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Stretching young musical wings

Kaitlin Milgate (right) in rehearsal with the Great Western Plains Big Band, with Macquarie Conservatorium teachers Katherine Wilson and James Laundon. Photos: Greg Marginson Kaitlin Milgate (right) in rehearsal with the Great Western Plains Big Band, with Macquarie Conservatorium teachers Katherine Wilson and James Laundon. Photos: Greg Marginson

What makes someone decide they want to be a musician? Not the rock star type of musician, but someone who makes a living playing classical and jazz music, and teaching their skills to others.

Two Central West students have decided that’s the path they want to follow, and this week started their first semester of study in the Bachelor of Music course at the University of Newcastle.
Saxophonist Kaitlin Milgate from Gilgandra and trumpeter Zac Goninan from Wellington have crossed paths before, playing in the Dubbo District Concert Band and in the Great Western Plains Big Band. For both students, it was the enjoyment and satisfaction of playing in bands that motivated their choice of career.
“I really like playing in a band with other people, rehearsing and improving ‘til you give a good performance – it’s very rewarding,” says Kaitlin.
Kaitlin started music early learning piano in primary school, but when she went to high school she really wanted to learn a band instrument.
“I was given a saxophone – I just loved it; I practiced every day. When I was in year 7, I went to a workshop in Coonabarabran. The tutors were all students from Newcastle Conservatorium, and ever since then, that’s where I wanted to study music.”
She studied the saxophone with Macquarie Conservatorium teacher, Katherine Wilson, who lived in Gilgandra until recently, relocating to Dunedoo this year.
“I was really lucky to have Katherine as a teacher in a small country town like Gilgandra. She was encouraged by Mark Walton, her teacher at Sydney Conservatorium, to consider teaching in a regional area for a while after she finished her degree, rather than staying in Sydney. Fortunately for me, she loved the country and stayed.”
Kaitlin’s love of music was fostered at Western Region music camps, run by the NSW Department of Education. When she was selected for representative band the West of the Divide Wind Ensemble and went on its tour of Hawaii in 2011, her family realised music would play a big part in her future.
Zac’s family is also supportive of his music-making, even though he is the first person in the family to play an instrument.
He started off in the Wellington community band, but gave up trumpet lessons for a period in his teens to play guitar and drums. While attending school in Dubbo for years 11 and 12, he restarted serious trumpet studies with Steve Smith, brass teacher at Macquarie Conservatorium and conductor of the Dubbo District Concert Band.
“Playing in bands in Dubbo built my confidence and interest in music,” says Zac.
“When I started studying at the Macquarie Conservatorium and playing in the two Dubbo bands, that’s when I became keen on the idea of pursuing music further after I left school. So playing with other people has always been the main focus of my music.
“I’ve also had lots of other interesting solo opportunities, like playing the bugle call for Dubbo race meetings, and the Last Post on Anzac Day, and for Charles Sturt University’s graduation ceremony. In a country town, you’re asked to do lots of things because there are only a few players to call on, so I’ve had quite a few different experiences with my trumpet playing.”
A Dubbo highlight for both Zac and Kaitlin was playing alongside jazz great James Morrison in concert last year, as members of the Great Western Plains Big Band.
“They have definitely gained useful experience in Dubbo, playing in community bands,” says Steve Smith.
“They have had mentorship from other members in the band who are music graduates and teachers, and it’s been a supportive environment for the development of their ensemble playing skills.
“At university they will find a lot of students who are at least the same standard as them, and probably many who will be a bit ahead, so they will find they have to work pretty hard to keep up. Fortunately they both have a good work ethic, so I’m sure they will handle it well.”
Kaitlin is excited about the possibilities that come with being in a bigger centre.
“In a small town, you can be the top student. Now, having other students around who are more advanced than me will be encouraging – it will make me want to stretch myself and learn more.”
Ensemble studies, conducting and music technology are on the list of elective subjects for Kaitlin.
“I’d like to learn more about recording techniques and sound production. I did the Entertainment unit for my HSC, and got to work on the sound desk at the Dubbo Regional Theatre, so that’s an interest I want to pursue in my degree.”
Zac is also looking forward to the bigger scene in Newcastle, as an opportunity to develop his ensemble skills in university bands. He also plans to learn more about playing jazz and improvising.
“I was impressed by the well-rounded music course they offer in Newcastle. I’ll be able to take electives in pedagogy and keyboard skills, as well as further my interest in jazz. The experience of playing with James Morrison at the Dubbo Regional Theatre last year was a big inspiration – he is such an amazing jazz trumpeter.”
Kaitlin and Zac are committed to giving back to their community through teaching, with both students mentioning a Master of Education as a further study option.
“I’d love to play in a jazz ensemble, but I’d probably come back to live in Dubbo or somewhere in the country. I prefer a smaller town to living in a city. I’d like to be able to teach at a regional conservatorium like the Macquarie Conservatorium,” says Zac.
“A teaching career combined with playing in bands and maybe leading my own band would be great,” says Kaitlin.
“I can see myself coming back to teach students just like me, growing up in small country towns.”

Pictured above: Playing with jazz great James Morrison in Dubbo last year inspired both students.

Below: Zac Goninan (middle) plays in the Dubbo District Concert Band with Macquarie Conservatorium trumpeters (L & R) Samuel Vail and Daniel Caton

What’s on at the Macquarie Conservatorium

March 13: Free singing workshops for children with Michelle Leonard of Moorambilla Voices, Macquarie Conservatorium 4.00pm
March 22: Violin masterclass with Emma Jardine of The Streeton Trio, Macquarie Conservatorium 4.30pm
March 22: The Streeton Trio in Concert, Macquarie Conservatorium 7.30pm

For more information visit www.macqcon.org.au