NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Law, Music, Melbourne and hard work: Living the dream in New York

I completed a double degree in Music and Law at Monash University, graduating from music in 2010 and from law in 2013 The opportunity to study under the guidance of Australia’s leading performing jazz artists and alongside talented peers was a dream come true.

Monash Alumni Nicholas Marks

Monash Alumni Nicholas Marks

By Nicholas Marks

I completed a double degree in Music and Law at Monash University, graduating from music in 2010 and from law in 2013. The opportunity to study under the guidance of Australia’s leading performing jazz artists and alongside talented peers was a dream come true. My decision to study law was based on academic curiosity, rather than a career ambition to be a lawyer. While these disciplines seem opposite to one another, I found them to be complimentary: the philosophies underpinning the law gave me a solid foundation for critical thinking, structure and analysis, which were translatable to my musical studies and performance practice. However, there was one striking difference: Each year, my music degree was progressively more challenging. I had to constantly evaluate my learning processes as I advanced to the next levels in my artistry. This remains critical to how I continue my development as a professional artist today.

After completing my music degree in 2010, I undertook private study with highly acclaimed mentors, worked full time performing, composing and teaching all the while studying law part time. In retrospect, I did not fully appreciate that this was laying the foundations for building a sustainable career once I finished my law degree in 2013.

Making the transition from study to career professional is a daunting task. Alumni can empower undergraduate students with their experience, knowledge and skills, demonstrating the many ways in which one can improvise their own sustainable career path.

In 2012, my film-maker brother, Alistair Marks, gave me the opportunity to compose the score for his short film “JOSHUA”. This was a revelatory project, as I discovered another deep passion for composing music for film (and later, television, theatre and other cross-platform outlets).

Shortly after completing my Law degree, I received an offer to study at Berklee College of Music with a 40% scholarship, though I ultimately turned it down. My intuition was that I needed to focus on building my career (and a proper income) in Melbourne, and only continue studying under the mentorships I felt were necessary. My decision to remain in Melbourne did not hold me back. On the contrary, being in Melbourne lead to invaluable collaborations, performances and commissions, the majority of which were of my own making. I am now an artist with a sustainable career in New York City, performing concerts, gigs, composing for film, television, and other outlets, as well as mentoring students around the world by Skype.

In May 2013, I began studying with renowned Israeli ear-training and composition teacher Dr Bat-sheva Rubinstein. Through her unique pedagogy, I developed perfect pitch; learnt to intuitively identify chord progressions in real time; hear, understand and transcribe works of master composers including Bach Chorales, String Quartets by Mozart and Haydn, symphonic works, relying solely on my aural abilities. These skills translated into other styles of music, and prolifically creating works that meld elements from various genres. We studied by Skype on a weekly basis, and I received grants from the Australian Council for the Arts and Creative Victoria to study intensives in New York and Tel Aviv. This has been the most significant transformation in my arts practice, as the more I improved under Dr Rubinstein, the greater output I created and higher level work opportunities I had over the following 3 years

My decision to remain in Melbourne did not hold me back. On the contrary, being in Melbourne lead to invaluable collaborations, performances and commissions. . . I am now an artist with a sustainable career in New York City, performing concerts, gigs, composing for film, television, and other outlets, as well as mentoring students around the world by Skype.

Making the transition from study to career professional is a daunting task. Alumni can empower undergraduate students with their experience, knowledge and skills, demonstrating the many ways in which one can improvise their own sustainable career path. One of the great assets Monash provides is community: I continue to collaborate and perform with many colleagues and teachers I met through the Monash program as a student. As an alumni, being connected to this community has also given me a point of connection to the next generation of performers and composers. 

My artistic voice is deeply informed by multiple styles, and my work is diversified across several platforms as a performer, composer and educator. I believe in creating your own projects and opportunities; being someone who says “Yes”; invest in yourself, your projects and stay true to your artistic vision. A creative arts degree enables students to build resilience to setbacks, which is critical for the practical realities of being a working artist. Accepting feedback, setting goals, executing them and managing your well being are as essential as knowing how to the play over rhythm changes.


