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Meet the Musician: Sarah Curro

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Sibling admiration led to Sarah Curro pursuing a career as a musician. She talks about modern instruments and how playing the violin with the MSO actually gives her time to relax from daily life!

I started to play the violin because I wanted to copy my sister Monica, who is seven years older than me. Monica also plays with the MSO… but I do come from a musical family.

My father John Curro is the founder and Artistic Director of the Queensland Youth Orchestras. I used to be amazed at how loud and gorgeous my mother’s voice was when we went to mass. My parents often held soirees in our house. They were musical extravaganzas full of counter-tenors, and viola da gambas. I’m pretty sure the average kid at the time wouldn’t have had some of the experiences I’ve had!

My favourite instrument is easily my first semi-acoustic violin, which I saw hanging on the wall of violin maker Paul Davies’ Abbotsford Convent studio. His invention has totally shaped the last decade of my musical life, and finally allowed me to start my show VOLUME, which has been commissioning emerging Australian composers for 20 years! But the show got off to a rocky start because it seemed ridiculous to play all this new music I’d been commissioning on my traditional violin. It just didn’t match. The semi-acoustic violin, being a solid body, still had the sound and look of a violin but looked so much more modern with its tapered scroll and f-hole, plus the utterly necessary element of being able to plug it into an amp.
A lot of people wonder what happens if a string breaks on stage… It happens! But how you deal with it depends on where you are sitting. If you’re up the back, you can simply walk off and put a new one on, but if you’re up the front you swap your instrument with someone who then goes off and changes it. Sometimes if it happens towards the end of a piece, you just pretend you still have a string… which can be pretty funny!

There is only one difference between a new violin and one that’s 300 years old: the 300 years. The player makes the difference, and the attitude they have toward the instrument is a factor. There’s a kind of bigotry towards new instruments and a mythology surrounding old instruments. It doesn’t help that this is fully maintained by instrument dealers all over the world who make 10-20% commission on the sale of old instruments…not to mention the secret commissions some teachers make on these sales.

Finding a place to practice always appears to be a struggle, especially with raising my 13-year old son, Oscar. But I do my best practice in a private room at the ABC, somewhere I don’t get distracted by housework or emails.

A normal day for me involves getting Oscar to school on time, and sometimes I pick up my sister on the way to work (at the MSO). From here, I tend to rehearse for most of the day before I pick up Oscar, then take him to drama class. While he’s in class I tend to organise all the other projects I have on the go, recordings, booking small orchestras, my own show. Then it’s back to normal life: housework, making dinner, and picking up my son. Concerts are the best because once I’m on stage, I can actually relax!