Photo by Will Taylor
Photo by Will Taylor

Hello. I have two biographies down below. If you’re just looking for something to cut and paste into a programme, the Standard should do nicely. However, if you want to really know who I am, head further down for the Real Biography.

Standard Biography
Ian Whitney is a Sydney based composer, originally from Brisbane who is interested in fictional musical narratives. He is 2020-2021 Layton Emerging Composer Fellow, and one of the selected composers for the 2021 Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) Set.

His work has been performed by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Victorian Opera, PLEXUS, Arcadia Winds, Highly Strung and Ensemble Françaix. Additionally, he has written significant solo works for violist Christopher Cartlidge and harpist Alice Giles AM.

He is currently undertaking candidacy for a Doctor of Musical Arts at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, under the lead supervision of Carl Vine AO. Previously, he studied at the Queensland Conservatorium with Gerard Brophy and Stephen Leek and whilst a student was awarded the inaugural Australian Youth Orchestra/National Institute of Dramatic Art Fellowship for theatre music. He was also twice selected for the Symphony Australia/Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Composers’ School, and was also selected for the Victorian Opera Composer Development Program. Before returning to further study, Ian worked as a cultural bureaucrat at the Embassy of Australia, Washington DC and the Australia Council for the Arts.

Real Biography
I rearrange sound and time make to tunes.

I do this mainly because I can’t imagine not doing it. And I’ve tried. After finishing my original music degree I went straight into an arts management Masters degree then somehow- in a twist that I still don’t quite understand, frankly- ended up working in Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Australia in Washington DC for five years. That was pretty amazing, not just because I got to do things like freeze my face off at the first Obama inauguration, but I made a lot of wonderful friends and had my first apartment and first grown-up job in what felt like the centre of the world.

When this all went pear-shaped, I ended up in the heart of Australian arts bureaucracy at the Australia Council. My first few years there were a time of plenty, we had a full head of steam thanks to a generous funding injection and I spent my best days listening to every kind of music being made in this country. I learned about the heaviest of heavy metal, country music, what makes a Christian Pop tour viable and, of course, it gradually lured me back towards writing music. Sitting in my very uncreative government office with its fluro lighting, cubicles and grey carpet squares I heard enough amazing stuff across many genres that it sparked a ‘well I should be doing that’. But I wasn’t quite sure how.

So I aimed high. I decided to really test myself out, to see if I could still do this, by shooting for one of the most desirable opportunities for an emerging composer in this country- the TSO Composers’ School in Hobart. And I got in. As someone who could generally talk underwater, getting that phone call was one of the few times I’ve been genuinely rendered mute.  I don’t know who was on the panel for that decision, but whoever they were they share much of the responsibility (blame?) for where I find myself now; along, that is, with my Mum who realised I needed composition lessons way before I did.

One thing led to another and with a bit of a gentle prod to, to be crude for a moment, shit or get off the pot, I am now doing a Doctorate of Musical Arts at the Sydney Conservatorium. I consider my composition to be a form of story-telling. Sometimes I’m the only person who knows the story, but ideas of narrative and movement inform everything that I write. I’m also influenced by French composers of the 20th century, so I’m also known for making colour and wit  central to my music.

In between writing music, I also get shouty about Australian music and do sessional lecturing, which I really love. I also am active on Twitter, where I talk music but also politics, cities and cricket. I’m available for commissions, odd-jobs and freelance gigs.

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