Thinking Outside the Bach, How this UQ Student is Bringing Light to Lost Female Composers

Thinking Outside the Bach: How this UQ Student is Bringing Light to Lost Female Composers

By Maxwell Freedman, Advanced Humanities Student

Female artists have historically struggled to attain the same success and notoriety of their male counterparts. The music industry is no exception—playing, studying, and loving music for most of her life, Bachelor of Music (Honours) and 2021 Hugh Brandon Scholarship recipient Natalia Carter was saddened to observe the amount of talented female composers that have been swept under the rug throughout history, struggling to make it within a male-dominated industry. 

Natalia isn’t content to simply discuss the problem. As a pianist and aspiring conductor, she wants to take matters into her own hands, giving herself the mission of “bringing light” to the many women who haven’t received their warranted exposure.

“There are so many women, who were just as talented, just as brilliant—who have performed and created music—that just haven’t had the recognition they deserve…”

Becoming a conductor, Natalia hopes to remedy the problem, transporting the music of women to a new audience. Considering that conductors enjoy some level of artistic control in selecting what the orchestra plays, she sees the role as a great way to create change from within.

It was this admirable mission that made her a model candidate for the prestigious Hugh Brandon scholarship, a $6,000 fund aiming to support music students with an interest in conducting, organ, or piano performance. Dutifully working her way through her third year of a Bachelor of Music (Honours), winning the scholarship was a terrific surprise for the young pianist.

The scholarship was created to honour the life of Hugh Earle Brandon, founder of the UQ School of Music. Brandon was responsible for reviving the Queensland University Musical Society, conducting that choir (1950-1965), conducting the Brisbane Bach Choir (1931-1946), and acting as organist and choirmaster at St Andrew’s Presbyterian (now Uniting) Church (1945-1978). He also was the first recipient of Natalia’s own Bachelor of Music degree in 1970.

Compare the Queensland music legend with Natalia and it’s almost startling how similar they are. After all, it wasn’t just her altruistic goals that set her up for scholarship success—like Brandon, Natalia is incredibly passionate about bringing the joys of music to those in the broader Brisbane community. Be it singing with the Brisbane chamber choir, conducting percussion ensembles at her old high school, working as a piano teacher for young children, or even organising a concert at a local retirement home; Natalia has her name splashed all over the Brisbane music scene.

She has also been involved with UQ Chorale (the UQ choir), which performs at QPAC every year. She thoroughly enjoyed the experience, mentioning “it was amazing to be part of that type of music-making.”

But as much she loves Brisbane, like many young students, Natalia has the desire to see what else is out there. After completing her Honours year, she wants to travel overseas and complete a Masters in possibly France or Germany. With a global perspective (and hopefully some professional experience), she’ll return and start a career back home. This again takes her along the path of Brandon, who spent some time studying in England before making his invaluable contributions to Australian music. 

Due to COVID-19, the scholarship’s built-in travel component was replaced with a mentorship opportunity. Natalia’s mentor is UQ alumni Dane Lam, and she struggles to put into words just how grateful she is for his guidance. As Lam went through the exact same Bachelor of Music degree and became an internationally acclaimed name, his mentoring has been instrumental to Natalia’s own development as a conductor. She gets to be the assistant conductor on many of Lam’s projects, practicing on the real-life orchestras that can be hard to get in front of for someone new to the business.

The scholarship caps off a highly enjoyable degree for the young pianist, who was all too willing to sing the praises of UQ’s “very well-rounded” music program. She singles out Dr Anna Grinberg and Dane Lam as particularly influential figures, sculpting her into the musician she is today. Being able to watch her mentors conduct and perform has been “incredibly inspiring.”

With an eye to the future, Natalia urges her fellow aspiring musicians to “take absolutely any opportunity they can get,” encouraging them to get out and produce their own performances, involving themselves in the community as much as possible. Natalia also swears by the UQ music program, which has something for everyone.

Natalia then is clearly well on her way to becoming a conductor and highlighting the many female musicians who thoroughly deserve attention.

Support students, like Natalia, by donating to the HASS Scholarship Fund.

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Qualifications

Bachelor of Music (Honours)