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Byline: Stories to Inspire

Made possible by the generous support of Musica Viva donors and partners, Strike a Chord’s inauguration in 2020 was as much a triumph over the odds as it was an uplifting celebration of Australia’s finest emerging chamber musicians.

With entries now open for 2021, we asked Marjorie Nicholas OAM, Don Mercer and Veronica Aldridge – three key supporters whose generosity helped bring this competition to life – to share their thoughts and reflections on the event.

What motivated you to support Strike a Chord?

“I have long applauded Musica Viva’s commitment to the development of young musicians and to promoting music in schools,” says Marjorie Nicholas OAM of Victoria. “Strike A Chord seemed to me to represent a way of taking this engagement to a new level.  It offers encouragement to students at all stages of their musical development.” Marjorie adds of Musica Viva’s Artistic Director of Competitions, “Could there possibly be anyone better to lead the program than Wilma Smith?”

Don Mercer of Victoria says, “The Mercer Family Foundation is keen to support this initiative. It has long been a conviction of mine that good education includes the performing arts – especially music – but what might be done to convince education authorities to devote more time and resources to this area?” Dons adds that after hearing more from Wilma Smith and Musica Viva about the success and impact of the New Zealand Chamber Music Contest, and their plans for Strike a Chord, he was convinced that this could work. “New Zealand provides evidence that it can work – their competition has been around for decades. So why not do this in Australia?”

Veronica Aldridge in South Australia was enthusiastic about supporting a program which gives young musicians the opportunity to mature and develop artistically. “The motivation was hearing Anne Frankenberg at Members Council Canberra when she launched the program,” says Veronica. “This is such an exciting idea to encourage excellence in our young student musicians.”

What role do you think a competition like this plays in the artistic development of young musicians and ensembles?

According to Veronica, Strike a Chord spurs musicians on to continually improve and strive for excellence. “This competition encourages and attracts music students to improve skills as a group or to form a new group raising standards so they may win.”

Similarly, Don says, “Teenagers enjoy and respond to a bit of competition. It is a successful motivator in sport. Why not also in music?”

In Marjorie’s words, “a competition such as Strike A Chord has the potential to play a very significant part in the artistic development of young musicians, especially at an intellectual level.  For many students there are limited opportunities, if any, to perform as part of a chamber group - traditionally, learning a musical instrument has been a rather solitary pursuit.  Ensemble playing opens up a whole new world of collaboration that is both complex and rewarding involving, as it does, not only the music-making itself but the development of inter-personal skills that carry on into life more broadly.”

What are your thoughts on the competition and are there any highlights which stick out in your mind?

Each of our supporters commented on the response by Musica Viva and participating students to adapt to the challenges of 2020.

“2020 was an unfortunate year [for the competition] to start,” says Don, “but, despite the pandemic, enthusiasts in Musica Viva gave it a try anyway, though with some required special conditions. It was a most encouraging success and will be held again in 2021 – this time with live performances and audiences.”

“In spite of Covid-19, the competition still happened,” says Veronica. “By digital means where necessary finalists were chosen culminating in a live experience at Ukaria SA hosted brilliantly by Ed Ayres.”

For Marjorie, the highlights of the competition were not only about those talented young musicians who made it to the finals, but about all who participated. “This is a competition that is inclusive of young musicians at varying stages of their development, that encourages them to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone without over-reaching and, most importantly, that looks to help them increase their enjoyment in music-making.”

Which ensembles did you particularly enjoy watching perform?

For Veronica, the quality of performance was most striking. “I enjoyed all the finalist groups. The freshness of youth and energy shone through the high standard of performances.”

Similarly, Don says, “I had the pleasure of watching the two finals. The standard of the players was awesome.” Though there were many memorable performances, he adds that two personal highlights for him were the VCA school performance of ‘Cellolujah’ featured four talented young cellists performing a composition created by one of their class mates, as well as a trio from Scotch College (piano, violin and French horn), where the interaction of the musicians was compelling to watch.

“I can honestly say I enjoyed watching all the ensembles perform,” says Marjorie, “and I simply marveled at the level of professionalism on display.  The Cousin Quartet exemplified this and there can be no doubt they were entirely worthy winners.  But there were others snapping at their heels!”

In summarising the competition’s launch, Marjorie puts it well. “Little could anyone have imagined, when Strike A Chord was conceived, the difficulties that the inaugural competition would face with the emergence of COVID-19 and all its attendant vicissitudes.  That the competition was able to go ahead at all is little short of a miracle. It speaks volumes for the enthusiasm, resilience and adaptability of the young musicians who entered and their teachers, and for the inventiveness and commitment of Musica Viva, that not only did it go ahead, but that so many ensembles took part and that the overall standard of performance was so high.”

In Veronica’s words, “Long May Strike a Chord continue!”


If you, too, are interested in supporting young artist development via Musica Viva’s competitions, please contact Jaci Maddern, Senior Development Manager at jmaddern@musicaviva.com.au or on (03) 9645 5088.