By Nicholas Marks
I completed a double degree in Music and Law at Monash University, graduating from music in 2010 and from law in 2013. The opportunity to study under the guidance of Australia’s leading performing jazz artists and alongside talented peers was a dream come true. My decision to study law was based on academic curiosity, rather than a career ambition to be a lawyer. While these disciplines seem opposite to one another, I found them to be complimentary: the philosophies underpinning the law gave me a solid foundation for critical thinking, structure and analysis, which were translatable to my musical studies and performance practice. However, there was one striking difference: Each year, my music degree was progressively more challenging. I had to constantly evaluate my learning processes as I advanced to the next levels in my artistry. This remains critical to how I continue my development as a professional artist today.
After completing my music degree in 2010, I undertook private study with highly acclaimed mentors, worked full time performing, composing and teaching all the while studying law part time. In retrospect, I did not fully appreciate that this was laying the foundations for building a sustainable career once I finished my law degree in 2013.
In 2012, my film-maker brother, Alistair Marks, gave me the opportunity to compose the score for his short film “JOSHUA”. This was a revelatory project, as I discovered another deep passion for composing music for film (and later, television, theatre and other cross-platform outlets).
Shortly after completing my Law degree, I received an offer to study at Berklee College of Music with a 40% scholarship, though I ultimately turned it down. My intuition was that I needed to focus on building my career (and a proper income) in Melbourne, and only continue studying under the mentorships I felt were necessary. My decision to remain in Melbourne did not hold me back. On the contrary, being in Melbourne lead to invaluable collaborations, performances and commissions, the majority of which were of my own making. I am now an artist with a sustainable career in New York City, performing concerts, gigs, composing for film, television, and other outlets, as well as mentoring students around the world by Skype.
In May 2013, I began studying with renowned Israeli ear-training and composition teacher Dr Bat-sheva Rubinstein. Through her unique pedagogy, I developed perfect pitch; learnt to intuitively identify chord progressions in real time; hear, understand and transcribe works of master composers including Bach Chorales, String Quartets by Mozart and Haydn, symphonic works, relying solely on my aural abilities. These skills translated into other styles of music, and prolifically creating works that meld elements from various genres. We studied by Skype on a weekly basis, and I received grants from the Australian Council for the Arts and Creative Victoria to study intensives in New York and Tel Aviv. This has been the most significant transformation in my arts practice, as the more I improved under Dr Rubinstein, the greater output I created and higher level work opportunities I had over the following 3 years
Making the transition from study to career professional is a daunting task. Alumni can empower undergraduate students with their experience, knowledge and skills, demonstrating the many ways in which one can improvise their own sustainable career path. One of the great assets Monash provides is community: I continue to collaborate and perform with many colleagues and teachers I met through the Monash program as a student. As an alumni, being connected to this community has also given me a point of connection to the next generation of performers and composers.
My artistic voice is deeply informed by multiple styles, and my work is diversified across several platforms as a performer, composer and educator. I believe in creating your own projects and opportunities; being someone who says “Yes”; invest in yourself, your projects and stay true to your artistic vision. A creative arts degree enables students to build resilience to setbacks, which is critical for the practical realities of being a working artist. Accepting feedback, setting goals, executing them and managing your well being are as essential as knowing how to the play over rhythm changes.
Nicholas Marks is an internationally recognized Australian composer, performer and producer based in New York. Since graduating from the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University (Bachelor of Music/Laws(Hons)), Marks has produced a prolific body of work across diverse platforms including film, television, instrumental art ensembles, song writing projects and theatre. Notable projects include writing the new logo music for Hollywood film company Village Roadshow Pictures; the film score for documentary “Love Your Sister” (featuring award winning actors Samuel Johnson and Guy Pearce), as well as leading his trio at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Marks has written for, performed and collaborated with acclaimed Australian and international artists, as well as served as musical director, arranger and orchestrator on numerous projects.