Lisa Young: Jazz Vocalist, Composer and Teacher (Victoria)

“I might be leaving a legacy here of music that might be performed. That’s lovely; that’s a good feeling.”

 Melbourne based Jazz vocalist, composer and performer, Lisa Young has developed a career which allows her to work across a range of settings including performance, composition, teaching and workshop facilitation. A professional performer by age 20, with regular gigs across various venues in Melbourne’s acoustic music scene, she reflects that it was a teaching position which helped support her gigging life:

“The opportunity to gig regularly and be paid and also appreciated in this way was the beginning of the professional performance work, and I was composing as well, this has always been a part of my life with music. At around age 25 I was offered a teaching position at a secondary school.”

(Photo: Jodie Hutchinson)

Lisa presently works with two main ensembles – the vocal ensemble Coco’s Lunch and the Jazz/ World music quartet the Lisa Young Quartet, both of which integrate Indian and African elements such as Jazz/ World music art songs (“the South Indian art form has really influenced my body of work and is a big  part of who I am as a musician”). She also teaches in tertiary and workshop settings, and composes for a range of choirs. She holds a PhD in Music Performance (Voice) as well as a Masters in Music Performance (Voice) She remains committed to professional development such as vocal training (“it’s lovely to have someone to work on your voice with another set of ears”), and will pursue other opportunities when she can (“I had a lesson on my asaltuas – African percussion – last year”). Her continued commitment to learning influences her approach when facilitating undergraduate music  training (“for example I really enjoy trying to make undergrad aural studies a rich and valuable experience.”)

Teaching has played a vital role for the duration of Lisa’s career. Her teaching engagements at present include a lecturing position at Box Hill Institute as well as running bespoke workshops and master classes for universities (“I adore taking workshops with a vocal ensemble and helping them find a pathway with improvisation”). The financial security of regular teaching work has afforded Lisa the freedom to explore a range of creative work, outside the restraints of needing to take roles on purely for financial gain. Another constant facet of activity across her career has been composition work. Selling her choral repertoire online (“that’s really taken off”) provides Lisa not only with an income source, but is also a way through which she can engage with choirs all around the world. As she explains:

“Over recent years I’ve done some choral commissions for Gondwana and the Australian Voices. I’m finishing one at the moment for Young Adelaide Voices, and later this year I will be creating a work for Grand Rapids Women’s Chorus in the US.”

While Lisa is wholly financially sustained through her musical work, she explains that State and Federal Government funding, as well as university research stipends have played a critical role in the ways in which she has been able to develop as an artist, reflecting:

“Over 30 years I’ve been fortunate to receive fellowships, grant support – all my albums have had funding support [… The] support to study, including artistic development scholarships to study in India have really shaped my career.”


Finding balance across her multitude of engagements can be tricky. Restricting her lecturing to three days a week (“I was working four”) allows her to invest time in her other endeavours. Lisa explains that she would always love more time in her studio, and tries to ensure that she doesn’t overload herself (“I try to occasionally say ‘no’ things when I need more time just for myself”). Doing so, while also keeping physically active by walking and practicing yoga regularly, helps Lisa maintain her physical and mental wellbeing. She recognises, however, that managing one’s health and wellbeing while working in the sector can be a challenge and the inability to do so is a serious issue, explaining:

“You watch musicians and artists get to 50 and you really hope that they’ve got somewhere to live, good support and a bit of financial stability. Most people in the arts live on or below the poverty line. That can be okay in your life for a short period of time, but if you do it for decades, it can have a cost, particularly if you’re trying to support a family as well. I don’t want being a musician to feel like a struggle; it’s a celebration, it’s my life’s work.”

(Photo: Ponch Hawkes)

While Lisa’s career has been well supported through a range of grants, she recognises that the funding opportunities are limited, and heavily weighted toward the classical sector. She says one way to overcome this, and support more musicians would be to provide tax breaks:

“The disproportionate amount that goes to classical music, the institution of classical music, compared to contemporary and world music is outrageous really. I would love to see the arts be a tax break for everyone […] If you support creativity by commissioning a work or by putting on a concert, giving somebody a performance opportunity, it should be a tax deduction.”

More broadly, Lisa reflects that there are significant challenges for musicians being able to make money (“people don’t by CDs anymore [and…] the recompense for artists is not   high enough from streaming.”). She explains:

“My wish would be that music would be seen as a very, very valuable part of our community and our wellbeing and would be funded from every direction […] To have choirs everywhere so more people sang, to have percussion workshops – things that develop a sense of musicianship on a community.”