Brendan Prior has relished every moment of his time at UOW: “I’ve spent four years talking about music. It hasn’t even felt like a degree.”
W hen Brendan Prior was a boy, his mother spotted an advertisement in the local paper for guitar lessons. She offered his older brother the chance to learn to play, but young Brendan was incensed.
“I said, ‘What about me?!” Brendan says now with a laugh. “I wanted to have a go, too.”
More than 15 years later, Brendan’s love for the instrument, and for music in general, has only grown since he first picked up that guitar.
He can now play across a range of genres – rock, flamenco, jazz, classical – although his heart lies in metal. This is evident within moments of talking about music with Brendan; he relishes delving into the history of heavy metal and the lyrical intricacies of bands such as Cradle of Filth and Judas Priest.
“Music is my passion,” the 23-year old says. “Although I guess after 15 years of practice, it makes sense that I would finally become good at it.
“Music has always been a big part of my family’s life. My brother didn’t keep the guitar up like I did, but he later became a drummer, so we often have jam sessions together. When we were growing up, my Dad was always playing his rock records in the house.”
Brendan has just graduated from the University of Wollongong (UOW) with a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Music). He is part of a cohort of talented musicians and artists who celebrated the end of their studies during the autumn graduation ceremonies.
What makes his achievement even more special is that Brendan has a vision impairment. Born with retinitis pigmentosa, known as RP, Brendan has around 10 per cent vision in each eye. He uses a cane, although he would love a Guide Dog, and throughout the course of his life, his ability to see has continued to deteriorate.
“I have tunnel vision, which most people would be familiar with, so I can see things directly in front of me but I have no peripheral vision.”
It has provided challenges to Brendan in the course of his music career. As a young boy taking guitar lessons, he was not able to see where to put his hands on the neck to play a chord. His teacher would place his fingers into position as Brendan tried to memorise the sound.
“At the time, I wasn’t very good at learning notes by ear,” he says. “I’ve become a lot better at it over time. I have a good ear for notes now.”
But he has never felt that music was out of reach or that a career in the industry was an impossibility. In addition to his guitar skills, which he hopes will help him to break through as a session guitarist, Brendan is also a talented sound and music producer, as comfortable behind the scenes as on stage.
“I’ve had to do things a little differently, like have a bit of help finding my pedals when I’m on stage,” he says. “I’ve always looked up to other guitarists and musicians, such as Jeff Healey, who were able to achieve incredible things in their careers.”
When he came to UOW, Brendan was determined to carve out a sense of independence.
“I was like everyone else, I didn’t know anyone. It was a whole fresh start.
“All through primary school and high school, I had helpers, people who would help me to take notes and write exams,” he says. “I wanted to try and do as much of this on my own.
“The Disability Support team at UOW are incredible and so helpful, but I wanted to be as independent as I could. I really threw myself in the deep end.”
That meant catching the bus and train to university for the first time. It also meant familiarising himself with his surroundings as much as possible, so he could know where to go for classes and lectures.
Brendan was helped by the support of his teachers and fellow students in the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts.
“They have been so fantastic. The lecturers would meet me before class or provide me with notes to lectures. I can see things on a computer, when it’s really magnified, but I can’t see the lecture board,” he says.
“I had to do a lot of electives and the most challenging were probably videography and photography. But I’ve handled everything alright.”
In his third year, Brendan was awarded the inaugural Turramurra Music Centre Prize at the Faculty’s annual awards night, which recognised the student who received the highest aggregate mark in the subject CAMS301, Music Studio 3.
It was an acknowledgment of Brendan’s talent and hard work, as well as his expertise in the intricacies of sound and music production, both of which he become adept at during his time at UOW.
“I was really pleased to receive the award,” Brendan says. “It was awarded for a subject that is run by an external teacher who works in the industry, so it was great to have that acknowledgement from someone who is in the field.”
While Brendan says he has received incredible support during his time at UOW, it seems that it goes both ways; during the annual third-year music student showcase, he helped out with many of the other student’s performances, playing guitar in different genres of bands. For his own major work, he created a 20-minute musical that incorporated more than 100 instruments. It was a highlight of his time at UOW.
“I’ve really enjoyed it, I’ve learnt so much and been able to explore all the different elements of music; themes, composition, practice, the history,” Brendan says.
“I’ve spent four years talking about music. It hasn’t even felt like a degree.
“With my visual impairment, I have to tackle things in a different way, but I’ve had an amazing few years.”