Written by Russ Benning
As an artist myself, I was thrilled to be asked to write the feature piece with the theme of Art.
The fact I got to meet and have a comfortable, inspiring conversation with an incredible local musician (now based in Brisbane) was the cherry on top.
I really enjoyed the idea of an artist interviewing an artist – in this case; visual artist meets musical artist and I was not disappointed with the interaction that took place.
As much as I love and appreciate music, I have very little knowledge of the theory and much less experience of what it takes to become a great musician.
On the contrary, it’s difficult to separate Meg Burstow from music. She was raised with it in every element of her upbringing.
The cliche of music running through one’s veins feels no more appropriate than it does when describing the relation with music and our lovely subject.
She was surrounded by it in her family environment. It seems her destiny of becoming a musician was never not on the cards, even though she almost followed another family direction of studying medicine. Fun fact, Meg actually graduated high school a year early, having her arrive in the ‘big smoke’ of Brisbane to attend the Queensland Conservatorium at just 16 years of age!
What could have been a quick exchange of pleasantries followed by a few probing questions to fulfil my brief turned effortlessly into almost an hour and a half chat with a new friend!
We both completely lost track of time and enjoyed the exchange of similarities and differences of our art forms and what art means to us.
It didn’t take long for me to realise Meg is one smart cookie and incredibly well trained and educated in her field. For her level of accomplishment and the level she is playing at, no pun intended, I was pleasantly surprised by how humble, personable, and polite she was.
Beginning with smiles and laughter we established it would be more of a casual chat than a clinical interview. When I noticed she also asked questions back to me, I knew she was a pro and very comfortable in these situations.
It makes sense she would be highly sought after for playing special events like weddings with her glowing personality and undeniable talent.
Noticing a keyboard in the background of her office, she took me on a verbal tour of all the different keyboards and pianos at her musical disposal.
We delighted in the similarities of having different ‘tools’ (in my case cameras) for different situations.
“There’s a different instrument for different jobs,” she said.
My personal favourite was noting the pure and irreplaceable qualities of analogue versus digital—in her case playing a grand piano, in mine, shooting with 35mm film.
“Artistically, it’s that atmosphere that it creates,” referring to playing a grand piano compared to an instrument that creates a grand piano sound.
“My job is to create atmosphere under someone singing or talking.”
On the plus side of digital, of course, is the ability to manipulate the material in a way that isn’t possible in the raw form.
With keyboards, it is the ability to create thousands of sounds with one set of keys, and with photography, applications such as Photoshop.
A smile appeared on her face as she leaned slightly closer to the camera, her demeanour more open and interested than before as I framed my question.
“It’s the emotion that it inspires in you, isn’t it?”
She rhetorically questioned as we started to get to the real juice of our conversation: ‘What does art mean to you?’
Eloquent as always in her delivery, I could distil her answer down to two points: art equals emotion and art equals connection.
I loved this equally, because I could see how much it meant to her and because I totally agreed!
It doesn’t matter the medium, art has such power to make us feel and bring us together. At this point in our interaction I’m not surprised she was awarded the Queensland Conservatorium Medal for Excellence in 2019.
The medal, according to Professor Gemma Carey (Acting Director of the Queensland Conservatorium) is for “truly outstanding students”, which I agree describes Meg.
It was around this part of our discourse we discovered another theme of being an artist, this time, not so celebrated in its nature.
That is of course, the critical nature and perfectionism!
We laughed at the realisation that this was not specific to our own medium, but in fact a curse (arguably also a gift) of being an artist in general.
Meg brought us back to the light by quipping, “The insecurity is necessary.”
She refers to the insatiable nature of any true artist to continue the journey of betterment and avoiding any sense of complacency.
Continuing down the same rabbit hole, she took the conversation towards her love of collaborating with other artists, in this case theatre actors, she speaks into how even without knowing much about the acting art form she can confidently say, “Wow, that makes me feel something.”
I was delighted to see, without direct prompting, the conversation moving towards the topic of ‘what does art means to you’.
“All art is expression.” A beautiful way to summarise a complex theme. Meg went on to discuss a part of her method for teaching children (which is another passion of hers and a way of giving back), is not to confuse them with too many words but to use the music itself so they can ‘feel what you’re trying to tell them’.
When asked how important music is to her, Meg answers, “It’s kind of…well it’s my whole life!” She goes on to say that she’s a person that is borderline inseparable from the music itself, I loved Meg’s explanation of why the theory side of her studies is so important to bring someone’s vision – who may not be musically minded – into a piece of music.
She understands what chord will evoke which emotion and create the meaning behind the artists intention and in turn create an emotion experience for the audience.
I understand further the selfless embodiment of music that makes Meg so inspiring when she talks about the irrelevance of what the performance is, it all matters the same.
From performing as the orchestral lead to a full house, to playing a small cafe, to teaching kids, the music is the real hero of the story in her eyes.
“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” My question created a deep pause for reflection. Her answer showed me it’s not something she thinks about often. It wasn’t fame, it wasn’t fortune. It wasn’t personal recognition, sold out tours or platinum albums. Her answer was much more humble and in my opinion, beautiful. She just wants to “keep getting better at whatever I can get better at”.
I loved that her intentions are to understand and honour the music itself as much as possible. To me, this is the purist form of being an artist, which Meg Burstow undeniably is.
To learn more about Meg, to book her, or explore her body of work, head to http://www.megburstow.com.