The Australian Art Orchestra

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The Australian Art Orchestra


Scott Tinkler is the Associate Artistic Director of the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO). His official AAO website photo is only slightly intimidating, with a serious expression and the starkness only black-and-white photos create. But when Tinkler’s cheerful voice comes onto the line, it’s clear that the photograph only tells a very small part of the story.

“[There was] this run of photos where [the publicists] wanted a totally expressionless look…[the photos] look a bit serious and dark.” he says. “Some of them worked out really well, because some people have interesting heads, but mine isn’t so interesting.”

Modesty, it seems, is the key to Tinkler’s success as a musician. As Associate Artistic Director for an internationally recognised and progressive orchestra, Tinkler is also one of their trumpet players working with Artistic Director Paul Grabowsky. While he flatly refutes any tendency towards multi-instrumental abilities, his love of the trumpet emerged at an early age, seemingly to the exclusion of other instruments.

“When I was living in Ballarat [and] I was in Grade 5, this guy came to school with a trumpet. You [got] two or three lessons with this trumpet and it was $20. I looked at it and went ‘I want that!’ and I ran home to Mum and Dad…I never looked back.” He was also lucky enough to have supportive parents. “My Dad was a minister…He did [his job] because it was his passion and he was like ‘Well, Scott’s going to do something like that too’…I was well-supported by my parents.”

In Tinkler’s place, it’s easy to imagine that you have the power to shape the future of the orchestra. But Tinkler swings it the other way, perceiving his direction as an opportunity for artistic collaborations between all musicians involved in the project, even if their preferences don’t necessarily harmonise with his own. These include projects as wide-ranging as recent work with Paul Kelly, Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach. While the AAO’s latest show will be in Melbourne’s famous Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Tinkler is quick to note that the orchestra has spread its wings far and wide in terms of genre and style, noting they do “pretty much anything, from funk to flamenco, to some Cuban-style music. Each individual [in the orchestra brings] their own influences…Some [of the musicians] are very much into fusion-type music…Basically we’re willing to approach any style of music but with our own little flavour.”

The key, apparently, is to maintain each individual musician’s voice, and that’s no mean feat considering the AAO has 20 of them. “At times, you have to put other people’s agendas ahead of your own, as far as music goes. Just because you don’t think it’s the best idea in the world, doesn’t mean a lot of people do…So you’ve got to be willing to see things from other people’s points of view.”

With such a diverse group of people, how on earth do you eke out that individualism in a group setting? Tinkler’s answer succinctly demonstrates that he’s given time and thought to the topic.

“All music has a certain understanding of language, Western music particularly.” Tinkler notes. “All these [musicians] have a similar understanding of the structure and the guidelines that are found in the music, like rhythm, harmony, melody [and] form. But we all have our own take on how those things can be slightly twisted…When you speak English, someone still has their own way of talking, their own accent. They still speak English, [and the musicians] are still using the rules of music. The rules that we’re breaking are still music rules, so [music and language] is all connected in that way.”

And since this is an Australian art orchestra, there are, of course, two obvious questions: how do Australians approach music, and what does “Australian music” even sound like? Tinkler pinpoints our larrikin attitude to life as a key factor.

“It’s about an attitude, a willingness not to take yourself too seriously. A willingness to work hard…I find personally some musicians from other cultures can take themselves and their particular style of music so seriously, and adhere to tradition so much that they won’t develop…It’s that Aussie ‘bit of fun’ to just go with the music.”

The Australian Art Orchestra presents Four Thursdays in August at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club each Thursday this August. Their repertoire includes Variations ‘D’un Gout Etranger’ on a theme by Marin Marais by Paul Grabowsky, and arrangements from a number of Paul Grabowsky’s albums including TeeVee and Viva Viva . For tickets and information, see the