Kimbali Harding

Q. First Name:
R. Kimbali

Q. Last Name
R. Harding

Q. When did you join SYO?
R. I joined SYO in 1991, under the baton of Henryk Pisarek. I was a 12 year old kid from the Blue Mountains, who made the trip down to Sydney every Saturday to rehearse at the St. Lawrence hall next to central station.

Q. What instruments did you play in SYO?
R. Violin

Q. What is your favourite memory of SYO
R. I think one of the first pieces that I played with SYO was the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms. Now as a more experienced musician, I am not such a fan of this piece, but at the time it was the first experience of being in the full symphonic sound. I was at the back of the second violins and the French Horn section just ripped open at the climax. It was like sitting in the middle of the second coming – it was so powerful! Nowadays we have Bose surround sound in our home theatres etc. But nothing could compare to the first experience of sitting in the ‘wave’ of the brass section. I was so in love with the french horn players – I completely idolised them as the ‘cool’ kids.

One of my worse and best memories is when Henryk asked me to solo with the chamber orchestra as part of the concertante part for Christmas concerto… and then on the day of the performance at Verbrugghen Hall I forgot my music. The poor staff had to run around the conservatorium library, frantically searching for a part. I don’t know why I am sharing this – it reflect very poorly on my organisation skills as a teenager. Anyway the performance went ahead, and despite the most appalling and bizarre wrong note that I smashed out in the second movement (I think my brain just momentarily stopped) where Henryk just gave me the most surprised look (it was a pretty random note) the performance was awesome. I think this is one of my favourite memories because all of the drama beforehand made the success and outcome all that more sweeter. ….. I am not suggesting that anyone should try and increase the amount of drama before a performance!

Q. What role does music play in your life?
R. Music is my life. I can’t imagine a life without music. The various stages of my life and the hats that I have worn have evolved/shifted (as they do), but the constant is Music, Young People and Education.

After my time in high school and with SYO, I focused on solo classical piano and it took me around the world, with studies in France and competitions in Europe. Eventually I realised that wasn’t the life for me (practically I wasn’t that good and selfishly it is a very lonely journey). I started looking for something different, but Music was always at the centre of that conundrum.

The journey to date: I am a lapsed violinist, sometimes pianist, conductor of choirs and youth orchestras and now leading Australia’s national youth orchestra – it is an awesome job (BTW) to work with the best musicians of the next generation – but ultimately, at heart I am a music teacher.

The wonderful thing about being a music teacher, is that you are also a music learner – you never stop learning! You get to experience music with or alongside your students – sharing, exploration and discovery is more powerful when it is with other people. That is why the youth orchestra is so important, because you collectively make something that is greater than what is possible alone, and together you experience the story, the emotions, the energy. Music ultimately is connection – connection with people in the moment, or to the ‘human experience’ in a more abstract fashion.

I am lucky that I found my passion so early in my life, and that I have had the opportunities to develop that passion with mentors and roles that allow me to develop. Despite, my very narrow focus on music – within the world of music there have been many hats and roles that I have explored. As a student I studied as a performance major, but I also took on courses in the wider humanities, took on language studies, musicology, education, and management. As a professional I have started community choirs, conducted youth orchestras, worked as Director of Education with Musica Viva, taught at schools across Australia and New Zealand, lectured at universities in music education, took on teacher mentoring and am now CEO of the Australian Youth Orchestra.

I like to keep an open mindset and say yes to opportunities/organisations that have alignment of passion and values. My practical music experiences also reflect this – they are a bit eclectic. From violinist, to classical pianist, to repetiteur, to chamber musician, to conducting choirs, orchestras ….. and even symphonic bands and jazz bands (although transposing scores and instruments still give me a headache, and I still am not entirely convinced by the band ‘idiom’ – give me symphonic orchestras any day!)

Even though I love actively making music, a lot of my day-to-day work is in the space of advocacy. Advocating for quality music education and training opportunities for our children and young people. We need to have excellence in the classroom from the very early developmental years, all the way through to the learning opportunities for our most exceptional young artists who are cresting into the professional world. There is still a lot of work to be done to remind our communities and leaders that this is the right of every child and should not be the purview of the lucky few.

Q. What is your favourite musical repertoire from the SYO performances?
R. Tchaikovsky Symph 5, Pines of Rome (Respighi), Night on Bare Mountain.

Q. What advice would you give young musicians today?
R. Be brave. Be Kind
Resilience is a better superpower than brilliance.
Don’t forget to laugh.

LinkedIn Profile: Kimbali Harding

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