Meet the Griffith grad breaking down musical barriers

Photo credit: QUBE Effect

Monique Clare has been on a musical rollercoaster ride since graduating fromthe Queensland Conservatorium.

Photo credit: Craig Zillman

The classically-trained cellist has played alongside Eminem at the MCG, backed Kate Miller-Heidke at the Woodford Folk Festival and taught music in Afghanistan.

Inspired by an eclectic set of musical influences, from Björk to Bach, Monique has forged an exciting career as a genre-bending musician.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Music in 2015, she has toured the globe with folk band, The Maes, has begun carving out a solo career as a singer-songwriter and performs freelance gigs with some of the world’s biggest artists.

‘You had to grit your teeth and hang on to your bow’

One of the most memorable gigs was with Grammy-award winning artist Eminem at the MCG earlier this year in front of 80,000 fans.

Photo credit: Dean Swindell

“I was part of the string sextet backing Eminem at the MCG – it was a huge production,” she said.

“The show rolls on like a high-speed train for two hours, and there is no stopping for anything.

“There are these huge explosions as part of the show that shake your whole body, so you just had to grit your teeth and hang on to your bow!”

Breaking down barriers

Another memorable gig was playing with fellow Queensland Conservatorium alumni Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall at Woodford Folk Festival. Kate Miller-Heidke is another classically-trained musician who has broken down barriers with her fusion of pop and opera, and she has been a role model for Monique.

“Kate is a real inspiration,” she said.

“Seeing a fellow artist from Brisbane who has used her classical training to do something really unexpected gave me the impetus to pursue my solo career.

“Someone like Kate makes it feel possible and attainable.”

Adventures in Afghanistan

As well as being a multi-genre performer, Monique is also a passionate educator. After graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium, she spent several weeks in Kabul teaching at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.

“I got a phone call out of the blue from some friends whose string trio had been asked to be guest lecturers at ANIM, asking if I wanted to come along,” she said.

“I was incredibly naïve when I said yes. I didn’t realise that frequent bombing and kidnapping was still a reality in Afghanistan.

“While I was teaching though, it felt surprisingly normal, just like teaching back home.

“But you would get these sudden reality checks. It’s common at that school for young girls to go missing from classes in mysterious circumstances, and you might find out later that they had been married off. In the course of a lesson, a student might mention their father being killed by the Taliban.

“It was an impossibly complex place, but it was amazing how music brought us all together and helped us connect in such a fundamental way.”

The benefits of a classical education

Photo credit: Lauren Bartkowiak

Monique’s own musical journey began at the Queensland Conservatorium, where she was selected for the prestigious Australian Youth Orchestra, and won the Vada Jeffries award for solo Bach performance.

“I really threw myself into my classical studies at the Con, but I realised I wasn’t passionate enough about orchestral playing, so after graduating I focused on folk gigs and writing my own music,” she said.

“The main thing I took away from my time at the Con was the importance of having a good work ethic – you practice and work hard, and it pays off.

“I’ve applied that to everything I’ve done since graduating.

“And so much of what I do on the cello goes back to my musical training — controlling tone, obsessing over intonation, metronome practice.”

She credits Dr Diana Tolmie’s popular course, My Life As a Musician, with providing the foundation for her career in the music industry.

“I had an amazing time with Di, who shared all of her wisdom and experience with us, and helped us think outside the practice room,” she said.

“We did an assignment on grant writing, and I was able to use those skills to apply for grants from the Australia Council and Queensland Government that allowed me to spend three months in the US attending folk music festivals, workshops and lessons.”

‘To pursue a performing career is a dream’

Her debut solo EP, By The Stars was released in 2017, backed by a Pledgemusic campaign that drew supporters from the USA, UK, Germany and Japan. Since then, she has toured her music across Australia, with performances at Woodford Folk Festival and the Port Fairy Folk Festival.

Photo credit: Jax Oliver

Monique undertook a songwriting residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts earlier this year, writing new material that will form her debut album, to be released next year.

“Four years after graduating, I’m still growing my career,” she said.

“It will take a while to get there, but I have a whole bunch of new songs, and I now have a manager in the US, which has helped a lot.

“To be able to pursue a performing career is a dream, and I’m so grateful that it’s all panning out.”