Backstage: An interview with our Program Manager - Community and Education

Part of our BACKSTAGE series

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Backstage: An interview with our Program Manager - Community and Education

Performing the music on stage is only half the job – behind the scenes there are teams of incredible people who make a concert what it is.

Meet our Community and Education Program Manager Judy Wood. We caught up with Judy to talk about sharing classical music with rural communities, her career as a bassoon player, and her passion for music education.

Tell us about your role at Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

I manage the Community Engagement and Education team, as part of the Artistic Department. Our team of three organise all of QSO’s student programs, education concerts, community activities and regional events. We have a very busy schedule of activities including concerts for primary school students, programs for advanced instrumentalists in the South-East, activities for community choristers and instrumentalists, and community concert events in regional communities. In 2019 we reached over 13,000 school students directly and engaged with 18,000 people in the regions, with concerts, educational activities and community events. 

What’s it like going into regional communities that don’t have access to live music?

They are incredibly welcoming and grateful when we give educational experiences to their students and share music with their community. There can be a real sense of isolation, so they relish the opportunity to experience events normally only available in larger centres.

How do you develop relationships with them?

Our strongest connections in the regions are with music teachers. In some communities there is a strong cohort of teachers who are incredibly supportive of our program and encouraging us to keep returning. We also aim to support teachers in smaller communities by providing Professional Development experiences and performance and educational opportunities for their students. Regional councils and community music organisations are also strong contacts in the regions. 

What’s the most remote place the Orchestra has performed?

A couple of years ago I travelled to Longreach, Winton and Mount Isa with a group of percussionists. I took a young percussion educator to Winton, where we were to give a workshop at a primary school. When we arrived, we realised neither of our phones had reception and we had no idea where the school was. We had to go into the museum and pick up a map - I think this was my young colleague’s first experience of reading a paper map!

Why do you believe classical music education is so important?

Participation in music-making activities gives a spark to one’s life and introduces students to a whole world of beauty. They gain real joy and experience a feeling of community in collaborating with their peers and students from other schools and year levels in a non-competitive way. So much research has been done in the last few years on the power of participating in music activities on neurological development, but we mustn’t forget the value of joy and creativity in music-making for its own sake.

What goes into developing an education program?

We start by working with the school curriculum and teachers and by recognising QSO’s strength as a highly trained group of classical musicians. We then try to develop activities that involve students as active participants rather than passive listeners. Currently we’re focussing on delivering learning resources and activities that can reach students in isolated circumstances across the state.

Do you play any instruments?

I began my career as a professional bassoon player. I spent many years in the then Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, playing chamber orchestra repertoire and operas and ballets. I then played in the merged Queensland Symphony Orchestra before taking the position as Orchestra Librarian, and then moving to Community Engagement in 2016. I’ve also worked as the Company’s WH&S Officer, so I’ve experienced many different views of our organisation. I don’t get the bassoon out of its case often now. I still love the instrument, but it’s not an easy one to pick up on an occasional basis as the stamina to play with a decent sound disappears very fast if you’re not practicing regularly.

Who’s your favourite composer?

Too many favourites, but I do love the classical composers that were the bread and butter of my early performing days like Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. 

When you’re not at work, what are you doing?

Bushwalking, kayaking, gardening, spending time with family and friends.

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