College Alumni Share their Stories

College Alumni Share their Stories

St Leonard’s College is renowned for igniting and nurturing the creative passions and interests of our students. Our music tuition and performance opportunities are widely acclaimed, as are our Hart Theatre Company productions that develop student talents.

We share the stories of two of our alumni in the dedicated pursuit of their dreams.

Ayda Akbal – Music Composer, Arranger and Producer

Despite finishing school in 2019, Ayda Akbal is already a musical force to be reckoned with. Whilst currently completing a Bachelor of Music (Specialising in Composition and Music Technology) and Bachelor of Arts (Major in Psychology) at Monash University, she is also working on multiple projects, all of which require different skill sets and knowledge of varying styles of music and instrumentations. Some of these projects include: creating a minimalistic soundtrack for a documentary exploring the ideas of loss and melancholy, composing a musical that tells a story of love and growth, and lastly, composing commercial tracks for global companies such as ThermoFisher Scientific.

Ayda shares, “I’m proud of the diversity of projects that I’ve worked on. Although I’m most passionate about composing for screen, I’ve learnt invaluable lessons in time management, musical skill, and entrepreneurship from all the projects I’ve worked on. As a culmination of all my learning, I released my debut album, Magic, in August that I recorded, composed and produced all on my own – something that is normally considered uncommon, especially by a female artist in the industry today.”

Ayda reflects on how the music industry has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic: “All of my cornerstone projects have involved clients internationally; I’ve worked with a writer from Florida, a director from Chicago and for the US branch of a global company. It’s been wonderful to connect with people from all over the world and help them realise their projects. Although I do feel more connected with the people I work with from Melbourne because we are in the same time-zone and can go out and get a coffee (COVID-willing).”

Ayda acknowledges that the Australian music industry has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, and that it took “a big hit, as initially not much was done by the government to consider the impact of lockdown on artists and live-performers, or to support them. Musicians have had to keep asking, and are still asking, for proper support to make sure Melbourne’s music scene doesn’t suffer, so that we don’t have to rebuild it from scratch.”

From a positive personal perspective, completing her first year of university online gave Ayda the time to work on projects from overseas, establish her website and build up her portfolio which she concedes she may not have had the time to do had university classes been conducted on campus. It also gave Ayda the opportunity to dial into composition classes hosted overseas via Zoom, which created new avenues to work and communicate with other composers internationally.

Reflecting on how she feels about her work, Ayda shares, “I love that I get to add that extra little bit of colour and emotion to a scene to help the audiences better understand and empathise with the characters. Music can add so much to any given project, and I love being the one to open the curtain and shed light on a director’s true intentions and message behind their work.”

At St Leonard’s College, Ayda undertook the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). “It taught me how to stay focused on my work and manage a heavy workload with other commitments – such as my commitment to the College music program. It encouraged my love of learning, always asking questions and having that curiosity, wanting to know more than what is written in the textbook. St Leonard’s College taught me to be continuously curious and involved, not only in academics, but to pursue my other passions. The music school at St Leonard’s was always a safe haven and a place of exploration for me, and that was essential in encouraging me to pursue what I love at a tertiary level and start building a career upon it.”

Chris Burgess –
Musical Theatre Performer, Cabaret Artiste, Yoga Teacher

When it comes to shining a soulful light on the performing arts, Chris Burgess, from the Class of 2015 is the consummate choice. Chris completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music Theatre), from the Victorian College of the Arts (The University of Melbourne) and is currently studying Honours in this degree. Chris works professionally as a performer in musical theatre, where he devises, produces and performs cabaret, and if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Chris is also a qualified Vinyasa Hatha yoga teacher.

One of Chris’ most notable recent achievements was the debut of his self-devised solo cabaret LENNOX: Legend In My Livingroom for the Melbourne Cabaret Festival at Chapel Off Chapel. The show received rave reviews and has been picked up for the Fringe World Festival in Perth early next year. Another recent highlight for Chris was performing with Meow Meow and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall earlier this year. Chris shares, “It made me late to my own housewarming, but it was worth it!”

Due to COVID-19, the past 18 months have certainly proved challenging for those in the performing arts. Chris personifies the resilience and capacity to adapt that we seek to instil in our students, a trait that is certainly worthy of acknowledgement. Chris shares, “Professionally, COVID continues to have a devastating impact on the arts industry in Australia, which I feel has been exacerbated by the lack of government support for the arts sector specifically. Personally, I have found the past two years to be quite challenging, clarifying, and revealing. Initially, the prospect of not being able to work after having just graduated was quite daunting, but it allowed me to pursue my yoga teacher training and establish a regular meditation practice which has become an integral part of my life. I also had time to consider with greater detail how I specifically want to work within the arts industry and what career path I see myself taking.”

Chris remains incredibly enthusiastic and appreciative of his work. He shares, “What I love most about all the various work I do is being able to connect with peers, audiences, and communities in a deeper and richer way than we usually do in ‘day-to-day’ life. Working with, and performing for people is such an intimate and nourishing experience. Seeing live music, performing in cabarets and guiding people through yoga sequences cultivates such a great sense of community and has been made more special considering the impact that lockdowns have had on our need for social connection and live events.”

When it comes to the tertiary pathway that Chris chose at St Leonard’s College, he shares, “All through schooling I was convinced I would do the IBDP, but when the time came and I had to choose only one arts subject in the IB curriculum, I couldn’t decide and ended up going with VCE to pursue both music and theatre. The ability to be able to choose subjects that really complemented my passion for performance was so integral in my development. The various skills I developed through VCE are valuable for so many parts of my life, but in particular they set me up to succeed in my audition and admission into the VCA Music Theatre.

“St Leonard’s offered me the opportunity to learn in a nurturing environment, think critically, and develop my love for the arts and performance. Specifically, the teachers I had growing up through school were so formative in my development and provided an example of the sort of life I wanted to lead. Creative, passionate, and inspired teachers that nurtured and fostered me in academic, cocurricular and personal ways, some of whom I still have great relationships with today. I think that St Leonard’s did set me up with an ‘education for life’, not to suggest that I learned everything I needed to know by the age of 18 – far from it – but that I was equipped with a sturdy foundation of healthy relationships, academic skills, self-esteem, and a range of formative experiences, all of which continue to contribute to my personal development.”