Interview with music composer Peggy Polias

Peggy Polias, the inaugural recipient of the Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellow recipient. Image courtesy the artist.

An alumna of the University of Sydney and Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Peggy Polias is an established composer and prepares scores, instrumental parts and other print music materials for some of Australia’s leading composers.

Peggy spent several years working at the Australian Music Centre, where she remains an Associate Represented Artist, and has assisted with the start-up and operations of publishing label Wildbird Music.

Her works have been performed and workshopped by Kammerklang, Ku-Ring Gai Philharmonic Orchestra, Halcyon, and Chronology Arts, as well as at the Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp and Canberra International Music Festival.

In 2015, Peggy was the inaugural recipient of the Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellowship. We spoke with Peggy to find out what she’s been up to since receiving the Fellowship.

How did the idea for your fellowship activities come about?

In the initial application, I structured my proposed Fellowship program very clearly around three main outcomes: recording, creating new work, and professional development.  Then I started to have conversations with a few collaborators about what would be required to make these a reality.

The idea for each of these arose out of need.  I had barely any recorded media behind me that was not archival-purposes only, and I had been hanging on to the Picnic at Hanging Rock Suite for piano since 2009.  I felt it was a strong work, written while I was a Masters student, and deserved a hearing, a life.  Around 45 minutes long and in 12 movements, it was a natural fit for an album recording and the Kammerklang label was willing to produce this recording.

Since becoming a parent I had also written several short works, and saw the Fellowship as a chance to concentrate on something substantial. I proposed the idea for Hive as a multi-movement suite for trio. I initiated conversations with The Nano Symphony about writing this work for and with them. I included the work in the proposed Fellowship program with an allowance for several workshop sessions and the possibility that the work could be presented in full either via performance or a recording, the latter eventuated.

Finally, around professional development, I googled and bookmarked many short courses, workshops and resources that struck me as useful or inspiring.  I tried to think outside the box about things like writing, entrepreneurship, podcasting, technology, small business; the kinds of things we might not have been taught in a tertiary academic setting.  Also, with Lisa Cheney, co-Curator of Making Waves, I discussed what we might be able to do throughout 2016 with the help of budget, planning. This also included time dedicated to working on this listening and composer promotion project together in person for the first time!

How has this fellowship impacted your professional development?

The Sculthorpe Fellowship has been a huge professional boost, in terms of building confidence as well as craft.  I saw it as a year-long journey and a responsibility – not only to myself, but to the sector and not least, to Peter Sculthorpe – to do my best work and make the most of activities in 2016.

I was able to invest in new readily available album recordings, which are now a resource I can use to further share and promote my work.  I was also able to make the time and headspace to compose. Instead of succumbing to the temptation to put this off in favour of my day job, parenting or domestic responsibilities, or just the stresses of Sydney’s cost of living.  The Fellowship opened up conversations and working relationships with new collaborators and I’m looking forward to the ongoing outcomes of this.

What other funding opportunities have you received that have supported your development throughout your career?

I’ve been fortunate to secure several prizes for compositions over the years, participated in several composer development opportunities that attracted funding, and gratefully been the beneficiary of many of my colleagues’ endeavours to stage concerts and events with the support of the Australia Council or other funding.

I would recommend applying for a residency at Bundanon – what a magical and peaceful place to work and also meet other artists working across different disciplines.

The University Postgraduate Award (UPA) from the University of Sydney helped support part of my Masters studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

I would also like to add that I have a sizeable folder of “rejection letters” alongside the successes and that this is a very real part of throwing one’s hat in the ring…!

What tips do you have for other emerging composers?

I guess the term ‘emerging’ itself can be seen as somewhat problematic.  My advice is – try and not let this term define you. Having said that, if you do distance yourself from being called ‘emerging’, don’t be afraid to recognise that you might be in the emerging stages of your career.  So, put your hand up for opportunities designed for these earlier stages.

Have a conversation with your teachers or mentors around what it means to become ‘established.’  Some of the people you most look up to might surprise you with their stance on continuing to learn and grow throughout their career.

Stay connected with your peers about what you’re doing, what’s working, what isn’t, not only within the discipline, but career-wise or opportunity-wise as well.

In 2017, what are you most excited by – as a composer or as an audience member?

Somewhat by necessity – as a home-studio-based freelancer, a parent, an introvert – I continue to be excited by the possibilities for creatives to interface with technology. In the studio space, the software available is so powerful (and fun!), and the availability of useable tools on portable devices continues to grow.

In the social space, I love to follow colleagues – Australia-wide and abroad, whether their news is an upcoming concert, a recording, or a behind-the-scenes glimpse into daily life for a musician. More and more frequently a question to an industry group or network will turn into a long and thought-provoking thread with contributions from younger colleagues and mentor figures alike.

In the live human space, concert presentations seem to be becoming more immersive, and it’s really exciting to see colleagues experimenting with new venues and formats.


The Peter Sculthorpe Music Fellowship supports an exceptional emerging composer who is dedicated to the propagation of Australian music. Priority will be given to a composer with an interest in Australian Aboriginal music as well as that of the Asia Pacific region.

Jointly awarded by the Sculthorpe Trustees, Create NSW and the University of Sydney, the $30,000 fellowship honours the legacy of internationally renowned composer Peter Sculthorpe AO OBE.

 Applications close 21 August 2017, please click here for further information. 

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Published: 13 July 2017