Alumni Profile: Peter Bucknell
Degree: Commerce 1991
Current Position: Viola Player with the New York Harp Trio
Once Peter Bucknell had completed his Commerce degree, he was quick to pursue his passion for music. It has paid off handsomely with a flourishing career based in New York and taking in performances at some of Europe's leading music halls.
His experience and skill as a musician brought him a Professorship at the State University of New York and in 2006 Peter released two chamber music CDs.
How did you get into music after completing a degree in Commerce?
My suit was hanging on the wall at my final exam, which I finished early to get to 'Hey Hey It's Saturday' to play viola in a band called "Noiseworks"; it was always like that at Uni. I was just studying Commerce because my Mother (Toni Bucknell) who is a well known artist, told me life would be hard as a musician. She was right.
Do you wish you had studied something else?
Commerce was like being continually hit in the head with a hammer: it was great when it stopped. Actually finishing the degree, however, set the stage for the rest of my life, I developed tenacity which is necessary in the unaccomodating world of music.
What were your favourite lectures while you were doing your degree at Melbourne?
Marketing was fun, and has come in useful, as has 'Organizational Behaviour'. Both quite creative unlike my other favourites: Accounting, which I passed on my third attempt, and Statistics.
What are your strongest memories of life at uni while you were studying at Melbourne?
I loved my time at Trinity College where the girls were pretty and very well behaved.
What’s the most difficult career-related decision you have had to make since leaving University?
Retiring from my Professorship at the State University of New York was a big decision for me. When I married Rini, a famous opera singer, my schedule had to be more flexible. My performing calendar, which had been trimmed back by the University, came back to its former weight, after some rapid burnt-bridge-reconstruction.
So you studied further after leaving Melbourne?
Three degrees, one a Doctorate, each in a different country. Commerce for me was by far the most difficult.
How has your overseas study compared to Melbourne?
Overseas, specialised study happens later in life, thus giving students a chance to work out who they are and what they are good at. In Australia, you have to decide when you are fifteen. This is about to change in Melbourne according to Warren Bebbington who I spoke to recently at a University alumni event in New York.
Is world travel the best part of being a renowned musician or are there other elements of performing that appeal to you more?
Some months I play in a different concert hall every week, often in a different city, time zone, language, cuisine and exchange rate. But at least I have a lot of frequent flyer miles to get to the ski fields each year.
In New York I have no routine which is a blessing and a curse. Last Wednesday I went to a matinee movie and then happy hour in China Town with my lay-about musician friends, then played a pop gig at Joe's Pub with Max Sharam.
Is it difficult earning a living as a musician?
I have had good teachers, the best in the world. I'm a specialist, so I can always get high paying work in any big city. Our unions are all pretty strong, so our wages are protected, unlike the poor dancers who have a much tougher time financially, not to mention a shorter working life.
Tell us a bit about the New York Harp Trio?
My pride and joy; Flute, Harp and Viola, the Trio plays all over the USA, and is planning to come to Australia. We play works by living composers from all over the world. No Australian composers yet, but it shouldn't be long.
How did you form and what is your performance schedule?
I met our harp player, Bridget, on the subway, having seen her face many times at the dorms at the Juilliard School. Anna, flute, was at Stony Brook University with me. The Trio's schedule forms around our individual 'blackout dates'. We try to play as many dates as possible without stomping anyone's solo performances.
What inspires you about music and its role in the 21st century?
The Arts can pacify. Watch the faces of a crowd watching a street entertainer.
What do you like to do in your spare time – hobbies etc?
I have a Short Film company: NYvideo.US for which I get called to work with performers on their video footage. It started with an audition DVD I made for my wife to cut down on her travel to do live auditions. After seeing it, the manager of Rome's Opera company booked her for the title role of Carmen.
Do you have any advice about life/career after study to pass on to current students?
Go to the pub. You need to know how to network and socialize to get on in your career. Many long associations are formed over a few beers.