Tamara Kohler is one of the three finalists in the 2017 Freedman Classical Fellowship competition. As a way of discovering the interests and concerns of younger musicians, each has been invited to contribute and Inside the Musician article and all three articles appear in this edition of Loudmouth.
I’ve been binging on an extremely trashy Netflix show lately (its name, I’ll keep to myself), however there was one question in a recent episode that stuck with me. A female character asked another, “Do you want your child to grow up in a world without art?” Just imagine that for a second.
No music in the background of cafes. No murals on the street walls. No paintings in our houses. No imaginative garden designs in our local parks. No decorative furnishings. No theatres and galleries. T-shirts of only stark block colours.
While you might only think of art as a gallery exhibition at NGV, or the latest show at the Arts Centre, artistic expression and indeed creativity is all around us. It’s in the way you tied your hair up today, or the footsteps you chose to walk on the way to work.
Focusing for just a moment on theatrical expressions of art, two of the most affecting pieces of theatre I have seen over the past few years have been Deborah Cheetham’s opera ‘Pecan Summer’, and Kate Grenville’s play ‘The Secret River’. Both were exceptional examples of creative story-telling, delivering poignant messages and portraying how our societal structures have developed. You don’t have to be an artist to derive these messages. Both of these shows are direct examples of how creative storytelling can educate, invoke empathy, and develop sensibility within any regular punter, regardless of their background or demographic.
These productions are obvious displays of creative development through the arts, but if we look around creativity is moulding society every day. Artistic production is only one of many vehicles for creativity.
Each week, aside from my performance and curatorial commitments, I spend two days teaching music to young children. There are many creative concepts such as colours of sound and influences of philosophical ideas that I take for granted in part of my practice as a musician. I freely admit that I can be guilty of overlooking these concepts when teaching. When considering the possibilities for creative thinking within society, it always makes me re-evaluate my responsibilities as a teacher.
Teaching artistic practices to young children is a crucial part of their development, not necessarily to make them the next national musical ‘wunderkind’, but to develop skills for creative rationale, broad thinking and communicable expression which they can introduce into society through whatever path they may choose.
A very special human who is championing these ideas is American composer, teacher and art maker Danny Clay. I was lucky enough to meet Danny at the recent Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab in Ojai, California. Danny wrote a collection of pieces for the festival called ‘Lab Book’, a series of musical games.
One sunny afternoon, the entire cohort of musicians decided to try out some of these games altogether. All of a sudden, there were yelps and screeches coming from each corner of the lawn. In one game, I found myself swinging around like a monkey in attempt to imitate a colleague and then suddenly another colleague was chasing me. In another, I began hunting for the most absurd sounds I could create on my flute in the hope of shocking a colleague. It was completely liberating to not be trying to get something ‘right’ but to freely explore avenues of expression.
Danny regularly works with primary school students, not imposing on them a need to be ‘correct’ all the time, but rather giving them methods to think bigger and broader. What a beautiful skill to having flowing through our next generation of decision makers.
I think most artists go through a period of questioning their own validity. For me, this came at the end of my study at the Australian National Academy of Music. I began to question how playing the flute was adding to the value of the world. I wasn’t curing illness or solving poverty; instead I was attending an institution which was effectively paying me to practice. At the time, to be frank, it all felt pretty self-absorbed and was something I really began to struggle with. But I’ve come now to realise that while obviously I was unbelievably lucky to have been given those opportunities to hone my artistic skills, it’s what I do with these skills next that will confirm my contribution to society.
My primary career focus right now is co-directing and performing within my ensemble, Rubiks Collective. We program events that aim to be immersive and challenging experiences for both listeners and players. Whether our programing is focused around a societal issue or introducing the wider public to a lesser-known cross-arts pioneer, Rubiks’ mission as an ensemble is to use our artistic skill-set to create thought-provoking and experiential events. We believe this is our responsibility as creative practitioners.
The development of society craves implementation of creative thinking. Looking at successful leaders, it is ingrained in how they problem-solve and communicate. Without getting too political, if you look at this ‘debate’ that the Australian people are currently having, it has shown a gaping hole in our ability to accept, love and understand. Everyone has the capacity to be creative, in whatever form that may be, for thinking creatively complements inclusivity. This debate has encouraged me more than ever to make it my mission to help unlock these creative powers within our next generation.
Finally, I want to reference a dear friend of mine. Last weekend I was having some Saturday afternoon champagne (…why not?) with some lovely gal pals. Scanning around the table, there was a filmmaker, a radio producer, myself the musician and an urban planner. We were all sharing stories about what we’ve been up to, what we’ve been listening to and what we’ve all been reading. The urban planner turned around after hearing of our latest work ventures, observing that she was obviously not performing creative tasks like all of us – but here is what she had been working on.
She then kicked off an incredible half-hour discussion about creating community-housing structures that encourage inclusivity, naming different architects that are achieving this with communal gardens, playgrounds and structures. She pointed out how we could better implement this in Melbourne and told of her plans to implement change. At the end of this conversation, we ‘creatives’ all turned to her and said ironically “So, obviously you’re not creative at all.”
It’s not necessarily about producing an incredible piece of theatre or a powerful canvas. It’s more important than ever right now that we use our different vehicles to develop empathetic, broad-minded and inclusive members of society. This is something to which we all have the power to contribute. Certainly, this is the way I approach my practice.
Tamara Kohler is a flautist – soloist, chamber musician and inter-disciplinary artist, a founding member and co-executive director of Melbourne-based contemporary ensemble Rubiks. She is an ANAM alumnus and has studied in Italy, Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden as a recipient of the Skills and Development Grant from the Australian Council. Tamara performs regularly with Victorian Opera and has appeared with other notable ensembles including Speak Percussion and the Omega Ensemble. She has held multiple artistic residencies at the Banff Centre (CAN). Festival credits include the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Metropolis New Music Festival, the inaugural Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab (USA), Bang on a Can Summer Festival (USA) and Darmstadt International Festival for New Music (DE). Emma is also the host and producer of podcast, MythirdEar.