The residency held by Fraser Trainer at ANAM offered us musical experiences of both unique and universal qualities. Fraser Trainer studied composition and piano in London before beginning work at London Sinfonietta, devising education programs (in addition to writing a lot of music for various other groups). Through this work, he developed ways to facilitate collaborations between apparently disparate groups (eg. young people who have been thrown out of school and members of orchestras). Over time he has brought together a vast number of collaborative performances in a plethora of settings all across the world, as well as writing a lot of his own music. The final concert was an exciting culmination of a variety of pieces he helped put together during his week at ANAM, featuring performances of his composed pieces, a piece developed with ANAM students together with students at Albert Park College, and a free improvisation by a group of ANAM students.
I was part of the free improvisation group which worked with Fraser throughout the week. We spent our time together developing and sharpening our awareness of musical elements, improvisation and communication techniques. We began each session with a ball-throwing game, where we threw a ball to each other in a circle, then created a “route” that the ball took between us, which we memorised and repeated several times, with more balls being added all the time. This became quite a complex choreographic experience, especially when we operated two different routes at once, with up to eight balls. Throughout the game, there was an emphasis on communicating sympathetically with the other people in the group. This seemed to illustrate the constant awareness which Fraser hoped would continue once we were playing our instruments.
After this warm-up, we got out our instruments to play. In most of the sessions, we focused on and experimented with textural and structural elements which are inherent in many/most different types of music. This exploration gave us a ‘vocabulary’ which we used while working together towards our final performance at the end of the week. It also offered an alternative way to describe much of the notated classical music we study. It can be freeing to think using broader concepts to describe things that seem complex on the page, and I believe this understanding of form and texture helps us to be spontaneous, flexible and free in performance of music from a score. These exercises, both physical and musical, also had inherent ‘values’ that I consider universal to making music: compassion, conversation, openness to the unexpected and freedom from judgement in the moment (though we did discuss what had been more or less successful when reflecting on our improvisations).
During that week, we were also encouraged to have a mentoring session with Fraser, so I headed down to a local coffee shop with him and a fellow student. We had been introduced to his work and ethos at his introductory talk, so had the opportunity to ask more about his interests and experiences. He asked us about our lives and interests, where we would like to go in our lives as musicians and gave us ideas about how to make things happen as emerging musicians. He suggested being guided by questions such as ‘Who am I?’; ‘What kind of music do I want to play?’; ‘Why do I make music?’; ‘Who am I am I making music for?’ and ‘Who do I admire?’ Easy!!
For the performance in the big concert we decided to begin our improvisation with a loose structure, but then to be free to where the music took us, and having worked together throughout the week we had a collective understanding of the balance of the group throughout the performance, I think. There was a generous and exciting atmosphere on stage, which I think had a lot to do with the open and positive way in which Fraser guided us through that week.