With 50 people following his every move, Dr Mark Schembri, an Australian Turf Club vet at Randwick, NSW, says conducting is his passion and joy.
“I’ve always loved music and studied clarinet and trumpet as a school student. I did music for my HSC but vet science became my number-one passion at uni and music got pushed to the background—but it was never forgotten.
“Over my working life, I’ve come across many vets who also study music and play a variety of instruments. Eventually a group of us put together a small ensemble that performed at parties, functions or whatever. It was just a bit of fun.
“A few years later, I set up an orchestra that included members from all backgrounds. We had musicians from the Sydney Symphony and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, as well as high school students, veterinarians, architects, nurses and the like. Despite never naming the orchestra, we play pretty consistently at various functions. Last Christmas we performed for the Archbishop of Sydney, followed by another performance for the Governor of New South Wales. We often play in local churches at Easter time. It’s not a religious-based group but word of mouth gets us gigs.
“As the ensemble grew larger and larger we realised we needed a conductor. I just stepped up and took it over. I’ve been conducting the orchestra since 2004. Initially I used my basic musician skills to work out how to conduct and strived to get better with each year.
“The orchestra has 50 members now and we recently performed with singers from Opera Australia. Many of our musicians who joined when they were young are now some of Australia’s more famous, qualified musicians.
“I compare conducting an orchestra to being a vet who’s just starting out. You know the basics and you can get through anything if it’s relatively simple but with more experience, you take on more challenging pieces.
“The key to being a good conductor is to smile when things are going well and to pull a face of concern when things aren’t coming together. The musicians can read your face and adjust their performance until you’re smiling again.
“The key to our orchestra is that it’s all about having fun and enjoying audience response. The only problem with being the conductor is that you have your back to the crowd. I can’t read the faces in the audience and have to wait for their response at the end to see if they enjoyed it. Thankfully, the usually have!”