As a high school student, Gemma Lawton took part in music programs offered by the Arts Unit, a NSW government initiative that offers programs in dance, drama, music, visual arts, debating, public speaking, reading, spelling and special events. “I performed frequently in Verbrugghen Hall [at the Conservatorium] with the Arts Unit ensembles,” Gemma says. “The improvement of playing by my peers and myself during this time was remarkable.”
The Arts Unit aims to build capacity for delivering arts education through targeted teacher training and creating learning experiences that complement and extend local school programs. The unit also provides opportunities for performance, exhibition and competition.
Gemma’s early experience with the Arts Unit inspired her to become a professional musician – and to study at the Con. “I thought it would be my best chance of making this dream a reality,” she says. She enrolled in a Bachelor of Music (Performance).
Having the Arts Unit internship available to performance students provides us with a chance to broaden our horizons by trying something different – like teaching. I wanted to use it to learn more about teaching and being an inspiring mentor.
Much to her delight, Gemma discovered she could take an internship with the Arts Unit as part of her studies. “I jumped at the opportunity,” she says. “Having the Arts Unit internship available to performance students provides us with a chance to broaden our horizons by trying something different – like teaching. I wanted to use it to learn more about teaching and being an inspiring mentor. My goal is to create a career full of performing and teaching horn.”
Gemma’s internship was split into two parts. The first involved week-long State Music Camps during which students rehearse in two ensembles, an orchestra or wind band, and a chamber group. “My job was to assist in mentoring the horn chamber ensemble each day,” Gemma says. “On the second-last night, we showcased some of the ideas and musical techniques we had been working on in a chamber performance for the other students and staff. It was a great celebration of what had been learned.”
The second part of the internship was tutoring the State Wind Bands – another intense week when the groups came together from far and wide for two days of rehearsals followed by two performances at the Sydney Opera House. “The days working with the State Bands often began at 8.30am and extended way into the evening,” Gemma says. “They were long, busy, incredible days that ended with many happy and proud students after their performances.”
Gemma says that when teaching became tiring, she remembered the mantra of one of her teachers, "perspire to inspire", and says she’d happily live that time with the bands “a hundred times over”.
The internship was a great way for Gemma to apply the skills she’d developed during her studies, such as an understanding of how ensembles rehearse and work. It also gave her some surprise new skills, she says. “Like managing a crowd of children and thinking outside of the box – for instance, when a student locked his saxophone case right before soundcheck at the Opera House and didn’t have the key.”
Gemma says she loved the opportunity to test-drive a potential career. “You walk out with a greater understanding of whether that career path is well-matched to you,” she says. “It can also act as a way of getting your foot in the door. It’s a perfect time to do some networking and contact building, and it’s a great achievement to add to your CV.”