2 JUN 2017

Making it in the music industry

Shefali Pryor is one of four women who will sit on a panel in the Vivid Ideas exchange in a session titled “Pathway to Platform: Making it in the Music Industry”.

Presented by Music Love at the Museum of Contemporary Arts on June 10, the event will be a chance for aspiring music professionals to hear the untold stories behind the careers of these remarkable women. In this Q & A Shefali gives us a taste of the wisdom you can expect at the talk.

What does music mean to you?

It’s a part of who I am, and I feel passionately that it’s an integral part of our society and community. Music has been, and continues to be, a source of discovery, expression, communication and inspiration for me, and I just feel incredibly lucky to have grown up with it in my life! My experiences as a musician have without doubt coloured who I am and how I see the world.

What does a typical day at the SSO look like?

Rehearsal days run from 10am til 4pm, although I’ll try to arrive at the Opera House by 9am to fix my reeds and cover any last minute preparation. On the day of our first performance we’ll have a general rehearsal that morning to run through the program, and then a concert later that day or in the evening. For the rest of the week we usually just have performances, with the days free to practice and prepare for what’s coming up next. Each week there’s a new program, so there’s always something to look ahead to. I love the variety.

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When did you start playing the oboe?

At the start of high school.

What has been your most memorable performance to date?

That’s a tough one! There have been so many... My first concert with the SSO stands out, as does a concert we played for children with profound disability when I was part of the SSO Sinfonia. Performing Schönberg’s extraordinary work Gurre-Lieder  in my final program with the Australian Youth Orchestra, and playing the offstage part in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique at the London Proms where I stood from high up in the top tier looking out over a packed Albert Hall. It’s not always the big events that stand out, it can be working with inspirational conductors and soloists that make your jaw drop, or seeing a connection with a child or audience member that you know will stay with you both.

What didn’t you expect when you started performing with orchestras? Something people may not realise from the outside looking in…..

I never expected that I would actually get a job! But once I did, I don’t think I expected the emotional roller-coaster that comes with every single performance. Some things get easier, but others get harder, and you never get to the point of feeling like you’ve arrived. Or at least, I haven’t yet!

Who are your favourite Australian women in music? 

The SSO’s Principal Oboe Diana Doherty, my inspirational colleague, mentor and beautiful friend who has always been incredibly supportive. She practises the integrity and generosity as a musician that I aspire to. And Mary Vallentine, who I had the privilege of working with for several years in her role as the chair of the board of the Australian Youth Orchestra. But there are also all the women that I work with day to day in the orchestra who manage to juggle all of the demands of life and then turn up to every performance to play with focus, dedication and passion.

What are you most looking forward to in the second half of 2017?

Can I say all of it?? I can’t wait to work on Pelléas et Mélisande with Charles Dutoit at the end of June, and Bartok’s Opera Bluebeard's Castle with our Chief Conductor and Artistic Director David Robertson at the end of the year. There’s something about working with singers that I love, and I learn a lot about how to approach my own instrument. I’m also looking forward to our tour to Beijing and Shanghai in September, and a big SSO Vanguard (the SSO’s membership program for Gen X & Gen Y) event that we’re currently in the process of planning which should be a lot of fun!

What type of music do you relax to when you are at home?

A lot of jazz and soul, mostly the old stuff, though there are a couple of contemporary jazz pianists that I love like Brad Mehldau. I’m also discovering a bit of bluegrass and folk music at the moment. Often I find myself listening to quieter things, a lot of solo piano music – Bach’s Goldberg variations have been featuring a lot lately. And of course, whatever I’m preparing for the orchestra.

What is one piece of advice you would give a budding classical musician?

Work hard, but not just in the practice room. Listen, go to concerts, talk to your teachers and the musicians you admire, take risks and be ready to take every opportunity that comes your way. Read, learn, be inspired and inspire others, and aim to be the broadest musician that you can be. 

What is your favourite place in Australia?

Any trail in Tasmania, with my hiking boots and pack.

Buy tickets to hear Shefali speak at the Vivid Ideas event, Pathway to Platform: Making it in the Music Industry on June 10 at the Museum of Contemporay Art in Sydney.

Image: Christie Brewster