Experience the Con with Jeremy, Classical Guitarist

Third-year student Jeremy Stafford shares his experience at Queensland Conservatorium studying a Bachelor of Music in Classical Guitar.

Walk us through what a day is like studying at the Conservatorium.

The primary component of most days at the Con is practice. I start each day with about 40 minutes of warming up, focusing on relaxation. This is absolutely essential, as, on some days, I have to play for around 5-6 hours, in various workshops and rehearsals as well as finding time for personal work on repertoire. In addition to the practical component of the degree, we are offered a wide range of academic classes. Some of these, such as Music Theory and Aural Studies, aim to enhance our craft through helping us understand music on a deeper level. Others are more oriented around the establishment of non-musical, yet essential skills. A notable example of this is the course My Life as a Musician, which is primarily oriented around imparting the business acumen necessary to realize one’s creative goals.

What do you love most about the Conservatorium and why did you come here to study?

I came to study at the Queensland Conservatorium predominantly to learn from Karin Schaupp. Not only is Karin an incredible performer, but she is also a remarkable mentor who has coached me to refine my own artistic vision and technical skills. Over the past 2 and a half years of learning with Karin, I’ve gained numerous skills invaluable to my career, both of a musical and business nature.

My favorite thing about studying at the Conservatorium is the collaborative atmosphere. I think going into a music degree, we all have this distorted preconception that our lives will henceforth be shaped through competition with our peers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. My experiences at the Conservatorium, from participating in chamber ensembles to playing in workshops, have always been set in a collaborative framework, with the end goal of mastering our craft together. Not only is this a more effective means of learning and growth, but it makes the process much more enjoyable too!

Have there been any classes or specific teachers who have inspired you throughout your time here?

The most inspiring classes at the Con, for me, would be the practical study workshops. In these workshops, we get the opportunity to play the pieces we are currently working on for peers and lecturers, and receive constructive criticism. Not only are these great performance experiences in their own right, getting to hear my colleagues play is often very inspiring and can make sitting down to practice later that day just a little bit easier.

Have you had many opportunities to perform?

One of the most enjoyable performances I’ve had the pleasure to partake in during my time at the Con was the 2018 production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. It’s rare for guitarists to get to play in an opera production, and even rarer for us to play in the style of baroque continuo, making that opportunity one I’ll remember for some time.

The Fairy Queen

Over the course of studying at the Con, we’ve had a bevy of visiting guitarists come and take master classes. Each of these was rewarding in its own unique way, with each artist giving an invaluable, fresh perspective on our playing. One of the most engaging was working with the Holland-based Z.O.O. guitar duo last year, on a piece called Six Balkan Miniatures. The class broadened my expressive capabilities on the instrument and helped me refine my musical vision for the piece.

What is your proudest achievement so far at the Con?

Probably recording Ginastera’s Dream (written by Chrystian Dozza) with QCGU’s very own Riverside Guitar Ensemble, and having that recording played on ABC Classic FM.

What advice do you have for future students?

If you plan to come to the Con straight from school, I remember how tough that was. The academic workload in grade 12 is hardcore, let alone preparing for the Con audition on top of that. The most important thing I’d advise you to do, is learn how to manage your time better. Not only will it help you get through your last year of school, but good time management skills are absolutely essential when studying an instrument at a tertiary level.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and what drew you to music and specifically classical guitar?

I grew up in a musical family, both my parents were active teachers and performers, so I was consistently exposed to a wide range of genres and performances. As a result of this, it was probably inevitable that music would always be a part of my life, whether as a hobby or career. My journey as a guitarist started not in the classical realm, but from listening to my family’s collection of classic rock records, mainly comprised of ACDC, Pink Floyd and Blue Oyster Cult. Initially, I started my formal musical journey playing woodwinds, such as the saxophones, clarinet and flute, which I continue to play today. I only became aware of classical guitar at about 11 when I heard a guitar ensemble directed by my future teacher, with whom I would eventually study with at the Con. I guess you could say it really struck a chord!