Amber Watkins Wins First Place in Australian Marimba Competition

Amber Watkins has received first place in the 4th Australian Marimba Competition. Competing in the under 22 years old category, Amber won the event held in early August 2017.

amber_watkins_scaledI didn’t really know what to expect walking in there. I had only ever competed in the Australian Percussion Eisteddfod at which I was one of the eldest. Here I was the youngest and interacting with performers from all over the world. At first I found the whole thing overwhelming, but as soon as the first round began I realised it was much more laidback than I had anticipated and wasn’t really any different to other performances I have done.

What stood out most to me was the atmosphere of the competition. Everyone was extremely friendly and interacted openly, even though there were substantial language barriers. Irrespective of where we came from we were all percussionists, so everyone arrived early to the gala rehearsal without being told and chipped in to help set up. In classic fashion, there was one instrument or part of an instrument missing for most of the set up. This time it was a clamp for the marimba, but it eventually was found – though it was somewhat hilarious listening to the faculty trying to come up with solutions or substitutes; many of which included gaffa tape!

It was encouraging to hear the faculty provide the same advice I had previously heard from my teachers in Adelaide. I got on extremely well with Robert Oetomo who even asked to borrow my mallets (the ones I had just won funnily enough!) for his gala performance. We talked at one point about chorales, since he has composed a few, and he told me to think of long rolls like a string instrument being bowed, to help with the peaks and falls in combination with fluctuating roll speeds and the dryness of a room.

His works really stood out for me that weekend. He wrote the set piece for Round 2 of Division B, Amy, which despite being performed on multiple occasions, was one of the most enjoyable pieces I heard during the competition. It was interesting hearing the competitors’ varying interpretations of the piece and yet they all sounded uniquely beautiful. Robert also played his piece Fantasy IV at the gala which instantly became a piece I want to add to my repertoire for next year.”

– Amber Watkins

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