Meet Stephanie Arnold, DSO cellist, accomplished artist, and musical mentor,
Steph begun playing the Cello at the age of 6. ‘My older sister had started learning violin the year before’ Steph recalls. ‘I remember watching her walking around the house with the violin under her chin and wanting to learn as well. Our neighbours down the road played cello, and so had a little cello which I tried out and loved straight away’.
Steph credits her childhood cello teacher with helping her find the meaning in the music she was learning. ‘[She would] encouraging me to imagine a feeling or a landscape that would help me connect more deeply with the music’. This encouragement appears to have played a vital role in Steph music career.
Steph graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music with a Bachelor of Music in Performance (Honours) before completing a Master of Music Performance from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, and a Masters of Music from the Musikhochscule Lübeck in Germany.
In recent years Steph has employed her music performance experience and her skills as a talented cellist to create musical Memoryscapes that combine interview material and oral history recordings with music performance and audio art. This work focuses on the role of performance as a way to share stories.
In 2017 Steph was awarded the Oral History Victoria Innovation Award for her work Across the Water, a collaboration with composer Robert Davidson. Other works include Happy to Chat, which explores how modern technology is changing the way people interact with their Uber drivers, and These Tender Threads, which explores ideas of memory and identity.
In February, Steph developed a new work during her time at the Greenhouse National Residency program run by Hot House Theatre in Albury. These Trees Will Not Come Back tells the stories of a naturalist from Steph’s hometown of Armidale in NSW who she interviewed during the 2019 drought and again more recently since the drought has broken. ‘The work focuses on how the drought has affected the landscape irrevocably and the urgent need to change our relationship with the landscape, but among this urgency there is still hope as new growth fights its way back,’ Steph explains. ‘The work was premiered in a beautiful pavilion designed by AKIMBO architecture using bushfire salvaged timbre. The audience experienced the live and pre-recorded cello and interview fragments as they walked through bare tree trunks which filled the space. It was a very moving experience to perform the work in this space and I hope to recreate the work in other settings in the future’.
Next on the horizon for Steph is the NT Chamber Music Festival next month. She will be performing La Revue de Cuisine by Martinů on Saturday evening in Divine Feast. ‘There are some complicated rhythmic ideas that can take the listener (and sometimes the player) by surprise if they are not on their toes’ Steph says of the piece. ‘[Martinů] was influenced by jazz and folk styles of the time, and these are great fun for us to indulge in’.
Though not performing the piece, Steph is excited to hear her fellow musicians performing Gavin Bryars’ Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, as part of Divine Feast. ‘What moves me most about the work is its ability to hold the audience’s focus on the recording of a single phrase sung by an anonymous man who was sleeping rough in London in 1971. For me, the work is an invitation to the audience to listen in a way that these days, we do not often make time for. To sit still without distraction and give our attention to the voice of a man who, due to his homeless circumstances, was probably not offered that respect or acknowledgment during his life. This kind of listening is an example of the power the arts have to program works that give space to voices that are not often heard or acknowledged, and it is something we should all be doing more of’.
Steph plans to continue her adventure creating music and art with her cello. ‘Life is a little nomadic at the moment, with various performances and tours in different states’ Steph explains. She is currently enjoying be involved in the Darwin music scene and mentoring young musicians and students. ‘Music education both for kids and young people as well as for the wider community who want to connect and be creative with music making is something I am really passionate about and will always be a part of the work I do through workshops and lessons. I am looking forward to producing and performing more of my own work and pushing myself to keep developing my interdisciplinary practice.’
Finally, Steph shares a piece of advice that has stuck with her throughout her music career, ‘Many years ago I was given some simple advice – to always be true to yourself in the music that you are playing/making. That advice has sometimes taken me away from a ‘normal’ looking career path, but I feel so much richer for it, and cannot wait to see what is next’.
You can catch Stephanie performing with Darwin Symphony Orchestra in Divine Feast, as part of the NT Chamber Music Festival on Saturday 4 June, at Brown’s Mart. Tickets are on sale now. Book now via the button below.
Steph has also kindly shared 10 pieces of music that have inspired her journey as a cellist and artist. That playlist can be found via the DSO Spotify account here.