Ian Cooper. Photo: IanCooper.com
Australia’s most internationally recognised Violinist and Sydney Eisteddfod alumnus, Ian Cooper, talks about his accomplishments, fond memories of performing at Sydney Eisteddfod, and offers up some words of wisdom to first time competitors.
What events did you compete in at Sydney Eisteddfod?
"I competed in the Sydney Eisteddfod in the 1970s and 80s. My memory is a bit hazy I’m afraid but it would have been in the instrumental string events. My mother also entered me in the vocal events; please don’t tell anyone – I was very embarrassed!"
What is your fondest memory of performing at Sydney Eisteddfod?
"I remember seeing the same faces competing from year to year. I was a Suzuki kid so I knew a few of them already from summer camps, but there were a few non-Suzuki kids who I only ever saw at the Eisteddfod. I never talked to these kids because this was a competition and they were the enemy! I have since formed wonderful relationships with many of them and they are now my friends and colleagues. We often laugh about how we were when we were kids."
What inspired your passion for music and performing?
"My mother was and still is, a Suzuki violin teacher so I had no choice but to play. It was always violin practice before breakfast which because I lived with the teacher, inevitably ended up being a lesson. So I really had 5 violin lessons per week whereas the other kids only had one. I didn’t think that was fair!"
What has been your biggest accomplishment after your time at the Sydney Eisteddfod?
"I was commissioned to compose a piece for the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. They wanted a rollicking Irish jig so I wrote the Tin Symphony. I scored it for rock band and orchestra, two sopranos, 100 tap-dancers and a hundred Irish fiddlers, all me! On the week that I recorded the fiddle parts I begged, borrowed and stole instruments from friends and violin shops all over Sydney to make up the 100 different instruments. No single violin was played twice. It was also choreographed for a thousand tap-dancers, acrobats, jugglers and fire-eaters who performed it live on the stadium floor. I later learnt that it had been watched on TV by an estimated 2.85 billion viewers."
What is the best piece of advice you can give to first time competitors?
"To relax and be yourself. For the first time, just play your piece how you’ve practiced it at home or with your accompanist. Often students are advised to smile or acknowledge the adjudicator or audience or whatever, but they are often flat-out just getting through the piece without stopping. There’s plenty of time for stagecraft and all that Jazz later on."
What did you take AWAY from competing in the Eisteddfod for all those years?
"What I am very thankful for is that the Sydney Eisteddfod helped me develop an ability to comfortably perform in front of an audience – whether that be playing music, acting or public speaking. The size of the audience is actually inconsequential – in fact the larger the audience, the easier it becomes. Having opportunities to perform in public from a very young age armed me with valuable skills that have remained with me to this day."