24 May 2023

Wombarra resident empowers emerging musicians, connects community with free classical concert series

| Dione David
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Flautist in concert

The Emerging Artist Concert Series provides emerging artists with performance experience invaluable to their craft. Photos: Chelsea Caligari.

Wombarra resident Felicity Woodhill-Newman is a woman on a mission to gift “the joy of music” far and wide.

She is the volunteer creator of the Emerging Artist Concert Series (EACS), a free series of classical music concerts at the Wollongong Art Gallery that is cracking open the vault of performance experience for the next generation of talented musicians.

Her passion is such that many are surprised to discover she is not a musician herself. The truth is it was inspired by her daughter, young violin virtuoso Cedar Newman.

concert audience

The series attracts crowds upwards of 160 people to the Wollongong Art Gallery.

Cedar first took up the violin in earnest under the tutelage of Wollongong teacher Sarah Hindson, who Felicity says planted the seed that bloomed into a love of performance.

“Joining Sarah’s studio was an invitation to a magical world of music making and performance offering inspiration for players of all ages,” Felicity says.

“Whether for all students or to support a few students prepare for exams, Sarah’s studio concerts were always festive celebrations with food and drinks.

“She built a positive culture around performance; it was supportive and joyful. She also found many community performance opportunities for her students.”

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Cedar’s musician grandmother also introduced her to concert opportunities. She was eight when she started performing in St Jude’s Bowral Lunchtime Concert Series, giving her first solo recital at 11. By 13 she was studying under legendary Russian composer and performer Albert Markov in New York with a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music Pre-College.

While Cedar is a poster child for the impact of performance experience for emerging artists, her opportunities were perhaps atypical, according to Felicity.

“Young musicians with ambitions to perform often have much of their experience within conservatoriums and music school environments, which are highly competitive. Performances are frequently for competitions, auditions or assessments, which can be taxing, even if a necessary part of the journey. It is very healthy for these young people to also play for a more relaxed audience simply seeking joy from live music,” she says.

“There are so many passionate and dedicated musicians like Cedar, who are playing at very high levels, practising for many hours a day and yet, are often never heard by the community. There is so much to gain by connecting them with wider communities. Audiences are uplifted and inspired by sharing the journeys of these emerging artists.”

Most artists in the EACS are in their late teens or early 20s, but some as young as 10 have been invited to perform. They’re all highly skilled and concert-ready.

The series mentors them in the realities of performance, which entails engaging with the audience, media, gaining exposure and creating assets and materials to empower the artists to continue their professional development.

While donations are encouraged to help cover artists’ fees and marketing costs, the concerts are free, so they also pull together sometimes disconnected community members. They come early to enjoy morning tea, then the show opens at 11 am with a local performer, followed by a featured artist.

“This series offers high-quality performance but it’s more than a concert; it’s a community event,” Felicity says.

“It makes classical music accessible to people. Children, people with disabilities, people on pensions all come to our concerts.

“This builds social connectivity in the community for people from sometimes disconnected groups or a place for friends to meet and share an experience. That’s good for their health and wellbeing, which is good for the broader community.”

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Already the artists perform in Bowral before coming to Wollongong, and some perform a third concert in Wombarra. The goal is to be able to offer all participants the opportunity to perform their program three to four times.

Felicity has also just incorporated Inspire Music Australia, which is poised to become a not-for-profit committed to supporting the progression path of emerging classical/jazz and world musicians and making their music more accessible within the broader community. There have already been requests to expand the EACS to other regions.

But the first job is to secure the current program.

Two women embrace

The series uses classical music as a vehicle to build social connectivity in the community.

Paying the artists is an important form of professional validation. Until now, the EACS has achieved this through entry donations, generosity from individuals including Felicity herself, and some funding opportunities.

Aside from her own tireless efforts, she says other volunteers and in-kind support from local organisations such as the Wollongong Art Gallery have carried the project this far.

Felicity will seek sponsorship from local organisations and apply for grants to help fund the third series, starting in August, and assist the series in becoming a permanent event for the Illawarra community and growing it beyond.

If passion alone were enough, it would already be a done deal.

The next Emerging Artists Concert Series performance is on Thursday, 8 June, at 11 am at Wollongong Art Gallery. Entry is free and donations are appreciated.

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