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Musician in Focus: Ambre Hammond

AMEB Federal Office

Ambre Hammond has never attended school, high school or university. At age 11, she set a world record as the youngest person to achieve both the AMEB Associate and Licentiate Diplomas of Music in Piano, which she still holds.

At age 16 she won an international piano competition and released her first CD and from there went on to perform around the world with an array of orchestras and ensembles.

Where do you go from there? Well, the perfomer, teacher and now mother has decided to take her show on the road to remote communities worldwide as part of her long-term project called Girl Truck Piano.

We recently spoke with Ambre about her incredible upbringing, her best advice for students today and her enormous plans to bring classical music to remote communities around the world.

What is your practice routine like?

I try maintain 6-8 hours a day of actual playing time whenever I’m not travelling as it is often hard to find a piano to practice on tour. I generally work 18-hour days – both practicing, being mother to a high school student, managing my career (which usually involves around 6 hours on the computer!), composing and teaching my lovely 15 students.

What was your favourite concert you ever performed?

A great memory is presenting a concert to several hundred high school students in Little Rock, Arkansas. They were a very uninterested audience to begin with, almost defiant about having to ‘listen to a classical piano concert’ (!) so I approached them by walking on stage and sitting on the bench facing the kids and having a chat about my newfound love of American football and Krispy Kreme donuts. By the time I finished the final note of the final piece I think I had successfully managed to gain their attention as they gave me a rowdy 5-minute standing ovation!

What’s the best piece of advice a musician ever gave you?

I’ll never forget a special evening when I was 16 years old and had the opportunity to play at a dinner for the great Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. Richard said to me “continue loving the music” with a sparkle in his eyes and a huge smile. That certainly stuck with me.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I have honestly never thought about this question! I tend to live day-to-day, month to month and at best plan for a couple of months down the track! I know I will be still loving a life in music and have grand plans to continue visiting all the far corners of our amazing planet making music everywhere I go.

How did you come up with the idea for Girl Truck Piano?

It was a vision I had one day. I was playing an old iron frame upright piano, which was situated in the spectacular surrounds of the Serengeti Plains in Africa, and as I was playing a giraffe sailed past gracefully and around me were groups of children listening and smiling. I realized I had to make this vision become a reality and so the idea was born. Girl Piano Truck; travelling solo to remote countries to share the music I love with people, especially young children throughout schools, orphanages and communities with no access to exposure to the music I love. A documentary is being made of project which will continue throughout outback Australia, Africa, China and beyond. I launched the project and travelled to India, Thailand, East Timor and Belarus – in Belarus playing to 300 people in a mental asylum in a remote forest outside of Minsk was an incredible life-changing experience.

At age 11, you set the record for being the youngest person to receive both Associate and Licentiate diplomas in the same year. How did you decide on this goal and how did you achieve this?

My mother, a somewhat remarkable and unique character, was my sole teacher from the age of 3 and made the decision for me and I’m very grateful she did! The workload was colossal and was only possible I feel, due to the fact I didn’t attend school. I have never attended primary school, high school, college or university but rather had a life of music, music, music! At 11 I was practicing 9 hours a day, every day and my mother enrolled me in literally hundreds of Eisteddfods to get the necessary public performance practice to become confident with the examination repertoire. The year went by in a blur but I certainly felt fairly confident and prepared when I walked into my examination room on the day of my Licentiate exam. In fact I still to this day remember the lovely, warm smile of one of my examiners, Max Olding, as I entered the room. That smile certainly helped put my nerves at ease a little!

How do you prepare before going on stage? (i.e. nerves, warmup)

If there’s a piano available, then 20 or 30 Hanon always does the trick. Stretching never goes astray and having a genuine and massive smile on my face always seems to relax me and the audience.

What inspires you?

People with initiative and people who have an absolute passion for whatever it is that they choose to do with their life. Committed, tenacious, hard-working passionate people inspire me.

What’s your absolute favourite piece to perform?

Absolutely anything composed by Rachmaninoff!

If you could give one piece of advice to students learning an instrument and preparing for an exam, what would that be?

Study the music away from the piano observing the challenging sections and when you return to the piano, always commence practicing with those bars first. Use colors! Markings with colored pens/pencils in the score will help with memorization. Repeat hundreds of times until perfect and try to perform the music to as many different friends and family prior to the exam to gain more confidence with the pieces, but most of all... Love the music and enjoy every note!

Learn about Girl Truck Piano and Ambre Hammond.

Musician in focus: Ambre Hammond
Ambre Hammond has never attended school, high school or university. At age 11, she set a world record as the youngest person to achieve both the AMEB Associate and Licentiate Diplomas of Music in Piano, which she still holds.
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