13.07.2020 Take Note: Holly Moore 

For more information on Take Note, click here.

How does a musician stay creative, inspired and compose new work amid a global pandemic? Good. Question. We caught up with musician, composer and Take Note leader Holly Moore to find out.

Holly is about to debut a new suite of music at These Digital Times, our online jazz festival. For more information on These Digital Times, click here. 

2020 has been off to a rough start, especially for working artists like yourself: how are you holding up?  

It’s been a really rough year for everyone but I’m doing ok!  I’ve tried to keep some kind of vague routine in isolation which generally consists of a lot of coffee to start the day, teaching online or in person most days, some practice and composition, afternoon walks and watching a lot (I mean a lot) of RuPaul’s Drag Race.  I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to have slow days during this time.  

On days like these I try to do just a little bit of ‘maintenance’ practice, just some technical work, but that doesn’t always happen.  We all need to be kind to ourselves at the moment!  I spent the first few months of iso watching a lot of online home concerts, which was really nice and have just been calling a lot of friends, talking about music and different ways to navigate the time we are in right now.   

You’ve been working on your commission, to debut at These Digital Times in July – what’s the process looked like?  

It’s been a bit of a crazy time to be working on this music. I was in America in March and was intending to be in New York City for a month and was going to do a lot of work on the commission while I was there, but things obviously changed! I felt a bit creatively drained at the beginning of the lockdown, like most people I was just trying to process what was going on in the world. The music I have been working on has definitely been informed by the global chaos and all the change that has been happening, not just with the pandemic but also the bushfires.  I really use writing as a tool to process things that are going on around me so it does tend to be quite introspective.  Working intensely on this music during this time has really allowed me to break away from only using my own experiences and emotions to prompt ideas but trying to harness the collective experience of this pandemic.   

When I feel stuck I’ll go through voice memos of little ideas I have.  I often get ideas when I’m driving so I frequently pull my car over and sing short 30 second ideas into my phone.  A lot of the time I listen back and have no clue why I thought it was such a good idea at the time, but occasionally some of them really stick so I usually write out the idea then sketch out where it could go from there.  I also take a lot of voice memos of sounds I hear around me as well as chants at protests over the years, these can be a really good springboard into new tunes.  It’s honestly been so good to have this music to work on during this time to keep me motivated and busy.   

We got together recently to film workshops for high-school music students who are learning at home. It’s a big departure from delivering workshops in person. How was that process for you? Did you have to think creatively about teaching at a distance? 

Filming the education content for high school students was completely new territory for me!  Everyone is talking about needing to ‘pivot’ at the moment to contend with these unprecedented times and transforming these ideas to video felt like a big pivot for me.  The main challenge I found was to develop these workshops without knowing who the student was.  When you are teaching in person you can adjust your plans once you have heard them play to cater to their level and interestsIt was really about figuring out how I could deliver this information to students in a succinct and engaging way.  In order to do this, I had to be a lot more thorough in the planning stages and really flesh all of my ideas out The whole process made me think a lot more deeply about how to communicate important musical ideas and concepts.  I’m proud of what we made!  

What are you listening to? Where are you getting your inspiration from these days?  

I’ve actually been listening to a lot of old school stuff in isolation that I find really comforting.  I’m listening to a lot of Miles Davis records like Relaxin’, Walkin’ and My Funny Valentine.  Ahmad Jamal’s Live at the Pershing is always on heavy rotation and I’ve also loved revisiting Jackie McLean’s Jacknife and Kenny Garrett’s album Triology.  There’s also been a lot of singing and dancing to Lizzo in my house.  I guess I’m getting my inspiration from the music that I’m listening to, the conversations I’m having with friends and family and everything that’s happening in the world right now.  I recently watched a very moving documentary by Maya Newell called ‘In My Blood It Runs’ which follows a 10 year old Arrernte Aboriginal boy navigating his culture and a government education.  I think this is essential to watch if you’re Australian!  I also listen to podcasts a lot, some of my favourites are the New York Times ‘the Daily’, 7AM, and the NPR politics podcast.  

What would you say to a young musician who’s looking at the world around them and second guessing pursuing a career in music? What makes you stick with it, even when it’s really, really tough? 

You absolutely have to believe in yourself.  It can be easy to compare yourself to other musicians, especially with social media, but you need to try and put the blinkers on and stay in your lane.  If you are able to hold onto that self-determination and serious love for the music then I think you’ll be fine.  I don’t want to sugar coat what it’s really like to be a freelance jazz musician because it is really tough, especially at the moment.  It’s not a particularly forgiving career option as there is a lot of financial uncertainty but if you are willing to work really hard it can be very rewarding in other ways.  I’m not going to lie, when lockdown first happened I really did freak out and kind of wished I had a more stable job for a second, but I just can’t imagine doing anything else.  feel like I have so much music to make and so much to learn and practice, which is what continues to drive me.   

The Take Note program is supported by Creative Victoria, The Kestin Family Foundation, the Robert Salzer Foundation.

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