A Catch-Up With Brent Stewart
Believe it or not, our over-achieving Assistant Director and Accompanist, Brent Stewart used to find choral music incredibly boring. Not anymore. We asked Brent about performance, pooches and provincial (sort of) living …
You’ve recently moved to Wainuiomata, how’s that going?
I absolutely LOVE the Hutt Valley. There's s a genuine sense of community, almost every day I talk to my neighbour over the fence. The morning commute is atrocious, but my late evening drive takes only minutes.
Your new Bichon Frise puppies, Boris and Dmitri, have a fine pedigree ...
Their Dad, born in Russia, is a New Zealand champion show dog, and their grandad who lives in Russia is a world champion show dog. I should mention that we will not be taking these boys to dog shows, but did want to make sure our puppies came from a healthy bloodline. They are gentle, playful, cunning, and super fast. Their most annoying habit is escaping! They seem to think now it is a game to continually find weaknesses in the fencing of our massive backyard. They recently broke through into my neighbours’, had a quick play with their dog, and then broke through another fence and played with their dog…. a gargantuan female bullmastiff. You can see the boys here.
You've said you used to find choral music boring ...
Yes, but over several years I've been involved in a huge amount of choral research and performance, and I now find anything with voice significantly more exciting than purely instrumental music.
You're Head of the Music Department at Wellington East Girls’ College, Music Director of The Orpheus Choir of Wellington and Sub-Principal Percussionist with Orchestra Wellington. What's been your career highlight so far?
There are so many, but conducting The Rite of Spring is certainly one of them. You can watch here.
What's great about NZSSC?
I love the fact that all the students and staff are so different from one another, and yet we come together in this very unique context and create astoundingly unified music.
And the challenges?
The chaos that occurs right before a concert. I often find myself quietly solving a problem right before the concert begins and then suddenly remember I too am a performer and need to get my head into that space.
How would you describe the 2017/18 choir?
Every choir begins with a slightly higher standard, which provides the music team with an exciting challenge of meeting their potential. Compared to the last choir, I feel this choir is less fragmented in their social groups. This makes a positive difference in rehearsals, touring and performing.
Can anyone learn to sing?
Yes!! And the operative word is 'learn'. Often people say they are tone deaf but speak with varying pitch-inflection. The common problem is that people try to sing in a register not suitable for them, often unable to discern the correct octave.
Do you still get nervous when you perform?
Now and then I get so nervous I feel sick. The last time I felt that way was conducting a concert with Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes. There were hundreds of musicians on stage, following a very limited rehearsal period. My mind was racing with what could go wrong. The build-up was awful, but the nerves disappeared the moment I started conducting. As I get older, I’ve got better at managing anxiety before a concert. I’ll distract myself by doing something unrelated like watching Rick and Morty or Family Guy.
Other favourite TV shows …
The X-Files, Boston Legal, The West Wing.
Facebook or Instagram ...
What’s on your playlist?
In my own time, I don't tend to listen to music. Most of my day is already full of it. However, I’m very eclectic in my ‘popular’ music tastes. I’m currently at my Mum and Dad’s place in Whangamata, and on the drive up I listened to The Smashing Pumpkins, Nina Simone, System Of A Down, and a lot of 50s pop.
What were you like as a teenager?
A total geek and a teacher’s pet. Really into electronics, computer programming, physics and music. I had two very close friends, one girl and one ginger boy. We were basically the Harry Potter trio — I was Harry. I remember being overly committed. Nothing has changed.
Since I was 13, I was determined to be a secondary school music teacher.
Any advice for your teenage self?
Read more about the NZSSC music team here.