Melbourne is the UNESCO City of Literature as well as home to NBCA Old Boy Austin Haynes. With a thirst for English and continuing curiosity for music, Austin has packed his bags and headed to one of the world’s most literature-rich cities to study in the UK. Austin joined the NBCA in 2008 and became Co-Captain in 2014 while enjoying many performances in between. In 2018, he briefl y returned to choir life when he featured as a soloist at the NBCA Christmas Concert. This year, Austin has started his academic adventure in English literature at Oxford University. “I’m specialising in medieval and renaissance literature,” Austin explains. “I suppose I was looking at studying over in the UK because this specifi c course was really attractive and exciting to me. Another thing that infl uenced me was the music scene in the UK, which has lots of really exciting stuff happening in terms of classical music.” Austin has shown bravery in his pursuit to study English literature because it involved relocating his entire life. “Moving out of home to a new country was a pretty big change to get my head around at fi rst,” Austin reveals. “Setting myself up in the UK has been a thrilling and rewarding journey so far, especially in making a whole new network of friends from diff erent walks of life.” Moving to another country may be daunting, but maintaining connections with home are just as important as adjusting to new surroundings. “Zoom and FaceTime are my best friends for dealing with this!”
Austin set his sights on Oxford which has a prestigious reputation for educating famous scientists, presidents, prime ministers, composers, and philosophers. Austin sees Oxford as an invaluable educational opportunity and he’s found his people. “My tutors and professors are shockingly intelligent and usually big figures in their own fi elds of study,” Austin says. “What is also lovely is that other students are all young people who are really passionate and interested in what they’re studying, which has let me come into contact with all sorts of fascinating people who have very interesting backgrounds and passions.”
Austin has embraced campus life quickly. He has thrown himself into extra-curricular activities that build on his existing Choir skills. “I do a few fun and nerdy things like play readings with friends, which we’ve managed to keep up over zoom these last few months. I’ve also been trying to do as much music and singing as I can. I’ve been singing with various choirs such as the chapel choir at my own college and in some uni-level choirs. These have given me the opportunity to sing in a few masterclasses to work on my skills as a soloist with artists like [English soprano and renowned early music specialist] Dame Emma Kirkby and James Conlon [Music Director of Los Angeles Opera]. I’ve had the chance to perform in a few studentproduced operas. These have been really fun opportunities to sing repertoire that I wouldn’t usually sing as a countertenor, like the role of Hänsel in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel.” So how did Austin’s time at the NBCA help him get accepted into Oxford University? “Engaging with all sorts of music through the choir helped me develop an appreciation for art and culture and made me want to understand these in broader contexts; this has certainly helped me as a literature student. More broadly, I really value the sense of confidence that the NBCA helps us develop through performance.
Being in the choir really taught me how to have fun and enjoy myself while also being serious and committed to what I’m doing, whether that’s to do with music or something else.” Another feature of Austin’s impressive resumé is his inclusion activism while he was still in high school. “I think one thing I’m really happy with from my time in high school was the activist work I was able to do in making my school a more inclusive space for LGBT+ students. I helped to form a Gay-Straight Alliance for students at my school and run various pride events for the broader school community. I found working with other LGBT+ students to increase visibility and start conversations incredibly rewarding as I think we should always be working on these questions of inclusion and pride.”
Currently, Austin is back in Melbourne due to COVID-19. While admitting to the struggle, he’s confi dent that his studies can continue and there are advantages to virtual uni life. “I think I’ve struggled with the lockdowns very much like everybody else. I’m quite lucky given that I’m studying English, so as long as I have my books at hand I will be okay…It’s been tricky managing the ninehour time diff erence when I need to communicate with my tutors and peers in the UK.”
Austin seems to be living the dream and doing what he loves, which he sees as an important factor in a chorister’s journey. “I think for choristers who are retiring soon, you have a lot of time to work out what you want to do. Pursue what you love doing, and try to find joy in what you do!”