When Hayley applied to study at the ANU School of Music, she auditioned on the piano. When she graduated, in 2018, she did so with a major in performance on the double bass – the instrument she now plays in the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
It was by chance that Hayley picked up the double bass. She was studying at Merici College in Canberra and playing electric bass in their concert band – something she picked up to join in Year 8. A year later, the school acquired some double basses and asked if she wanted to learn that instrument. Hayley did.
“I just thought it was the coolest thing,” she says. “It was this massive instrument that I'd never really seen or imagined myself playing before.”
Her parents were less than thrilled.
“They were like, ‘Why couldn't you have picked the flute? Or even better, the piccolo? Something that would fit in our car?'” Hayley recalls with humour.
The school didn’t get a double bass teacher until she was in Year 12, so Hayley was initially taught by the bandmaster (a trombonist) and occasionally a cello teacher, but was mostly left to figure things out for herself by playing a in number of the school’s string, band and jazz ensembles.
After high school, Hayley was apart from the double bass until her second year at the ANU. She joined the ANU Orchestra, reacquainting herself with the double bass.
“I was definitely not at the standard I probably should have been,” Hayley admits. “But it was great to just pick it up again and be playing with people in such a great orchestra.”
Lecturer Dr Alec Hunter saw her obvious enthusiasm for the instrument.
“He said, ‘If you're interested in doing this as your degree, picking it back up in performance, would you like some lessons?’”
She said yes, and together they managed to bring her skills to the level of being able to get into the ANU School of Music’s string program.
“Once I did get in,” she says, “I sought a more classically trained teacher who helped me hone my skills even more to get through the rigorous string class where I was definitely torn apart.”
“I'd play a scale and get torn apart. I'd play a song and get torn apart. I just kept playing each week to keep getting that feedback and to make sure I kept myself accountable to keep practicing.”
At the time, Hayley was doing a science degree alongside a Bachelor of Music. For a semester, she decided to focus on music.
“Honestly, it was just the best decision, the best semester,” Hayley says. “Being within the music community at the School of Music, fully engaged... it was just excellent. I remember feeling happy every day coming into uni.”
She later resumed her Bachelor of Science, changing her specialization to Psychology. Now, in working for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment as a policy officer, Hayley says both her music and science degrees have been valuable for her current role.
“I think the Bachelor of Music helps you to have a creative eye on things, which surprisingly comes in handy for a policy role,” she says. “The writing skills that come out of a Music/Arts degree and psychology degree are quite different, but being able to put those two together to write comprehensively in a government role has been really helpful.”
Hayley has also retained her position in the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO), which she joined in early 2019. It took two auditions, twelve months apart, rigorous practice and overcoming the devastation of her failed first attempt.
“When I heard I got in I was just filled with so much joy,” she says. “Having the chance to perform alongside the incredible musicians of the CSO is always such an uplifting, magnificent experience.”
“There's no way I would be where I am today if I hadn’t gone to the School of Music. I owe so much to all the amazing teachers and lecturers I had during my time at the ANU.”
After a year with the CSO, stages around Australia fell silent as the pandemic struck. Performing with other musicians is what drives Hayley, what makes time stop for her. When that was taken away, it left a hole in her chest. Her music career, and busy rehearsal and teaching schedule were pushed aside.
Over a year later, Hayley can’t wait for the first CSO rehearsal back after COVID. She has hope for the future and hopes other musicians similarly won’t stop practicing and continue to hold fast to their dreams.
“It still sits there in the back of my mind,” she says. “I know I've paused my music career for now. But I know that one day, if I want to go join a full-time orchestra like Sydney or Melbourne or Tasmania – if I put my mind to it – I can do it. And any musician can do it if they put their mind to it.”
“There will be setbacks; something like COVID might hit again. Or you might fail that audition. You might fail yourself for whatever reason. But as long as you stay resilient, you can achieve whatever you want.”
Written by Evana Ho