originally from a rural background, having been born and raised in Kingaroy, the peanut capital of Australia.

Tell us about your musical background.

My earliest musical experiences were as a six year-old playing Country songs (by ear) on my Grandma’s old mostly-in-tune German piano. As soon as I had a repertoire of around 10 songs, she would drive me up the hill to the local retirement home and let me play for the elderly, with an empty shoebox tied beneath my right sandal so that I could reach the sustain pedal. Piano would prove to be my closest associate for the next decade of my life, and it was in my early teens that my love and admiration for Beethoven took hold.

How did music become such a big part of your life as you got older?

My tertiary years were spent at USQ in Toowoomba, where I developed a passion for composing and arranging. As an undergraduate, I formed a song-writing partnership with the Head of Drama, Mr Robert Ketton, and together we produced six original children’s musicals. Entering university as a piano major, I soon became envious of my friends and colleagues heading off to orchestra rehearsals twice a week, so after pleading with the Professor of Music (the late Peter Rorke OAM) I entered the orchestral fold as a tuba-player, having never touched one before in my life. This kick-started a desire to become, if not fluent, certainly “conversational” in as many different instruments as I could manage. There was a practical reason for doing this; learning scales and simple pieces on many different instruments teaches you the inherent difficulties of each family (woodwind, brass, percussion and strings) and subsequently makes you a much more versatile composer and arranger.

From my university days until now, I have (at various times) been an instrumental teacher for 12 years back in my home town of Kingaroy, a USQ Lecturer in Music, and Head/Director of Music at several leading schools in South-East Queensland. I have continued my interest in composing for the theatre, with an original musical about Harry Houdini (with lyrics by the acclaimed poet, Bruce Dawe) being selected as part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival in 2010.

Can you tell us about some of your ideas for NECOM?

As Director of NECOM from June 2017, it is my wish that I might continue the outstanding work of Susanne James and help to keep this incredible regional Conservatorium as one of the jewels in the crown of the beautiful New England region. One of my key areas of interest lies in the early years of music training, introducing young musicians to as many musical experiences as possible, and encouraging them to experiment with sound in the same way that a young artist splashes colour onto a canvas with exuberance. Almost every adult who still makes music after the age of 30 or 40 does so because they had one or more teachers modelling best practice and a sheer love of their art form. My former Professor of Music, Peter Rorke, continues to inspire me on a weekly basis, even 20 years after his passing.

The phrase “Conservatorium without walls” is a wonderful way to approach music education and performance, and I’m excited about the possibilities of expanding the social media “footprint” at NECOM. This will mean working closely with the excellent marketing team to explore avenues for demolishing even more virtual walls, so that the entire country can enjoy the fruits of the music-making happening in New England.

Finally, I will be very keen to share my work in memory-training, something that has completely changed how I approach learning and study over the past 20 years.

What can we look forward to seeing at NECOM in the future?

NECOM recently signed a teaching agreement with UNE to deliver units to students studying a Bachelor of Music; there are concerts coming up, including the Sydney International Piano Competition winner, Andrey Gugnin, who will perform in a fundraiser concert for NECOM’s music therapy program on 6 August; the ACO Collective, presented by NECOM and Musica Viva Armidale, will be at the Armidale Town Hall at the end of August; plus lots of in-house events, including student concerts, and the upcoming launch of a new website. NECOM is looking forward to continuing their long and happy residency at the beautiful CB Newling Building, locally known as the Old Teachers’ College.

Are your family looking forward to the move to Armidale?

Yes! I bring with me my wife, Janine, and 13 year-old son, Toby. He is sometimes known as the “Oven Kid”, but I am happy to explain that on another occasion. Our two daughters are adults with their own careers; our eldest daughter, Sarah, lives in the heart of Brisbane and works in the finance sector, while our middle child, Jessica, may be known to fans of YouTube as one half of the “Jess & Gabe” channel.

I thank you all, in advance, for the warm welcome I know we will receive on becoming residents of beautiful Armidale, and yes, we have packed our coats, scarves, beanies and ugg-boots. I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can in my first few months at NECOM.

Thanks Russell.

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