Deborah de Graaff

Deborah de Graaff

Q. When did you join SYO?
R. I think around 1975 and worked my way up from Evans orchestra to ‘flag ship’ over several years, Then lots of years after that as a tutor and conductor of Harmonie Wind ensembles Junior and Senior groups and many years on and off as a tutor and auditioner

Q. What instruments did you play in SYO?
R. Bb and Eb

Q. What is your favourite memory of SYO
R. Soooo many,
Singapore tour with Richard Gill and Claire (admin) and still friends with most of the people from the orchestra. Some are administrators, some ABC technicians, some blue-grass players, some famous conductors many professional players and we see each other in gigs and solo work all the time still.
I think of John Okwell (J.O.) being so wonderfully serious and bossy in his school uniform as the principal cello.
Playing Eb piccolo clarinet in Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique with the ‘big people’ flagship equivalent with ACO founder Pikler conducting alongside clarinettists Nigel Westlake and then a performance of Carmina Burana with Richard Gill, and Mahler Songs of the Wayfarer …. Way too many memories

Q. What role does music play in your life?
R. I am sound – we are vibration. Whoooo that sounds hippy but it’s true. It is everything along with family and loved ones. On a practical level – seriously now – I perform music, teach music, record edit music, – I PLAY with sound all day every day – it is my life and Im so lucky!

Q. What is your favourite musical repertoire from the SYO performances?
R. Ohh man – you said this was an easy interview! – So not the Liszt piano concert (sorry Cory McVickers) which we toured way too much in Singapore… maybe the Sibelius Symphony ?

Q. What advice would you give young musicians today?
R. Only do music, be a musician, if you HAVE TO PLAY MUSIC FOR YOU. If you love it and it takes you to a happy place – or like me you are also OCD – most good musos are – then you will be destined for the most wonderful life of making sound and providing joy to others. If you are playing music to make someone else happy – take up another career immediately and dabble in music on the side – you can enjoy it another way.  As a musician you have to be inventive, creative, excellent with budgeting and finances, great and people skills and promotion or have at least a few of those things working for you. You have to be so passionate about your playing that you work on it hours and hours a week – I’m talking not just practice time, but connections, gig promotion, networking and more importantly programme design (like the pieces you play and what theme the concert will have and will it be entertaining for the audience – so they want you back again and again.

Early in her career Deborah competed locally and internationally in London and Munich, winning numerous prizes, scholarships and awards, including national and Commonwealth ABC instrumental competitions in 1983.For over 30 years she has performed as chamber musician most notably with her mother Lauris Elms, soprano Rita Hunter, pianists Geoffrey Parsons, John Winther and Len Vorster.

As a concerto soloist she performed with Richard Bonynge and Paul Dyer Brandenburg. She also worked overseas with the Fine Arts Orchestra at St Martin in the Fields and in Vietnam. She regularly broadcasts for the ABC, has recorded over sixteen CDs, and collaborates in chamber recitals often premiering especially written Australian compositions.

Awarded her PhD UNSW 2014 (Practice Strategies of Elite Instrumental Musicians) she received a USYD Large Innovative Grant (2015) applying her PhD Model of Elite Practice (MEP) towards music student motivation at Conservatorium. Her 2016 publications include a Pitch Error Coding Protocol paper, co-authored with Emery Schubert, published in Music Perception (December 2016 issue). Her 2018 CD titled Rags Bags and Tangos with pianist Tonya Lemoh is available on her website. Other 2019 concerts include collaboration with cellist Rachel Scott’s series Bach in the Dark.

Having taught for many years at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Tertiary, High School and Open Academy, she now applies her elite practice method toward a select group of advanced students of all ages at her Sydney city Town Hall studio. Recently located to rural NSW (near Canberra), she is enjoying work in mentoring programmes for the NSW rural community and stimulating the arts outside the major capital cities. She continues to perform, recording solo and ensemble repertoire. Deborah is preparing on an on-line video and PDF clarinet ‘book’ designed for teachers of clarinet and advanced students wishing to gain the most out of their practice.

PhD Thesis

Completed March 2014 University of New South Wales

Title: The Practice Efficiency of Elite Instrumental Musicians

Supervisor: Emery Schubert (examiners Siw Nielsen and Susan Hallam)

2007-2014 Bachelor of Music Peformance (Distinction)

NSW State Conservatorium of Music 1979-1982



  • Competed – Munich, the 5 yearly Internationaler Musikwettbewerb der ARD – Bayerischer Rundfunk – Bavarian Radio International Competition (1987)
  • Finalist – London – selected finalist International Clarinet Competition (1983)
  • Won – Commonwealth ABC Instrumental and Vocal Competitions (Perth 1983) performing Françaix Clarinet Concerto around Australia, Perth, Sydney, then guest performance at Brisbane International Clarinet Festival (1984)
  • Won – National ABC Instrumental and Vocal Competitions (Sydney1983)

Performed as chamber musician and recitalist with:

  • Singers: contralto Lauris Elms, mezzo Sally-Anne Russell, sopranos Rita Hunter and Deborah Reidel, baritone John Pringle, Amelia Farrugia, Bernadette Cullen, Fiona Janes, Nicole Youl, Michael Lewis, Glenn Winslade, Andrew Moran, Anna Yun, John Longmuir, Jenny Liu, and others
  • Pianists: Geoffrey Parsons, John Winther, Len Vorster, Gerard Willems, Michael Brimer, Bernadette Harvey, David Miller, Natalia Scheludiaova, Paul Dyer, Andrew Green, John Martin, Gerard Willems, Antony Legge, Tonya Lemoh; harpist: Marshall McGuire; string players: Natalie Chee, Peter Hoër, Hatmut Rhoede, Carl Pini, Ronald Thomas, Georg Pederson, Susan Blake, and others

Concerto soloist with:

  • Richard Bonynge (Opera House, 1999, 2010), Paul Dyer (Angel Place, Brandenburg Orchestra 1997), in London with Michael Nebe (Fine Arts Orchestra at St Martin in the Fields 2001), Michael Clarke (Sydney Mozart Players, Angel Place 2002 2003), David Pereira (Steel City Strings) and numerous Sydney NSW and VIC based orchestras through to present day

Recording Projects

See Music

Broadcasts regularly for:

  • ABC (Live and studio)
  • 2MBS FM

Orchestral Experience

  • ABO Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
  • ACO Australian Chamber Orchestra
  • AYO Member and alumnist ACO Australian Chamber Orchestra
  • Musicals – e.g. My Fair Lady Sydney Capitol Andrew Greene, Anthony Warlow
  • Oz Opera Adelaide Festival and VIC touring
  • SSO Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Sydney Opera House Orchestra
  • SUGS Sydney University Graduate Society
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