A degree from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University can take you down many career paths. From Eurovision finalists, Kate Miller-Heidke and Dami Im to Tim Davies, who orchestrated the music for La La Land and Frozen, many of the Conservatorium’s graduates have found remarkable success.
In this series, we asked students from the Conservatorium to share their experiences at university. This week we are highlighting Mya Whatson who is studying a Bachelor of Music in Classical Piano.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what drew you to music and specifically piano?
My background is somewhat diverse, as is my taste in music. My mother was born in the UK from West Indian and South American parents and my dad is Australian. Music has played an integral role in life; it has always been a constant. My mum knew that she would be sending me to the Conservatorium well before she even thought about where I would go to kindergarten. She understood the importance of good music teachers who were passionate about music and teaching. So, with that in mind my mum registered me in the Young Conservatorium’s Keyboard Program at the age of 4. One year later I started studying piano under the tutelage of Angela Turner. At the age of 8, I started studying cello with Mei Lei Stocker. At age 16, I was offered a place in the Manhattan School of Music Summer Program in New York. At age 17, upon graduation from High School and the Young Conservatorium, I was offered a scholarship to study both cello and piano at the University of Queensland but chose to study Classical Piano at the Queensland Conservatorium under the tutelage of Daniel de Borah.
I cannot remember a time when there was not music in my household when growing up, so I don’t know so much that I was drawn to it per se, rather it’s always been there.
I grew up loving both of my instruments of study, but in all honesty my preference sometimes changed depending on the piece I was studying at the time! The piano was definitely my instrument of choice when studying the tedious Popper Cello Studies – callouses were a plenty! And there’s no love lost with the Czerny Studies either! But something always drew me back to the piano – I love the idea of being able to perform, improvise and compose at a more complex level.
The piano allows me to play harmonies and melodies with ease at the same time and includes a vast range of repertoire and resources provided by the Con. In the end, I chose the piano not just because of its versatility but because the reputation the piano course has at the Queensland Conservatorium is very high.
What was your experience like with Young Conservatorium?
I started with piano at the Young Conservatorium from ages 5-17, and I loved every bit of it! Every Saturday morning at the Con, I saw young school students participating in music ensembles and making new and lifelong friends and pairs of parents getting to know each other after seeing each other weekly. I’m so grateful to have studied at the Young Conservatorium because it couldn’t have better prepared me for my auditions at the Con. It also prepared me for interschool and external music eisteddfods by encouraging me to perform at the Con. In grades 11 and 12 I was also principal cellist of the Young Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra and String Orchestra. Both piano and cello at the Young Conservatorium provided me with endless performance opportunities, which I absolutely loved! In 2017, I played the 1st Movement of the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto in A Minor with the Symphony Orchestra in the Conservatorium Foyer, in 2018 I played the 3rd Movement of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C Major in the Con Theatre accompanied by the Young Con String Orchestra, I performed twice a year in the piano program, recorded a CD with the Piano Duo Festival, performed in City Hall twice, and toured Gympie! I’m so incredibly grateful to have been a part of the Young Conservatorium of Music.
Walk us through what a day is like studying at the Con.
The day begins early! I arrive at the Con between 7:30 and 8 am to get some early morning practice in, followed usually by a class at 9 am. I have classes until around 2 pm, and in between classes I’ll have a quick lunch break with my friends or find time for a short practice session, if the rooms are free. Something I love about the Con is that it doesn’t close until late, so when classes finish, I do some afternoon studying, sometimes with friends. We then grab dinner together and retreat to our individual rooms to get some more practice in. Sometimes the night won’t finish until 11 pm but knowing that you have friends doing the same thing you are making the experience so much more enjoyable! I’d say the nighttime practice is probably my favourite part of the day!
What do you love most about Queensland Conservatorium and why did you come here to study?
The support provided by the Queensland Conservatorium can’t be topped!
Since I was 5 years old I’ve felt like I have a safety net of students and staff I can confide in when I need to. I grew up at the Queensland Conservatorium- I often refer to it as my second home, but every day there’s something new and refreshing I learn about it, like a hidden practice room or the bottomless pit of repertoire provided by the wonderful library staff! Students look out for each other at the Con, whether it be the Student Representative Council (who do great work), or a peer in a higher year, I’ve always felt so at home.
Have there been any classes or specific teachers who have inspired you throughout your time here?
Absolutely! My Young Con piano teacher Angela Turner is one of the most inspirational figures in my life- she’s my mentor and I admire so much of the work she’s done and her achievements. Whenever I’m troubled or need help with something, she always knows what to say and how to help, whether its kind advice or something tough that I need to hear! Another staff member who I admire is my cello teacher Matthew Farrell! He’s so passionate about his craft and it really shows in everything he does. His teaching methods are creative and effective, and I couldn’t ask for a better cello teacher. Another teacher who has helped me out a lot since I started attending the Conservatorium is Michele Walsh. She has welcomed my interest in the string program at the Con, despite being a Classical Piano major, and has supported my endeavors in cello.
Have you had many opportunities to perform? Which one was your favorite and why?
Between the Young Conservatorium and the Queensland Conservatorium, my performance opportunities have been endless! However, one in particular which stands out to me was performing the Libertango as a piano duet with my friend Saei Dehyadeagari at the Piano Duo Festival in 2016 at the Finale concert. Saei and I are good friends, and the piece we played reflected that. We performed among lecturers and piano teachers, and we couldn’t have had more fun onstage.
Tell us more about your initiative Treble Notes. What inspired you to start it?
I began Treble Notes thinking that it would be a music teaching business like any other- upon opening it, I assumed I’d only get enquiries about young children who were interested in learning an instrument, but the number of requests I’d received from people with disabilities and seniors really surprised me. It shocked me how many of these people get turned down when it comes to things so seemingly simple as music lessons, and particularly now, as we live in a digital age, many people find it difficult to relate and to ‘stay afloat’ with all this new technology arising.
Due to this, I’ve actually dedicated a part of my business to actually accommodate for people with disadvantages, by hiring people who specialize in the education of people with disabilities, and by using less technology in this part, so lessons aren’t as hard to follow. The business is now opening interstate, which is very exciting, and I can’t wait to see what the product of Treble Notes will be in the future!
What is your proudest achievement so far?
Starting Treble Notes! It really gives me a chance to give back to a community which has given so much to me. I believe the greatest gift you can give is your time and your knowledge, so Treble Notes is incredibly important to me, and I’d like to believe it’s important to other people as well.
What advice do you have for future students?
Stay organised and pace yourself! One second, you feel like you’ve got everything under control and then the next, you have a stack of things you need to get done with very little time to do them! If you keep track of all your assessment tasks, projects and practice sessions, time has become your friend, and you can complete your tasks to the best of your ability and can achieve your best possible results!