When Principal Bass Clarinet, Alex Millier, performed as a guest artist in a 2020 Connect Chamber Concert, he discovered a new student, neighbour and friend.

Alex performed the Weber Clarinet Quartet for his debut performance in WASO’s Connect program, which provides special, tailored events run by the orchestra for those with accessibility requirements.

Alex was first inspired to get involved in the Connect program due to his father’s work in the disability industry both in homes and the education space. “I was deeply moved when I saw my first Connect performance. I really wanted to be a part of the program. It was close to my heart.”

After the performance Alex was approached by Robbie Muir and his mother. Robbie only has 10 percent of his vision and had started learning the clarinet from a young age at school, but now 50, was having trouble progressing with his playing.

After discovering that Robbie lived just a few streets away, the pair quickly began regular lessons; the first time Alex had taken on a student with a vision impairment.

Meeting for the first time just before Christmas, carols seemed like an obvious place to start. The teacher and student have now progressed to scales and rounds, with Robbie practising several times a week. Alex frequently records video of himself playing parts during their lessons, providing Robbie with an audio reference to listen back and play along to. The videos also enable Robbie’s mother, Gill, to have a reference for demonstrating finger positions for certain notes, outside of lesson time.

Alex has found that tactile lessons are essential; especially to demonstrate finger placement, overcoming the visual barriers. Robbie also learns a lot by ear. “Robbie’s got a great ear. It enables us to learn some melodies and let our ears tell our fingers what to do on the clarinet.”

The teaching process has been a learning experience for Alex too, who uses his father as a sounding board to confirm approaches. He has discovered that he enjoys teaching by ear, but also that he and Robbie have a great connection beyond the clarinet.

“He has a really positive and generous spirit. We’re really enjoying ourselves at the four or so lessons we’ve had. I look forward to the journey ahead with him.”

WASO’s Connect Program partners with Healthway to promote the Act-Belong-Commit message. With their lessons embodying the Act, Belong, Commit spirit, we asked Alex what other ways he keeps his mental health in check. “I get so much from Robbie in terms of motivation. He’s got a great work ethic and a lovely sense of humour. He has inspired me to go to the gym more, to ride my bike, to go for longer walks. I think the exercise is improving my clarinet too!”

Alex has also found that engaging with those in his immediate community has been rewarding in more ways than one. “It’s helped my mental health, to be engaged. I don’t feel as if Robbie and I were put together, it’s felt like a very natural thing. To me it’s all about the relationship.”

 

Find out more about WASO’s Connect program here.

The Connect 2021 program is supported by Mitsubishi Corporation.