Stevenson’s NW symphony

Hobart-based musician, songwriter and composer Dean Stevenson is frequenting Stanley this year as part of the Tasmanian government’s Artist in Residence program, looking to draw inspiration from the seaside town in order to create a piece of music unique to the north west. Pictures: Bodey Dittloff.

Journey. A distinctive voice, multi-faceted musical talent and a genuine passion for the arts has opened up opportunities across the world for Hobart’s Dean Stevenson.

A musician, songwriter, composer and lecturer, his performing resume to date varies from the eclectic halls of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), to supporting the likes of Australian artists Lior and Clare Bowditch, to even attending music workshops in New York.

But it is one of his current projects closer to home which is currently capturing the 43-year-old’s imagination, travelling regularly from the state’s capital to be based in Stanley three days a week through University of Tasmania’s Cradle Coast Residency.

Born in Melbourne but moving to Hobart in 2000 to complete undergraduate and masters studies in music, he now confidently claims Tasmania as his home, “more so than Melbourne ever was”.

It was during a state tour of unSUITable CASE of Me – a one-man theatre show collaborated with playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer – where Stevenson’s desire to base himself in Circular Head was formed.

“It was drive, set up, play,” he said of the show’s busy schedule. “We had so many days off – it [just] so happened our days off were in Stanley.

“I remember hanging out here and thinking ‘I’ve got to come back’. The driving up each week: as much as I thought it’d be a labour, it opens your eyes.”

With landscapes such as the Nut outside his kitchen window, Stevenson is drawing inspiration from his surroundings in the seaside town in the hope of expanding the concept to a broader audience.

“The original idea was to write something we’d record here in the Stanley Town Hall, [but] I hope this is a ‘gala’ outcome.

“It’s music written in, by and for the north west: about here for the people to perform here. Essentially I want to write something that’s open for anyone to come to.”

Stevenson said the committee had been “very supportive” of his project, which has led him to work with various groups and schools in Stanley, Burnie and Wynyard.

Living in a “deadline world” similar to that of a journalist, Stevenson confidently dismisses the general perception of artists “waiting for the music to come”, hoping to complete a composition by the year’s end.

Capturing the environment and history of a region and transferring it from the mind to a sheet of music is a complex process according to the experienced composer, who last year created original works to match the poetry of Timothy Hamilton Walsh in Tim Passes.

“There are really obvious things about the coast when you’re looking at it: long coastlines, history, marine, agriculture,” he said of the north west.

“That’s really hard when you’re talking about composition. That’s where the difficulty is: to come up with sounds that represent feelings.”

Stevenson is juggling his newfound development in between lecturing at UTAS and playing in numerous bands, such as three-piece jazz outfit Les Coqs Incroyables.

Through Arts Tasmania’s Artist in Residence program, he has also partnered with St Michael’s Collegiate School in Hobart to write music for a modern string ensemble.

Like many others, his passion for music began at an early age and included a shifting interest in genres, however the potential to pursue a career in the industry took him “a long time to realise”.

“I remember going through periods in my life where for one year, I was exclusively Mozart, and then jazz,” he said, “then you get to a point in music where you don’t find anything else that turns you on.”

With instrumental skills extending to vocals, double bass, piano, guitar and drums, he continues to readily embrace performing opportunities, even invited to join local band Charlie Don’t Surf as a special guest at the Stanley Hotel on Saturday night.

He has also previously worked for a number of years with the Falls Festival, helping with technical work on the main stage where he was able to gain a glimpse of the “behind-the-scenes” work that goes into a major annual music event.

Having already released a number of singles and independent albums, an upcoming venture is set to see Stevenson travel to London to work with musician and composer John Metcalfe, who arranged the string orchestra on a recent Coldplay album.

Stevenson says building a solid book of contacts both nationally and internationally has been vital in helping to open industry doors, believing the possibilities to be endless in a rapidly growing online world.

“If you wanted to meet Justin Beiber [for example], there’s a firewall,” he said. “But if you wanted to work with anyone who works with them, they’re on email.”

Stevenson premiered his new work – titled The London Suite written in London last year – in front of a sold-out crowd at Tasmania’s Government House two weeks ago.

For more information on Dean Stevenson and his projects, visit deanstevenson.com.au.

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