Nicholas Marks is an internationally recognized Australian composer, performer and producer based in New York. Since graduating from the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University (Bachelor of Music/Laws(Hons)), Marks has produced a prolific body of work across diverse platforms including film, television, instrumental art ensembles, song writing projects and theatre. Notable projects include writing the new logo music for Hollywood film company Village Roadshow Pictures; the film score for documentary “Love Your Sister” (featuring award winning actors Samuel Johnson and Guy Pearce), as well as leading his trio at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.  Marks has written for, performed and collaborated with acclaimed Australian and international artists, as well as served as musical director, arranger and orchestrator on numerous projects.

More from this issue

More from this issue

After six decades of music education, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University graduates are making their mark in the performing arts industry, both in Australia and abroad. its alumni include players in leading positions in every Australian state orchestra, and a host of Grammy and ARIA award winners and many internationally recognised musicians including Dami Im, Jayson Gillham, Katie Noonan, Piers Lane, Megan Washington, Kate Miller-Heidke, Lisa Gasteen and Brett Dean have all passed through the Queensland Conservatorium.

LinkedIn has been described as the non-sexy, sleeping dragon of social media (Buck, 2012).  It has become the premiere social media site for professionals; most employers in the UK will search for a job candidate on LinkedIn.  This makes it very useful when searching for jobs internships, exploring careers or accessing company information. Yet, while students may be active on other social media platforms they are less engaged with LinkedIn. Certainly our creative students report that LinkedIn has little appeal

What do students of art need to know and be able to do today in order to flourish tomorrow? For the past ten years I have been exploring this question within the context of US art schools (Salazar, 2013a, 2013b, 2014, 2016). Reflecting on this body of research, three strategies stand out by which we, as educators, can better prepare art students to meet future challenges. We need to prompt inquiry, nurture entrepreneurial dispositions, and facilitate creative communities of practice.

Independent artists are faced with a challenging and transforming landscape that requires adaptive resilience in order to thrive creatively, today and in the future. How do we, as tertiary educators, empower and enable artists to build strong and flexible, professional contemporary art practices? To address this issue, my current research draws models of praxis from artist-run initiatives (ARI) in the Visual Arts industry, specifically from my experience as director of Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space.

If one was to believe the various reports emanating from the popular media, creative arts schools provide a waiting room for global graduate unemployment.  As we all know, nothing could be further from the truth or, as the US Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts puts it ‘Uncle Henry is Wrong’.

In higher education, we like to throw around the term “successful” when referring to our alumni, but what do we really mean by that?  Employed, certainly (if that is their goal).  Financially stable, making enough money to have a decent quality of life.  But beyond that, is more money really the best way to measure more success?  What else should we consider in this assessment?

Writing twenty years ago, Neumann (1996) questioned the existence of a nexus between research and teaching roles. Reviewing the literature up until the late-1980s, she asserted that few academics find a nexus because of the privileging of research over teaching. From the 1990s, however, she found the research-teaching nexus to be bi-directional and multi-level, with many students identifying the nexus as an opportunity for scholarly interactions. . . . This short discussion paper retains the focus on the artist academic and further extends the ART nexus through the addition of employability.

In the last thirty to forty years there has been a concerted drive in the Australian academy, to justify creative arts training in forms that articulate with economic worth, vocational function and government policy. . . . While there have been great gains in recognising the value of creative work within academic frameworks, their effect on the creative academics who deliver these graduate outcomes remains underexplored. . .

Emerging out of a multidisciplinary history, including an ongoing relationship with the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University has shaped and honed a contemporary focus through actively defining the usefulness of art for today’s society whether that be through praxis or pedagogy or a hybrid of the two. The ethos of the school is to explore and experiment and to push back from pre-determined understandings – to collaborate, innovate and find solutions through a merging of making and theory often employing whatever is to hand.

Over the last ten years, I have engaged in a number of research projects exploring the impact of a higher education degree in the creative and performing arts for graduates seeking a career in the creative industries. In essence, I have discovered that a creative arts degree provides students with three significant career-building opportunities. . . On the other side of the coin, . . . graduates in industry often report that they are insufficiently prepared for the complex nature of the creative industries work environments

Georgie Meagher graduated with undergraduate and masters degrees in Creative Arts (Performance) from the University of Wollongong in 2008. She is now CEO of Next Wave Australia’s most comprehensive platform for emerging artists whichincludes learning programs and a biennial festival.  NiTRO editor, Jenny Wilson, spoke with her about the influence of her university years, her role as an alumni and her advice for graduating students.