Meet Elliott Gyger, Associate Director of Teaching and Learning at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

Associate Professor in Composition Elliott Gyger. By Giulia McGauran.
Associate Professor in Composition Elliott Gyger. By Giulia McGauran.

Elliott Gyger is Associate Professor in Composition at the University of Melbourne, with a rich and varied career in music-making and education. Here, he discusses his work, the Diploma in Music, and what he'd be doing if he weren't a composer.

Hi Elliott! In a few sentences, can you tell us about who you are and what you stand for?

I am a composer and have collaborated with orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles and many wonderful individual musicians, as well as visual artists, writers and directors. I have enjoyed rich and varied musical experiences across my career. Projects in the last few years include two chamber operas both based on major Australian novels: Fly Away Peter, based on the book by David Malouf, and Oscar and Lucinda, based on the novel by Peter Carey. I've had exciting performance experiences as a choral singer, including at venues such as the Sydney Opera House, Tanglewood, Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. I've worked as a new music conductor and concert curator and write about music in books, journal articles and program notes. I love teaching – engaging in exploring music or helping students to create their own work.

What is the Diploma in Music and who is it suitable for?

The Diploma in Music is one of the concurrent diplomas available to students of the University of Melbourne alongside their main undergraduate degree. It's a year's worth of subjects taken across three or more years, allowing you to explore your musical interests in a very flexible way. Most Diploma students focus on performance lessons and ensemble activities, but you can also study music in different historical, geographical and cultural contexts, or gain skills in creating and analysing music. It's a very valuable pathway to consider if you are not sure whether to pursue music or another area of interest and would like to keep your options open – or if you are settled on another career pathway but just love music and want to make space for it as part of your life at the University.

Is there a philosophy or piece of advice that has held you in good stead throughout your career?

Keep an open mind and immerse yourself in as wide a range of musical activities as possible!

What’s to be gained from a life studying and/or performing or composing music?

The diverse experiences I've listed above have all enriched my understanding of music, but also my connections to other people. I have taken on some extremely off-the-wall projects from time to time, including a concerto for celesta; a work for choir singing into a large wooden box, with their backs to the audience; and a collaborative electro-acoustic work for the foyer of a design school. There have been many surprises and not a few frustrations along the way, but the rewards in the long run are deeply satisfying.

What makes a good Diploma in Music student?

Because they are doing two degrees simultaneously, Diploma students tend to be over-achievers! Curiosity and the interest to focus your own pathway through the degree are valuable.

What excites you about your main field, Composition?

From a personal point of view, I find composing to be the most challenging and engaging activity possible. Balancing logic and spontaneity, intellect and emotion, as well as the interaction between my ideas and the performers who bring them to life. Right now, I think we are in an extremely fruitful period in terms of music history, with few constraints and bracing interactions of style and genre. We are also finally beginning to come to terms with the long-entrenched inequalities of the classical music repertoire in terms of representation. Although there is a very long way to go, the diversity of new voices being heard is tremendously exciting.

Can you complete this sentence with some explanation? If I wasn’t working in music ...

It would still be a key part of my life on a non-professional basis, I'm sure! As far as alternative career paths go, my compositional instincts could find an alternative outlet in architecture or software design. But that is hard for me to imagine.