The Amazing Orchestra
By Dr Ian O'Brien
One of our principal horns Ian O’Brien reflects on his childhood aspirations of joining Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the importance of everyone having access to live orchestral music.
When I was about eight years old my year four class boarded a bus and travelled into town to see Queensland Symphony Orchestra at Brisbane City Hall. The orchestra opened with the theme to Star Wars that had been released in cinemas just the year before. I was blown away. The following year my school music teacher handed me a very oddly shaped instrument case and I immediately set about trying to master the strange assortment of tubes and levers within – the French Horn. Before I left primary school my sights were firmly set on becoming a QSO member somewhere down the track.
Fast forward (just a little!) and there I am, on stage with the QSO playing the Star Wars score to a packed audience at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre while the movie played on the big screen behind me. To say this was the realisation of a dream is a pale understatement.
Orchestras are amazing things. There is a quite naïve perception of orchestras as a fading throw-back to old-world Europe with little cultural relevance to the current Australian Arts landscape. I reject this – orchestras are essential to us. A well-funded and managed orchestra such as QSO is a living, breathing artistic organism with a profound cultural impact on its community. For many (like me) a live orchestra is their first unforgettable, transformational contact with the power and wonder of live music. An orchestra also provides tangible aspirational goals for those learning music, leading by example, while also actively and meaningfully engaging with educational programs and students through outreach and intern programs.
Orchestras inspire and entertain hundreds of thousands each and every year – from performing traditional classics to bringing film scores to life and much more. Here at Queensland Symphony Orchestra we attract world leading soloists and conductors week after week, year after year, and allow musical spectaculars and gala events to be planned and produced, the organisers safe in the knowledge that the music will be not only of a professional standard, but excellent. We also support ballet and opera companies providing a strong foundation for these treasured art forms. Orchestras give invaluable experience to young professionals as they find their feet in the music world, whatever their destination, and they help support many talented freelancing artists. An Orchestra sustains and nourishes its artists and administrators who in turn give back to the community, sharing their years of experience with outreach performances, community events, chamber ensembles and spin-off groups, teaching, mentoring and a myriad of other activities. If that’s not enough, the tunes aren’t too bad, either!
For these reasons and so many more, I think public money invested in orchestras pays massive dividends all across the community. For me – I live for our education programs, our film music projects, and the many genre-stretching shows we do, like working with beat-boxers, performance poets and bands. I love seeing this area of our work developing and becoming more central to our calendar while we maintain and develop our more ‘traditional’ activities.
Despite its tragedy and turmoil, the COVID-19 shut-down has shown that QSO is a joyous group of fun, adaptable artists with an unquenchable desire to engage with Queenslanders. It has also shown how passionate and loyal our fabulous supporters are - the way our audience has stepped up for its local band has been both beautiful and humbling.
I can’t wait to get back on stage with my friends and colleagues to reconnect with audiences in our venues, but I am also really glad for the new dimensions this experience has revealed. Seems we really are all in this together after all.
Dr Geoffrey Trim supports Ian through the Music Chair program.