Michael Scott is an exquisite flautist of international standing who has enjoyed an outstanding career as a musician and educator. Recently appointed as the inaugural Project Manager for Conservatorium Mid North Coast, he is passionate about encouraging people of all ages to learn to play a musical instrument.
> You have just accepted the position of Project Manager with the Conservatorium Mid North Coast. Tell us a little about your career.
I grew up in England, and by the first year of high school I knew that I wanted to be a flute player. Coming to Australia when I was 21, I’ve had principal positions with several orchestras, including the Queensland Symphony, Australian Opera Orchestra and Adelaide Symphony, and I was a founding member of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
I was on the staff of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for 20 years, where I was Head of Woodwind and member of the Sydney Wind Quintet.
I’ve also had a good international career as a chamber musician and soloist – I played as a concerto soloist several times with the Sydney Symphony, for example, so I bring considerable performance and educational experience to this new and challenging position on the Mid North Coast!
> Tell us about the Conservatorium Mid North Coast’s (CMNC) vision …
The aim is to build a community based institution where students of all ages can learn, participate and enjoy the rewards of music performance.
They’ll engage with the wider community in promoting music in all its forms, from rock to classical and everything in between.
The model for our regional conservatorium is unique, in that it covers a large area including Greater Taree/Manning Valley, Port Macquarie-Hastings and Great Lakes. The closest conservatoriums at present are at least two hours’ drive north or south, so we hope to make all the benefits much more readily available.
> Establishing a conservatorium from scratch is an extremely challenging task. What are your own personal plans and goals?
A major part of my role is to secure ongoing funding, and there is tremendous support for this conservatorium. It’s not going to be difficult to show how much it’s needed and that the community is 100% behind the project.
Local teachers will help to increase both the quality and quantity of all types of music, for all ages in the community, by affiliating with CMNC.
I’m planning to present an extra-large and inspirational performance event for school children later this year, with the double purpose of inspiring the performers, to be drawn from multiple schools, and to excite and motivate the audience so that they’ll want to learn to play as well.
The reason I’m interested in getting as many as possible to learn to play a musical instrument is that the benefits are so clear, so far reaching, and being able to have some input into this is a major factor in my taking the position.
In recent years researchers have published results of their work showing, for example, that learning to play a musical instrument increases intelligence (IQ) by between 7% and 25%. This is an incredible amount! You don’t even have to be particularly good; the outcome is from simply doing it and practicing over a period of time.
Playing music also improves memory, reasoning skills, concentration and social interaction, and much more. Many of us have seen that students of music are often really good at maths, and now we know that it’s not a coincidence.
> What is a good age to start learning to play a musical instrument?
Any age is good – it just takes longer as we get older! However, by the age of three years children usually have sufficiently developed motor skills to learn to play instruments like violin, keyboard or piano, and the earlier they start the better.
> You’ve only been here for a short time. How are you settling in so far?
I’ve been here just two months, and I really love this part of the country. My wife and I have settled in to Old Bar, just 15 minutes’ drive from the CMNC office kindly provided by Taree TAFE. I’d never heard of Old Bar until last month, and now I know why it’s such a well kept secret!
> You’re a graduate of the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique, Paris. How did that come about, and what was it like studying in Paris?
I was in Year 11 at school in a London suburb, and knew that I wanted to become a professional flute player. My father used to play gramophone records (LPs), which I enjoyed listening to very much, and one of his orchestral LPs included flute playing that I thought was unusually beautiful.
It was the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, and I thought to myself, “I’d really like to learn how to play like that.” So I took the step that was going to determine the course of my life! I wrote to the Paris Conservatoire of Music (in English), asking for an audition prospectus. It seemed like months later that I got a reply (in French), “Please send us 3 Francs, and we’ll send you a prospectus.”
Off to my French teacher at school for a translation – sent the 3 Francs, and finally received a prospectus only to discover that I had just one week to get to Paris and play a set piece on the audition date. Told my father, who said (quote), “Don’t be daft”, then went to see my headmaster.
He was a music-lover, fortunately for me, who told me to take the next week off school to practice, gave me money for the fare to Paris and wished me good luck. Anyway, I was accepted as a student, my headmaster gave the school a half-day holiday, and I was suddenly very popular!
So, after finishing Year 12, I went to Paris and studied the ‘French School’ of flute playing. There were 12 enrolled flute students at any time, and a vacancy occurred only when anyone graduated and left. We all attended three masterclasses each week, so were always playing and listening to each other instead of just the professor, and after three years I graduated with a ‘Premier Prix de Flute’.
> You’ve travelled extensively with your music. Where are some of the most memorable places you’ve been?
I’ll never forget arriving at Moscow airport and being surrounded by soldiers with guns, pointing to my flute case (fortunately locked), saying, “OPEN …” Apparently, an X-ray of a couple of flutes in a box looks very much like a folded up rifle!
In Japan I took part in performances at the 55,000 seat Tokyo Dome – a huge arena with a dome shaped roof held up by slightly pressurising the stadium. All sorts of lights and massive loudspeakers were hanging from the roof, right above our heads, held up by air pressure.
> What stand out performances come to mind as particular highlights during your career?
There’s a common misconception that Mozart didn’t like the flute, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! The writing for flute in the orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concertos is just exquisite, and without doubt playing them has been a highlight of my career.
One particular performance stands out, when I was privileged to play with Yehudi Menuhin conducting and his sister Hepzibah playing the piano, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Another highlight was a performance at the Sydney Opera House, with the Sydney Wind Quintet together with Don Burrows, George Golla and their quintet. We took turns playing from opposite ends of the stage!
> Thank you Michael.