Ashley William Smith, UWA’s Head of Winds and Contemporary Performance at the School of Music and most recent Churchill Fellowship recipient, can’t wait for June 23. This is the date his Fellowship begins, encompassing eight European cities over an intense 34 day period in what is his dream program.
“The beauty of a Churchill Fellowship is that you get to design your own program. It really is a dream come true to be able to visit iconic European cities such as Paris, London and Vienna. In each city I will take part in performance projects where I’ll have the chance to work alongside some of my former collaborators from the USA, as well as getting the chance to meet and work with many new people in the industry that really inspire me,“ says Ashley.
“In Paris I’ll attend a contemporary music festival, in Prague an international clarinet conference and in Amsterdam I’ll receive bass clarinet tuition from one of my childhood idols, and that’s just the first three destinations!
“One thing I’m truly passionate about regarding my career is to be continually upskilling myself. As a musician I think it can be easy to become a creature of habit, but continuing to develop new techniques and ways to perform is essential to growing into the best musician that I can be.
“Although the trip is focussed on contemporary music opportunities, at the end I’ll visit Vienna and Salzburg which will really be a highlight for me – it’s the home of Mozart and Beethoven! After studying, listening and playing their music for so many years, it will be a real highlight to see the cities where this music came from.”
While Ashley has spent a lot of time performing and training in the U.S and Asia, Europe is a new market for him in both regards.
“I built my Fellowship to maximise professional development opportunities in a short space of time. Part of this is definitely being introduced to the European music community and building relationships that will hopefully result in future opportunities,” he says.
Graduating from UWA with a Bachelor of Music in 2007, Ashley returned to the University in 2013 to take up his current role.
“When I was a student at UWA the standard of performance by my classmates was so high that we really pushed each other in the best way, and a lot of us have gone on to major roles in the industry, both nationally and internationally,” he says.
“I think there must be something in Perth’s water, we’re so isolated yet we keep producing exceptional musicians and currently the School is rated number one in Australia, and we really have some exceptional students.”
“It’s an exciting and rewarding time to be teaching. I push my students out of their comfort zone and really encourage them to take risks as performers. Now more than ever versatility is crucial in the industry. Across the world the industry is changing - the idea of every classical musician acquiring a fulltime orchestral job is no longer viable. Tomorrow’s musicians need to be capable of working across the discipline, which is why we teach them to develop a portfolio of skills.”
An avid trail runner and cross-fitter, Ashley learnt from experience the benefits physical fitness has on performance and this is something he instils in his students.
“The music industry is ruthless and competitive and the physical and mental training required by musicians is similar to that of athletes,” he says.
“At one stage of my career I felt I had hit a performance plateau. However what I learned was that essentially, the quality of an instrument’s output is only as good as the breath you put into it. When I worked on my fitness I was able to physically and mentally reach those new levels.
“I want to encourage all my students to be both as physically fit and musically fit as possible - they no doubt they see me as a boot camp instructor at times.”
See Ashley perform on 19 August as part of the School of Music’s lunchtime concert series. Entry is free and no bookings are required.