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Why mentoring matters

Tip Published Tuesday 23 January 2018
Black and white photo of composer Liza Lim smiling
Composer Liza Lim (photo by Klaus Rudolf)

Mentoring a great opportunity to provide one on one support for composers to hone their craft or gain new skills

Liza Lim credits her own mentors for giving her confidence to explore her craft and her influences

She says mentoring can be a gift, and all artists need that in some form to develop a strong foundation for their work


Why does mentoring matter? It's a question worth exploring, and Art Music Award-winning composer, Art Music Fund recipient, and professor Liza Lim is here to tell us why. In the following Q & A, she discusses the benefits of mentoring, creative risk-taking, and the future of female composers.

Q: What are your key responsibilities as a mentor?

Mentoring is great for providing opportunities for composers to hone their craft in a highly professional and collaborative environment in which they can take artistic risks. One of the things I’m interested in as a teacher is ‘muse-mentoring’ (a concept described by Huddersfield University's Dr. Elizabeth Dobson) – a form of peer exchange and collaborative learning in which the members of a group develop knowledge and skills by taking creative risks with ideas and imagining what they have not done before. I often learn as much from this as the composers I’m working with.

Q: What are the advantages of a formalised mentoring program? Do you think meaningful mentoring is something that can happen on a more casual basis as well? Is there a difference?

A formalised program is a gift of time and focused attention – I think all artists need that in some form in order to develop a strong foundation that will carry them forward in their work. One-off lessons/mentoring can also be great as a way to gain inspiration and widen the scope of your influences and knowledge but I think a more sustained program, whether in the form of a course or private lessons, is invaluable.

Q: In your own career, have you benefitted from having a mentor? If so, can you share a bit about how it helped you? And from that relationship, what will you incorporate into your own role as mentor?

The most important of my early mentors was my high school music teacher, Rosalind McMillan (PLC, Melbourne). She encouraged me to compose for fellow students, explore new notations and techniques with the school orchestra and choir, and introduced me to composers such as Berio, Penderecki, John Cage and Yoko Ono, all of whom were hugely formative for me.

In my own composition teaching I also encourage collaborative projects with performers and introduce students to as wide a range of styles and techniques as possible. I prioritise very recent music so that they can see that their own work in composition is part of a current and ongoing artistic conversation that is part of a large and living community.

Q: Lastly…why is the future exciting for female composers?

This is a really interesting time for women in music. Last year’s reports from APRA AMCOS, authored by Catherine Strong, and from Sydney University’s business school highlighted the ways in which the music industry has not provided equal opportunities for women, whether in terms of participation, pay, leadership roles or safe spaces. I feel it’s the first time in the 30 years I’ve been a practicing artist that there’s greater traction in addressing these problems whether through quotas or other programs. Sydney Conservatorium are aiming to put in place systemic reform around gender inequality and to stem the high attrition rates where women who study music don’t continue into the profession. I think there’s a stronger sense of possibility, of responsibility and commitment to ensure that women have more opportunities to thrive as composers and I hope that this will also increase the societal, cultural and economic valuation of their work. The future’s exciting but I don’t think we can be at all complacent.