Our Orchestra creates a symphony for the regions

The tour party

It began with an ambitious idea. In early 2022, Melbourne Grammar School’s Symphony Orchestra Conductor Pat Miller decided it was time to take his musicians back on the road after a COVID-19 induced hiatus. So began eight months of planning for a full-scale regional tour of Victoria (and one town in New South Wales)—by train. 

The tour finally set off in December. Ten days later, Orchestra members had honed their skills, raised funds for local community organisations, and made memories to last a lifetime.

New approaches to learning

Despite the enormous complexity involved, Pat says the benefits to the students and the new connections built with communities made it all worthwhile.

“A tour like this extends students musically,” adds Pat. “They gain a much deeper understanding of what they’re capable of. They support each other, get in tune with each other, and listen much more closely. When I looked back at where we started, the Orchestra that ended the tour was a completely transformed group of performers.” 

The students and staff lived on a specially chartered sleeping train throughout the tour, which travelled overnight while everyone slept. The students woke up each morning with a new town to explore and ready for the next concert.

“The boys were initially apprehensive about being on a train for ten days, but they settled in beautifully,” he says. “They played games, stayed up too late, and came back to jam donuts and pies after concerts. Our chef was definitely the most important person on the tour.”    

With an itinerary spanning Wycheproof to Morundah that included theatres, town halls, churches and railway stations, the Orchestra needed to readjust for each performance, in some cases squeezing onto stages where they spilled into the wings.  

“I took such pride in watching them perform each night,” Pat says. “They displayed such professionalism, whether performing for a small audience or a crowd of 300. They were all performing at their absolute personal bests.”

Building connections beyond the music

In addition to performances, the Orchestra took the opportunity to connect with local communities in a number of ways, including a detour to visit the home of one of our boarders.

“I’ve never seen a boy so proud as when he was able to introduce the Orchestra to his prize bull,” says Pat of Tom Holt, a Year 10 boarder who travelled with the group and served as a part of the stage crew.

“The train pulled up near my house, then a bus drove everyone up our 40-kilometre driveway,” says Tom, whose family hosted the group for a day on their 75,000-acre property near Urana, NSW. “We set up the Orchestra on the deck of the woolshed and they performed with Mum’s prize sheep in the background.”

For the 2023 Captain of Music and oboist Michael Liu, choosing just one highlight from the tour is impossible.

“Not many people get to do something this special,” he says. “It was amazing to be with my friends on the train for ten days. It was also great for the audiences in regional Victoria, because for some of them, this was the first time they’d heard an orchestra live. This is a way for us to expand the musical community.”

By the numbers
  • 3,200 kilometres
  • 87 musicians
  • 21 pieces of music
  • 13 carriages
  • 12 performances
  • 7 staff
  • 4 engines
  • 3 student stage crew
  • 2 states
  • 1 meeting with a prize bull
  • 500+ doughnuts
Performance locations

Hear Tom Holt talk more about his experience as Stage Manager on the Symphony Orchestra tour.