Liam explores interactive performances

12 August 2014

Successful music student and pianist, Liam Wooding, spent his semester break in Saratoga Springs in New York state learning how to improve the relationship between performer and audience.

Liam’s trip to the USA for the summer programme at the Decoda/Skidmore Chamber Music Institute was funded by the Vice Chancellor’s Arts Student Support Fund. He is the first music student to be selected for the University of Auckland’s High Performance Student Support Programme.

“Every performance in front of an audience is a unique and special occasion which can never be replicated,” says Liam.  “The chamber music programme at Decoda focussed on community and what that means for improving the relationship between the community and the musician.”

Liam (from Whanganui), came to Auckland in 2011 when he was selected for the University of Auckland Chancellor's Award for Top Maori and Pacific Scholars, ( a substantial three year scholarship), and the opportunity to study classical piano with senior lecturer, Dr Rae de Lisle.

He graduated last year with a Bachelor of Music in Classical Performance (Piano) and is this year studying for Honours. Over the years he has won or been placed in local and national chamber music competitions, as well as reaching the finals of the Petman/ROSL Arts International Chamber Music Competition.

The Decoda/Skidmore institute, where Liam studied last month, enables young musicians to explore leadership and community service through the intensive study of chamber music.  It’s a cutting edge chamber music society that aims to forge an integrated role for classical music in communities around the world.

“In addition to rehearsals and coaching, every day we sat in on different presentations which enabled us to think through how we as musicians can be most useful in our communities,” says Liam. “One way to do this was to take our music and work on creating activities that involved and enhanced the audience participation in the music – called Interactive Performance.”

At Decoda students learn how to engage their audiences and communities on a deeper level through these scripted interactive chamber music performances while improving their own performance and public speaking skills.

One of these sessions for Liam and his group – a quartet of piano, violin, cello, and clarinet – was to perform to an audience of young children, aged six to nine years.

Their piece called “Tempest Fantasy” written in 2004 by Paul Moravec (and won the Pullitzer Prize for Music), was inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ with each movement inspired by a certain character from the play.

“We were set very specific guidelines for this session, starting with an entry point or the work’s defining feature,” says Liam. “For us the work’s defining feature was how different elements were manipulated to change the energy of the music. We showed this by setting our performance in a magical land called Darte.”

One of the challenges was to use activities to present different levels of engagement and content, and achieve a balance between the activities, talking and playing, to engage their attention.

“We also had to be aware of multiple intelligences in the audience, and have a variety of learning approaches in the activities – all when creating the performance,” he says.

“We made associations with magical creatures such as wizards and dragons and we compared for example, ‘sforzando’ (a sighing emphasis on a note), to the huffing of a dragon’s breath.”

“We would play a bit and then talk about it, play a bit more and give them activities to do,” says Liam. “Towards the end we told them they had unlocked all the secrets to the magical land and as a reward we would play the whole movement to them.”

Another community-orientated performance project was a concert for elderly people at a rest-home.

“We worked on the spoken introduction and being mindful of our audience,” he says.

His group played Schumann’s ‘Fairy Tales’ for clarinet, viola and piano and looked at how the music was significant to them and how it might be significant to their audience.

“We had to find a common denominator and that is the entry point,” says Liam.  “Being mindful of this in the presentation significantly enhanced our own experience too.”

Liam is now looking forward to completing his Honours this year and to checking out opportunities for postgraduate study overseas, as well as finding ways to promote audience engagement in New Zealand.