The TSO’s new partnership celebrates “the freedom to be true to yourself”

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The TSO’s new partnership celebrates “the freedom to be true to yourself”By Stephanie Eslake

Even members of a world-class orchestra can feel starstruck every now and again.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has announced a partnership with ARIA-winning singer-songwriter Monique Brumby. According to Director Marketing and Communications Samuel Cairnduff, “the opportunity to work with Monique on a project from the ground up was too good to miss”.

“Monique’s songs have a genuine magnetism,” Sam says. “There is an emotional honesty, beauty and integrity in her work, which reflects not only her lived experience but also her generosity as an artist who’s fully prepared to give her all in her songs and live performances.”

If you think this sounds like high praise, you would be right. And when you listen to Monique’s music, and learn more about the partnership between these musical powerhouses, you’ll understand why.

Monique is a Devonport-born artist who left her hometown to reach for her dreams in the music industry. Then, in 2018, she came back to share those dreams with her local community. Though she has twice won ARIA awards for her indie pop-rock songs (Best New Artist 1996, and Best Female Artist 1997), signed with major record labels, and had her music feature in film and television, Monique is known for more than songwriting alone. She has mentored people with chronic illnesses. She has provided opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. She has performed for people in prisons.

Now, with the TSO, she is advocating for the most silenced of our communities – and doing so through music performances, recordings, and community outreach programs.

“Poverty, oppression, lack of education, lack of opportunity and lack of self-belief are all contributors to the downfall of a healthy society, and so my aim is to help heal people through my collaboration with the TSO," Monique says.

"I want to encourage people to love and nurture themselves and their families and to follow their dreams with this collaboration, wherever that takes them."

Though their partnership has only just begun, she's already working towards these valuable goals. Her first project took the shape of a down-to-earth interview and music video on the TSO Daily Dose, launching a new arrangement of her song For Loving Who I Love. Her lyrics are candid and powerful as she sings: "I'm reclaiming love, for all the years I felt like giving up."

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While For Loving Who I Love was composed as a direct creative response to Australia's survey on marriage equality, the singer hopes her message of equality and compassion will reach everyone who listens.

"I hope my song will reach people from all walks of life: people who have felt misunderstood due to difference, whether it be homosexuality, being an immigrant, being a person of colour or from a poorer community. It’s a song about love and acceptance and equality."

The song has so far been recorded with light instrumentation, emphasising Monique’s moving storytelling and raw vocals. Local saxophonist Jabra Latham orchestrated the song for Monique with Amanda Hodder on piano and Jonathan Békés on cello.

Though it hasn’t yet been released, Monique has also worked with Jabra on a second original song called Closer to the Truth. This music is arranged for string quartet, and the artists had ventured into the TSO studio for a July recording session. You’ll be able to hear it when it’s officially released this November.

But Monique and the TSO have bigger dreams for her music, too: it’ll be an “incredible thrill” to hear her works presented by a 22-piece orchestra.

“I’m not quite sure how I’m going to suppress tears of joy hearing the arrangements performed in this way,” Monique says. “I think that the melding of contemporary pop music with classical music is a wonderful way to convey the depths of expression and meaning that can sometimes be overlooked or undervalued in contemporary pop-rock music.”

The TSO team agrees, acknowledging how important it is for major artistic bodies to encourage positivity and represent all members of our community.

“Monique’s advocacy for social equality has been a constant theme throughout her ground-breaking career, and her ability to make a strong statement through her songs further adds to the impact of her work and her integrity as an artist,” Sam reflects. With the TSO a public supporter of marriage equality, Sam further believes For Loving Who I Love celebrates “the freedom to be true to yourself – strong, positive themes that we share and amplify”.

The song is just one of a dozen that will feature in their partnership. Monique has handpicked some favourites and new works from her 25-year career in the music industry, and they will be recorded later in the year. Five of these works to come are from Monique’s forthcoming rock album. Perhaps this is why she plans “to bring a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll to the whole procedure”.

Certainly, the orchestra usually performs centuries-old music, while Monique’s new hits are inspired by artists who are only decades old, such as Joni Mitchell and Sinead O’Connor. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition has only reinforced her desire to “play with a truly great band!”.

“They just happen to be some of the most exceptional classical musicians in the world!” Monique praises. “I love hearing the textures and timbre that classical musicians produce from their instruments – a depth of tonal brilliance and beauty that any songwriter would be thrilled to have enhancing their work.”

The genre of “classical crossover” can be something of an elephant in the room when it comes to discussions about the orchestra. Contemporary classical arrangements are performed far less than Tchaikovsky or Beethoven. But there’s also a loyal following for a great guest artist who can sing with amplification over a solid beat – the TSO wrapping around every note.

In an ideal world, old and new repertoire would find harmony throughout a concert program. It’s something Sam feels passionate about, arguing crossover genres are becoming a “staple of orchestras across the world”.

“Venturing into this territory certainly provides opportunities to connect with different audiences,” Sam says. “As an arts marketer, I see great value in making connections this way, but the best of these projects are genuine collaborations, where the orchestra shares the stage with the artist and there is a genuine musical exchange.”

The TSO hasn’t shied away from such collaborations in the past, with singers Kate Miller-Heidke, Missy Higgins, and Megan Washington just a few of those who have performed alongside the orchestra. What makes this collaboration with Monique different, though, is the active role the TSO will have in commissioning arrangements and working closely with the artist to develop the project and music.

“This is new and exciting terrain for us,” Sam notes. “As an orchestra, we welcome new ways to flex and showcase our artistic capabilities, and there is truly no better way to do this than to collaborate with an artist from a different genre or discipline.”

In addition to recording and performing the music, Monique and the TSO will also engage members of the local community in a series of outreach programs in the coming year. Monique brings with her a range of experiences – mentoring young women in regional areas for Big hART’s Project O, performing at Risdon Prison for Mental Health Week, and uniting with the Richmond Fellowship to write a song for Homelessness Week.

With the TSO, she will work as a capacity-builder and mentor in marginalised regional Tasmanian communities through various programs in the year to come.

“I have a strong sense of social justice, and so for me I hope that the music I make with the TSO can bring together policymakers, philosophers, creative industries, and businesses to work together to raise up the people in our communities most in need,” Monique says.

Her community advocacy will be closely intertwined with her compositions and recordings. For instance, Closer to the Truth will feature TSO musicians in a new recording at Government House Tasmania – an inclusive capacity-building event that will also welcome the attendance of local community organisations.

“What I always say is that if you can treat the people closest to you in your life with love and respect, then you are contributing a tremendous amount to building a healthy, caring and empathetic society. It’s a good place to start."

Check back in with TSO News or follow us on Facebook to keep up to date on Monique Brumby’s music and community outreach partnership.

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