Not Your Classic

4 July 2012 | 7:01 am | Aleksia Barron

Melbourne Youth Orchestra’s members Tim Hannah and James Williams aren’t your stereotypical classical musicians. They speak to Aleksia Barron about moonlighting in local bands ahead of MYO’s Berlioz’s Requiem.

Tim Hannah and James Williams are far from the introverted stereotype of the career-oriented classical musician. Instead, both are warm, friendly and more than a little bit indie. Their love for music extends beyond the orchestra seat: Williams, the principal double bass MYO is also the electric bass player for local rock group Hotel On Mayfair, while Hannah plays French horn in both MYO and soul-folk five-piece Catch Release. Both are currently rehearsing for MYO's upcoming performance of Hector Berlioz's Requiem, a famously lavish composition involving full orchestra, a large chorus, a tenor soloist, four brass bands and an expanded percussion section.

It's proving to be an interesting experience for James, who moved from northern New South Wales to join MYO. Currently in his second year of a Bachelor of Music at the University of Melbourne, he had a somewhat unorthodox introduction to the world of orchestral music. After giving away the bass clarinet and tenor saxophone in favour of electric bass, and then double bass, had to teach himself about the traditional language of orchestral scores. “Pizzicato or argo – I didn't know what that stuff meant,” he explains. “I had to Google everything.” He soon got the hang of it, and is now the principal double bass player in MYO. Hannah always wanted to learn about music – as a child, his parents told him that he could start learning an instrument as soon as he learned to read. Yet even when he took up French horn in high school, he wasn't sure about his musical future. “I always kind of assumed, coming from a school that wasn't music-heavy, that I wasn't really good enough to rub shoulders with the elite of the music students.” Hannah is now studying music at Monash, playing in MYO and performing with Catch Release – proof that musicians, regardless of their background, can find their way.

James sees similarities between playing with MYO and his band Hotel On Mayfair. “You still have to perform,” he says, adding, “if I go and watch an orchestra and the basses aren't enjoying what they're doing, I'm not going to enjoy the performance.” Playing double bass doesn't allow for all the antics he enjoys when playing with his band at a pub, but, as James says, “I don't throw my hair around so much or sing back-up vocals in the orchestra, but you still have to take a similar sort of approach.” Meanwhile, Hannah hopes his future holds as much musical diversity as his present. “I'd like to think that even if I was playing full-time in an orchestra, I'd still be able to take up other gigs where I'd do studio recordings for pop music,” he says. “I enjoy having that ability to go from playing Sibelius [with an orchestra] to running down the road to play a couple of pop tunes at a bar. It's kind of fun having that versatility.”

Both love the orchestral experience, especially when performing a work with as much gravitas as the Berlioz. Part of it is that there's a reverence reserved for classical music that you don't see as much in the world of rock and pop. “Classical music perhaps speaks to you on more of an emotional level, while pop music is more of a social experience, interacting with the audience,” says Hannah. With an orchestra listeners can commit to music in a more complete way – a rare gift in our noisy world.

Melbourne Youth Orchestra, Hector Berlioz's Requiem will be performedon Saturday 7 July, 7.30pm, Melbourne Town Hall.