Sixteen year old Abigail French is an extremely talented musician. Living away from a major city hasn’t deterred her from following her dream of becoming an orchestral violinist – and she’s well on her way to achieving this goal!
Hi Abi. Please tell us a little about yourself, your family, and your connection to the Port Macquarie area …
My mum grew up holidaying in the Camden Haven every year, and then her parents retired in Laurieton. I originally grew up in Perth, but 10 years ago we came over for what was supposed to be three months, while my grandma underwent cancer treatment. We all loved the area so much, we didn’t go back! I now live in West Haven with my parents and younger sister.
I originally attended Laurieton Public School, until I moved in Year 5 to St Columba Anglican School in Port Macquarie. Whether it was concerts at the Glasshouse, Eisteddfods, the Mid North Coast Youth Orchestra or productions at the Players Theatre … I was involved, so I quickly became part of the music community here.
When/how did your interest in music begin? Which came first – playing music or singing?
My mum plays both flute and piano, so I guess my introduction to music came from her. She performed with a Perth orchestra when we were still in WA, so that was really where it all started.
I don’t remember, but apparently I used to sit quietly through her orchestra concerts from when I was two. It raised a few eyebrows with the other concert goers, as they were sure I would disturb them all!
By age four I was asking to play an orchestra instrument. Mum wanted me to start on the piano first, but after a few months of me constantly asking to play a violin, I started Suzuki lessons with my first instrument – made of cardboard and a stick!
I’ve never had singing lessons, but being in choir with Marie van Gent from SCAS has made me love singing at a much higher level.
What style of music do you most enjoy – for both playing and singing?
I don’t have a particular style that I stick to; I try to incorporate as much variety as I can.
Most of my solo violin playing is classical across all the main periods of western music. My favourite pieces at the moment are 19th Century by Saint-Saens and de Falla. I think that’s what I love most about music – the link to history and culture – the composers and performers all have a story.
My regular play list is of current popular music, which I sing along to at home and love hearing other music students perform. The chamber choir at SCAS sings a fantastic range of music with a classical base, but extending to traditional music from other cultures.
At 16, you’ve already enjoyed quite a few phenomenal music experiences! You’ve travelled to Singapore as the leader of our local youth orchestra, and to New York – Carnegie Hall, no less! – with the school chamber choir. What are some of your favourite memories from these experiences?
On both occasions I was fortunate enough to travel with the most amazing people, so almost everything we did was memorable, but New York had been on the bucket list for a while; it was just so surreal to be able to go – and with my friends – so I’m extremely grateful.
major highlights were performing Viotti’s violin concerto solo with the MNCYO on tour in Singapore and a masterclass with the Singapore Symphony. Stepping out on to the Carnegie stage for the first time was beyond incredible and of course, meeting Paul Mealor – the mastermind behind the Requiem!
In January this year, you also took part in the Australian Youth Orchestra
Summer Camp in Adelaide, after a successful audition. How did this opportunity come about?
I was introduced to the camp by my teacher in Newcastle – Olena Zaporozhets – who encouraged me to audition back in August last year. I didn’t expect to get in first time, especially as the camp is open to players up to age 23, so was thrilled when I got a second round offer!
How much did you enjoy the camp … and what were some of the most valuable things you learned by attending?
I loved the camp. Apart from the new friendships, it was such a brilliant way to meet so many talented musicians and to learn from them. Not having access to major city conservatoriums and music scenes, I got so many ideas that had me consider options I hadn’t even considered before.
I have recently just started distance education a few weeks ago to allow me to increase my daily practice – I thought my teacher was only joking when she said I needed a minimum of four hours a day to have a chance at a performance career!
My camp experience gave me a clearer understanding of what being a professional musician involves and how much I love playing in an orchestra.
What advice would you like to share with other young aspiring musicians?
Although the exposure for these opportunities may be greater for those in capital cities, no matter where you are it can only be an audition away! All the AYO programs and auditions details are on their website: www.ayo.com.au
What are your future goals/dreams?
To become an orchestral violinist. I’m not sure what that means yet – in what orchestra or where in the world it might take me – I just know that I appreciate it more than I ever have and I’m excited for the future.
Interview: Jo Robinson.