Noongar violist Aaron Wyatt hopes his breakout role as the first Indigenous conductor of an Australian state orchestra will lead to a future where First Nations artists are commonplace in the classical music scene.
Mr Wyatt conducted the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Long Time Living Here, a musical Acknowledgement of Country by Deborah Cheetham, at a free outdoor concert on February 9.
Playing alongside the orchestra were four members of Ensemble Dutala, Australia’s first ensemble for classically trained First Nations musicians.
Mr Wyatt said it was important to have Indigenous representation in classical music.
“It is one of those things that should not be that important but we are not at that stage yet,” he said.
“It would be great one day to be at the stage where this is no big deal and is par for the course.”
Mr Wyatt said he was surprised when he discovered he would be conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra during an online social get-together of musicians in late 2021.
“Deborah Cheetham hatched this plan without me entirely knowing about it,” he said.
“Conducting is a hard thing to break into because there are not a huge amount of opportunities to get into it.
“There is also a bit of a cultural cringe that still exists, the idea that if you are from here, you can’t be as good as someone trained overseas. I think that is getting better.”
Mr Wyatt said Ensemble Dutala was working to train more classical Indigenous musicians through scholarships and outreach programs.
He said classical training needed to begin at primary and secondary school, which had been a key entry barrier to Indigenous musicians.
The 39-year-old was fortunate to find his love of music growing up playing a family friend’s piano.
“They put me into a music course for young children and it was recommended I learn an instrument,” Mr Wyatt said.
“I wanted to play piano but my parents were concerned it was too big for me so I started on violin.”
Mr Wyatt eventually got his big break playing casually with WASO, which he did for 11 years and was the orchestra’s sole Indigenous musician.