AMEB Newsletter – An Interview with a composer, educator and AMEB examiner. LORETA FIN

AMEB Newsletter – An Interview with a composer, educator and AMEB examiner. 


Your musical journey started at school, what roles did you play?

I started learning the violin in Year 4 when a music teacher at Saint Ursula’s Kingsgrove, in Sydney, asked me if I’d like to play the violin. I did my Preliminary AMEB exam the following year and scored 96%. I then went on to have lessons with Sister Margaret Short, who was the Mother Superior at the time – and a fine violinist herself. I went on to complete a violin and theory exam every year, eventually under the tutelage of Ms Emily Finn (no relation), who was a former SSO player. At the time, my school didn’t have a big instrumental music program, but Ms Rita Montgomery was the music teacher and she grew the program throughout my high school years and beyond. During my high school years, I played in the Sydney Youth Symphony Orchestra, under Richard Gill AO, which is when I first fell in love with playing with others. In Year 12, when I was School Captain of St Ursula’s, I often led the entire school in lunchtime square dances, followed by clean-ups to the music of the William Tell Overture. I then returned to the school several times to play in the orchestra for their musicals. I have kept in touch with all of my significant musical mentors and will forever be grateful for the guidance and encouragement they gave me.

When did you first know that a career in music and music education was for you?

I guess I always knew I would pursue a career in music – and I was quite adamant that I wanted to be a teacher. I come from an Italian-Australian family, where music was always in the home. My Mum was a pianist (she played for all of my exams from preliminary to Grade 7) and my Dad loved to sing. I was the 2nd of 8 children and most of us played an instrument and/or sang. When I finished school, my very first teacher then asked me to help out with some of her younger students. When I did my audition for the Sydney Con, the panel suggested that I should be auditioning for the performance degree. Instead, I stuck to my guns and enrolled in the Music Education degree, but performed in the orchestra for the Performance degree. I was awarded a Teachers’ Scholarship, and as I went through the course, I realised that Instrumental teaching was going to be my passion, rather than classroom teaching. I loved conducting lessons with Richard Gill AO and started to play viola in chamber music groups. I also started tutoring the younger string orchestras in SYO and this is when I knew what my career path would be.

I had assumed that you were all about classical music given your background, but you have other musical passions as well?

For over 30 years, I have been the Principal Viola player of the Qld Pops Orchestra and have also played in freelance professional productions at QPAC, such as Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera. The Pops Orchestra plays all sorts of music, from classical, to opera, to jazz, to swing, to musical theatre. I have also played in the orchestra for lots of well-known artists, such as Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick, John Farnham, Olivia Newton John, Kate Ceberano, Hugh Jackman and Rod Stewart. Sport was my other passion – I played representative basketball and was in the Qld Sth East Region Indoor Netball team, which won the state titles. I was also awarded Player of the Season several times. Nowadays, playing music is kinder on my knees and ankles than sport!

Tell us about composition.

When I first started teaching in schools, I often had ensembles that had a wide range of abilities. I had to do a lot of arranging and simplifying for the less experienced players. After a while, I noticed that there wasn’t much “fun” music for young players, so I wrote a few pieces that taught the same skills, but were more accessible and appealing to the young ones and prepared them for playing Bach and Mozart later on. Some string teacher colleagues then encouraged me to publish them, and since then, I have written over 100 pieces for solo and string orchestras. Some of them have even been selected as AMEB pieces.

You’ve been an examiner for AMEB since 2000.  Why the AMEB syllabi?

I started with AMEB exams and completed all of the grades in Violin and the prerequisite theory. Later, I was awarded an AMusA and LMusA, as well as an ATCL in Viola. My LMus A was with a String Quartet – which was a great experience. We were the first LMus Diploma awarded in the ensemble syllabus and since then, I have taught many ensemble beginner classes. One of my senior quartets was awarded their AMUSA in 2019. As an educator, I have always believed in a sequential approach to learning, so a grade-by-grade syllabus, offering an extensive range of repertoire and styles is really appealing. As a teacher for over 35 years at Somerville House in Brisbane, I also recognised that students work better when they have a goal to aim for. I am well aware that many students have a very full program, with school, music, sport, debating, robotics and other activities. I think AMEB offers this sequential learning experience, as well as manageable options for today’s busy student. Over the past 35 years, I have entered hundreds of students, from Preliminary to AMus A level – and many are now playing professionally or enjoying performing in community orchestras. I am also very pleased to say that I am still in contact with quite a few of them.

How do you approach your professional life?

I love the variety in my professional life. I now balance a busy freelance career of teaching, performing, examining, adjudicating eisteddfods, conducting, composing and doing community service (being on Australian Strings Assn Committees and other music Advisory Boards). I strongly believe and advocate the notion that music is a gift that every child deserves – in fact it is a right. I try to be encouraging in my report writing, whilst offering constructive advice for improvement. Music is a lifelong journey and we are always learning.

What advice do you have for someone who wants a career doing what you do?

Be diverse – get skilled in as many areas as you can and don’t put all your eggs in one musical basket. It is going to take hard work and discipline, but not many careers have the benefits that music offers. There is nothing like the joy of playing with others and the “buzz” that we get when we hear the applause of an audience.  Over the years, students have often said to me “I can’t decide whether to do Music or …….”. My response is always the same – “do what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at”.  Teaching and playing music are not just “jobs”, but they are vocations. If you don’t have that passion and commitment, then keep working to achieve the highest level you can, so that you can play for enjoyment – a lifelong gift for your heart and soul and that nobody can take away from you.