Danielle Bentley: Cellist and Festival Curator (Queensland)

“I just suddenly realised that’s what I wanted to do. It was like a vocational awareness.”

 A cellist from the age of eight, and the daughter of a jazz musician, Brisbane’s Danielle Bentley’s music career is both diverse and innovative. Director of the Restrung Festival, Development Manager at Queensland Music Festival, a freelance performer, concert curator and philanthropy consultant, she reflects:

“I’ve always had multiple interests as well as interests outside of music. I enjoy learning, I get bored if I’m doing the same thing every day… [and] if it’s not challenging me or inspiring me in some way. I’ve never wanted a full time job in an orchestra although I love performing orchestral music. I love the diversity and to be always learning.”

Danielle credits the diversity of her roles with allowing her to continue pursuing that which she enjoys. However, being able to manage an ever changing schedule, requires a high degree of discipline, as she explains:

“Sometimes things clash, but sometimes there’s nothing on at all, and then other times everything’s happening at once. It’s just [about] having the discipline, and making sure that you create your own structure so that things don’t get too chaotic.”

(Photo: Stephen Henry)

It is the combination of various roles, and her ability to be disciplined with her time, that Danielle credits with being able to remain productive. At the same time, however, she reflects that at times, her schedule can become overwhelming:

“I’ve had a few periods of burnout, I’d have to say. Especially with the [Restrung] Festival… that can be really intense and often [I’m] performing in the festivals as well. So, you’re as much co-ordinating and looking after all these aspects… as well as keeping up your personal practice and being able to get in the right headspace to perform; that can be tricky.”

As she goes on to explain, prioritising her health, and taking time out when she needs to, are vital to being able to cope with stress and mental and physical exhaustion:

“Meditation is great for calming down and being centred, and for being productive, I think. I also enjoy walking, running and cycling.”

Formally trained with an undergraduate Performance degree, a Masters in Creative Industries and a PhD, Danielle values the process of learning by doing, and recognises that failures can be opportunities for growth. She credits her father’s time as a jazz musician as being highly influential to her musical practice (“I’m not stuck in one genre, I enjoy listening to, and programming, and playing all different types of music”) and is committed to continually developing new skills, even engaging in cello lessons in the past year (“I think it’s important to keep refreshing your skills because you can fall into bad habits”). For Danielle, listening is a key component of being a flexible musician, as she reflects:

“I do a lot of commercial gigs, and they put notes in front you, and they think ‘well you’re a classical musician, you can read the notes and it will sound perfect’. It doesn’t because there are different subtleties and ‘feels’ between the different genres. A lot of it is about listening and developing those skills and relaxing into that, and learning to improvise and being flexible in those ways.”

(Photo: Stephen Henry)

Danielle has worked extensively with orchestras and major performing arts organisations – including the Queensland Symphony Orchestra Camerata of St John’s and Opera Australia. She has also worked with popular artists as diverse as Jimmy Barnes, Xavier Rudd, Megan Washington, Tommy Lee and Kanye West; and Jazz artists Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jnr. Corporate performances have at various times provided a central income stream to Danielle, who explains that trusting relationships with agents have played a critical role obtaining such jobs.  Outside of her music and related festival work and concert programming, she also subsidises her income by writing grants for other musicians and through generating an income by way of the sharing economy. The most recent addition to her portfolio of roles is a series of ‘house concerts’ – which she will curate and perform at:

“[These concerts are] a way to make money from playing music whilst providing creative freedom. House concerts are a really amazing way to present music. They provide an informal and warm environment conducive to open minded listening.”

Danielle’s career is one ultimately characterised by diversity. At one point she even gave up studying music, re-entering the fold after receiving an invitation to perform with a community orchestra. The opportunity reminded her of why music is such a crucial aspect of her life. She was soon playing full time again and went on to establish her business, return to study, and progress through to a PhD.

(Photo: supplied)

Later this year she will go to New York to attend the experimental OMI Music Residency, with funding from the Australia Council for the Arts. Reflecting on the diversity of her roles, Danielle’s attitude toward her success similarly varies: risk taking brings great things but also involves the occasional disappointment. Danielle remains committed and passionate about being a musician:

“I’ve survived as a musician and I love what I do; I’ve accomplished a lot of things and there is still so much more to come.”