Jaime McCarthy

Jaime McCarthy, second Scholarship winner in the NSW Drs Orchestra Sydney Eisteddfod Instrumental Scholarship. Photo: WinkiPoP Media

An Interview with Jamie McCarthy

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Trombonist Jamie McCarthy impressed judges in the 2017 NSW Drs Orchestra Sydney Eisteddfod Instrumental Scholarship with his renditions of Guy Ropartz's Piece in Eb Minor and Jeff Tyzik's Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, resulting in them awarding him the 2nd Scholarship. 

Jamie recently spoke to Sydney Eisteddfod about his passion for the trombone and how performance opportunities such as Sydney Eisteddfod have helped him develop as an instrumentalist as well as a person. 

What inspired you to start playing the Trombone? 

The timeline of me learning the trombone has a fairly unceremonious beginning. A band coordinator from a local group came into my school when I was in Primary School and demonstrated a number of instruments. I went to where they were having rehearsals and asked to try a number of instruments (none of which were trombone). I couldn't even pluck the double bass, I didn't have a reed and I made a squeak in a trumpet so they suggested trombone. Over time I've come to really enjoy the sound the trombone can make if played well, which has inspired me to work so hard at it.

You chose to perform the first movement of the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (Tyzik) in the semi-final, tell us about this piece.

The concerto is a really special piece because it uses the trombone in a number of ways that many composers wouldn't even consider. It starts with a pensive, introspective prelude that feels like you're going somewhere despite being quite static, especially through the harmony. A long, low F marks the start of the diametrically opposed Scherzo: rhythmically and harmonically "teleological" (much more target based and directed than the Prelude). The melody's lightness and rhythmic intensity creates the feel of an eastern European dance (the emphasis on the raised 7th in the harmonic minor also emphasises this) that quickly shifts into a deeply rich "B" section marked dolce. Here I can really contrast the lightness of the first section with an incredible richness of sound and musicality, soaring effortlessly above the accompaniment. Following that is a call and response between trombone and accompaniment that brings a total shift of tonality and offers starkly contrasting phrases, ranging from lush to menacing to wild. The piece rounds out with a return of the previous sections and a thrilling ending. I could talk for hours about the piece but I think this is more than enough for now!

Which other performers do you most like to listen to, and why?

At the moment I love listening to Jörgen Van Rijen and Christian Lindberg; Jörgen because of the sound he makes on the trombone and Christian because of his great musicality and impeccable technique. I'm also listening to James Pugh because he has the most famous recording of the Tyzik concerto and provides a top quality insight into many of the jazz elements and styles that the composer was looking for. I also really love listening to Mischa Maisky (Cello) and Barthold Kuijken (Transverse Flute), particularly for their interpretations of Bach and Telemann.

What have you learnt from your Sydney Eisteddfod experience?

This year has been a daunting year with the Sydney Eisteddfod, because it's only the second time I entered an Eisteddfod ever and the first time I entered this competition. I know a few of the other finalists have been finalists in previous years but the whole experience has given me great motivation to practice to be at the top of my craft. To receive this performance opportunity has done wonders for my performance skills and has helped fight performance anxiety immensely. One thing I can take from this at a very basic level is the value of slow practice in refining a piece of music. Both pieces I performed in the NSW Drs Orchestra Sydney Eisteddfod Instrumental Scholarship have immensely challenging sections, made even worse through the challenges of memorisation but at the end of the day, this is what I love doing and preparing for the Eisteddfod has been a labour of love that has already proven deeply rewarding.

What would you say to a young Trombonist that was thinking about entering Sydney Eisteddfod?  

Go for it! I think a lot of trombonists shy away from competitions for a number of reasons; producing notes can be a highly physical endeavour, the slide can turn a smooth, rich phrase into mud if not used with precision and it's one of the worst instruments when it comes to mistakes. If you play a wrong note, it will squeak and fluff out, yet resonate in the hall for what feels like an hour just in case the audience missed the fact that you played a wrong note. That being said, the musicality and capacity for expression is almost unparalleled. It's very rare that a trombone wins a competition because of these initial hurdles (that stick around for your entire career) but if you play trombone then I ask you to rise to the challenge. I think it's about time that people knew how expressive and versatile the trombone can be.

What do you hope to achieve next? 

I would love to be able to perform these works again in a competition or concert. On that note, to play the Tyzik concerto with an orchestra would be a real dream for me. The piano reduction absolutely doesn't do it justice despite how gorgeous it sounds and I think performing a trombone concerto would be a wonderful opportunity to show a lot of people something they haven't heard before. 

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