To James Morrison Academy of Music, a love letter

I love music, I always have.

I grew up dancing competitively so I took every opportunity to groove to anything, anywhere, anytime.

The soundtrack of my youth included but was not limited to; my parent’s extensive range of 70s compilation CDs, custom mixes made by my “cool” older cousins, my Nan’s selection of Rod Stewart or Michael Buble, whatever happened to be playing at Coles or on the radio that day.

Music always triggered a physical reaction for me.

Once I was old enough to experience live music in the flesh it impacted beyond decibels.

It is a life source, a double espresso, a sound so electric it can recharge dead batteries.

Given the current state of the world and the impact on arts and entertainment, you’re probably thinking someone like me – an avid gig and festival goer – would be desperate to plug into an outlet and revive that one% charge.

And you’re absolutely right, especially given the tangles of cobwebs formed on Mount Gambier’s rather bleak events calendar, it is pretty sad how many times I have scrolled back to March and tried to relive Fringe through my phone.

However, music has not been completely absent from my life since the arrival of COVID-19 because I do this thing where somehow I become friends with or date almost exclusively musicians.

I think it stems from jealously due to my lack of ability in that area, but hey, I’ll bring that up in counselling.

Fortunately, I have been extroverted enough to weasel my way into connecting with James Morrison Academy of Music students and faculty through working at Presto Eatery, my sheer enthusiasm for their talent and artistic presence in my hometown welcoming them as I hand over their pre-toot coffee.

Flat whites for the horns, soy for the drummer and a cap with one for the guitarist.

Unfortunately this will be the final year of study for students at the James Morrison Academy of Music in Mount Gambier after Uni SA announced it would end the partnership with the school earlier this year.

Tragic, my soul dies a little, dramatic? Yes, but I get a buzz knowing such talent fills the city’s historic town hall most days and to imagine the space silent and empty is heart breaking.

Building these relationships has gifted me not only some wonderful friendships but a divine insight and appreciation of the jazz world, such unfamiliar territory for this Mount Gambier kook and I had so many questions.

I started with jargon, I wanted to know if they really used terms like “hip” and “cats”.

So one overcast afternoon I quizzed a couple of students under a tree in the Cave Gardens and got a handle on jazz slang.

This moment was almost like an unspoken audition for me to enter what would soon be an incredibly close friendship where I played the lead role of “hype man”.

I like to think I operated similarly to Kate Hudson’s character Penny Lane in the 2000 film Almost Famous, a “band-aid” lover of music itself and not the musician – if you know what I mean.

While hanging out with the students, I was regularly asked what instrument I play or what I was studying by those assuming I was also in the academy and after laughing in their face I would interchangeably make my answer either roadie, band stylist, management, comedic relief, hype man or number one fan.

All of which completely valid and true.

Welcoming these people to my life gave me a deeper connection to the role JMA played in this community and the gratitude I feel towards James for including Mount Gambier in this vision is bottomless.

Having access to – as the media would say – “world-class jazz” on my doorstep has been one of the coolest things about living here and I have lived here since birth.

Come on dude, I have served coffee and had salad chit-chat with some of the biggest names in Australian jazz and that is wild to me, it is so cool.

I have loved getting to know everyone and their stories but mostly, watching them play.

I have frequented multiple performances over the years whether it be recitals, the farmer’s market, Flanagan’s Irish Pub sessions or both jazz club locations and every time I felt the music revive me like the sun after the city’s cold winter.

I will miss dragging everyone I know to the club to boost numbers then drinking

too much wine and embarrassing my friends on stage by celebrating their solos with gusto.

There are many facets of JMA I will miss, but mostly my friends and listening to them “shed” – slang for practise, see I’m cool, I get it – for hours on end, watching them sweat over charts in preparation for recitals, communicate through scatting and the tender moments of understanding and praise for each other’s efforts as musicians.

Sigh.

Did I think I’d get to this level of sophistication as a music lover when I was blasting Britney Spears in my bedroom as a kid or having an emotional break down to The Smiths as a teenager, absolutely not, but hey, look at me now.

JMA your presence will be missed.

With love, your hype-man, Kyra.

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