Fostering the art of inspiration at New England Conservatorium of Music

Six experienced composers will discuss the art of composition in detail at a three day conference in Armidale in October this year.
Fostering the art of inspiration at New England Conservatorium of Music

Bruce Rowland, acclaimed composer of film soundtracks including The Man from Snowy River and Phar Lap will be one of the presenters at the Composition Conference. Photo credit: Zoe Phillips.

From jazz improvisation to sweeping scores for film and television, the art of composition can sometimes elude students who are more focused on mastering their instruments and passing their next exams, than on surrendering themselves to the muse.

‘Talking to my colleagues in the music teaching sector, I often ask them: which is the most difficult aspect of music to teach to your students? And it’s almost unanimous,’ explains Russell Bauer, Director, New England Conservatorium of Music (NECOM).


‘A lot of teachers say, “We know how to compose, we know how to write for our own instrument or our voice, but it’s hard to teach that concept of composition to our students.” Because composition is so broad – it can cover jazz, rock, pop, contemporary, musical theatre, classical, opera, solo instrumental, chamber music, film music, advertising.

‘There are just so many different styles of composition. So we took it on to host the first ever music conference aimed entirely at composition,’ Bauer said.

Running from 9-11 October, NECOM’s inaugural Composition Conference in Armidale, in the New England region of NSW, is open to anyone with a passion for music, ranging from upper secondary students in Years 10, 11 and 12 through to adult songwriters, amateur composers, music educators, studio teachers and retirees.

Tickets provide access to all workshops, the Conference Dinner on the Wednesday night, all morning teas, lunches and afternoon teas, as well as entry to a special screening of the classic Australian film, The Man from Snowy River on the Friday evening. The film’s composer, Bruce Rowland, is one of six composers presenting at NECOM.

‘The Conference could almost be called, “From where do we draw inspiration?” because our presenters are going to talk about the things that inspired them as younger composers and then the directions that life and learning took them – these are seasoned professionals who all found a way to make a living from what they love doing. While some topics will be quite broad, there will also be plenty of ‘nuts and bolts’ and specific details as well, because we’re going to have composers present who want to learn some of the tricks and secrets of the trade – so there’ll be something for anyone with a keen interest in creating music,’ said Bauer.


Six experienced composers will be presenting at the Conference, covering a diverse range of topics from vocal to instrumental, traditional to contemporary, art music to popular styles. The three-day conference will offer insights into everything from understanding the initial creative process through to music as a business.

Presenters include international composer Christopher Norton, known for his best-selling Microjazz series; award-winning Australian film composer, Bruce Rowland, best known for his soundtracks to The Man From Snowy River and Phar Lap; Amy Bastow, who has worked as a composer and music producer for all the major Australian TV networks, as well as co-composing the score for James Cameron’s 3D documentary, Deepsea Challenge; and Australia’s most respected composer of concert band music, Dr Ralph Hultgren.

‘Ralph is a dear colleague of mine and I value him very highly, as indeed does the symphonic concert band community worldwide. And it’s great that despite so much experience he can pare it right back to a topic as important as “Getting your ideas down on paper”,’ Bauer explained.

‘So Ralph is going to talk about that thing that we all know, as young or amateur composers, that you need to take it seriously – that is, at the moment that you have even a skerrick of an original rhythm or a theme or a motif or some little spark of melody, you need to find some way to get that recorded because your brain is not that reliable – it’s not a computer.’

Conversely, Amy Bastow will talk about the use of computers and technology in contemporary composition.

‘Amy will talk about music as an industry and how it’s changed – she comes from the technology age of [software programs like] Sibelius and Finale and so forth, as well as online publishing. So she’s going to talk about the way things have changed in the last 10 years.’

Learn more aboout NECOM's Composition Conference


Bauer hopes the Composition Conference will attract a broad range of participants from well beyond the New England region – with the wide open spaces of the New England Tablelands offering respite and inspiration for guests from the major cities.

‘We’re five hours out of Sydney and five hours south-west of Brisbane so we’re rather remote in that sense, out here in Armidale … But I think all of those things that artists crave – stimulus material, whether it be an area rich in history or an area rich in colour – Armidale and New England has those things in spades, particularly at the moment – it’s such a colourful landscape and a beautiful community and aesthetic,’ he said.

‘And perhaps because this is a university city, for some decades now there’s been a real respect for the arts and a respect for education – in fact, the veneration for the arts out here is something I’ve not seen in a regional area before.’

That respect and love for the arts perhaps explains the enthusiastic response from New Englanders for the Conference’s closing event on the Friday night – a special screening of The Man from Snowy River, with Bruce Rowland’s score played live by a community orchestra.

‘We timed the Snowy River event so that it would come right at the end of the Conference … as the award-winning composer of film soundtracks, Bruce Rowland, is one of our guest presenters. So it made sense to ask him to stay on a little longer and be our guest as a very large community orchestra – we’re heading for 75 players at the moment  – performs the entire soundtrack of The Man from Snowy River as the film plays above our heads.’

The film’s male lead, actor Tom Burlinson, will also be in attendance, and on the completion of the film’s screening he will join the orchestra to sing an hour of Sinatra classics.

‘We hoped – correctly – that the film and massed orchestra would appeal to the New England audiences, and it has certainly hit the proverbial chord. We sold our 800th ticket today and it’s still six months away. With tickets selling as far south as Victoria and right up to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, clearly this concert is something that holds great appeal’, Bauer concluded.

The New England Conservatorium of Music’s Composition Conference runs from 9-11 October 2019 in Armidale, NSW. Visit for bookings and program details.

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Richard Watts

Thursday 11 April, 2019

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts