From Conservatorium halls to the world stage

13 October 2020
The Jezabels' Heather Shannon talks about life after graduation
We recently caught up with Heather Shannon of The Jezabels, to hear about her time as a student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and get a glimpse of a day in the life of a professional musician.

Internationally renowned independent rock band, The Jezebels, formed in 2007 after the four members met while studying at the Con. The band consists of Hayley Mary on lead vocals, Nik Kaloper on drums and percussion, Samuel Lockwood on lead guitar and Heather Shannon on piano and keyboard.

Heather Shannon

Heather Shannon performing with The Jezebels at this year's online graduation celebration event 

What’s happened since graduation?

As a musician I have tried to be as versatile as I can. It’s virtually impossible to make a living off music, but somehow, we (The Jezabels) managed to. We were managed by Dave Batty, one of the most intelligent people around. He knew how to make a band work so that it became self-sufficient. We worked extremely hard for over ten years. It was the best and we will continue to do things.  

Since The Jezabels slowed down a bit I've been really lucky to work with some local orchestras. I really believe in engaging with the music industry on a local and community-based level which lead me to working with The Metropolitan Orchestra. I have also had commissions from the QSO and ACO Collective since then and have learnt a lot! Other musical adventures I've had include playing as a session musician with Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet on TV - a very strange experience, but a fun time - and writing music for a couple of movie sound tracks.

What does a typical day look like for you when you’re working?

I teach music at TAFE and at the Conservatorium. Some of my week is spent preparing for lessons. I love teaching and I also spend a lot of time studying. I'm currently studying a master’s degree in composition. I play a lot of piano too. I'm working towards a solo piano album and practising a lot for that. I think the life of a musician is generally pretty scattered!

Through collaborative projects and teaching, I'm always listening to what people are writing around me. That really keeps me driven and inspired.
Heather Shannon

What are some of your fondest memories from your time as a student?

Probably lurking around the Conservatorium halls at all hours getting up to some sort of mischief with my good friend Daniel. We would stay back most nights and watch whatever concert was on that night. Coming home after practising on my own all day to write a song with Nik, Sam and Hayley over a beer.   

The Jezabels - The Others (Official Video)

How did your music degree help?

Initially I felt like my degree was not helping. It made me feel rigid when I played in a band context. But now I realise it was just another influence in the mix with our song writing. It definitely informed everything I wrote and how I played in the first few years. It helped me in that I knew how to work very hard as a musician.

What advice would you give to a student considering a music degree?

I would say, look after your body. Playing music every day can actually really physically hurt. Stay on top of any RSI you experience. Studying in a new place, especially if it's really competitive and you are coming from somewhere else can be very intimidating. Don't worry about trying to fit in. Being different in that context can be really liberating and if you embrace it you are going to win at life.

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