Dr Paul Smith's career began with thoughts of becoming a concert pianist, having come to music relatively late and learning the piano from the age of 10.
"Surprisingly, mine was a very non-musical family," he said.
"We didn't have music in the house or go to concerts, so I approached music as an open book, without any baggage."
Music generates strong emotions and ideas.Dr Paul Smith
Thoughts of becoming a concert pianist gave way to opera singing when he joined a young artists' company and began performing as a bass baritone in arias of Mozart and Puccini for corporate functions and parties.
As a composer he wrote two chamber operas, the second titled The Spidermaiden and the Runaway Plum Blossom successfully premiered in Singapore, then a theatre score based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (with piano) and passages of cabaret and musical theatre.
When Paul upped the tempo with a "fun-loving boutique opera company" called Blush, he began to strike a chord with a new generation of opera goers. He is now the company's co-artistic director and experimenting with ways opera can both explore contemporary themes and appeal to new audiences.
Opera doesn't have to be grand and opulent.Dr Paul Smith
He also contributed to the ABC digital series What is Music last year, and spent three weeks in Armenia on a composition residency working on pieces for the toy piano.
Paul now lectures in music theory and composition within the UNE's School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.
"It's been a full and varied career so far, filled with lots of different musical influences, but as in every good opera it all comes together in the end," he said.
"I guess it comes from my interest in exploring different styles of music and expressing them in different ways."
His latest work with Blush is called 'Chop Chef' and is a collaboration with writer Julie Koh. It satirises reality television's appetite for cooking competitions while indulging his own passion for food.
It's amazing where music can take you.Dr Paul Smith
"Some people don't respond to opera but most respond to TV, so that's where Chop Chef had its origins," said Paul.
"Through Blush, we are keen to get people in the door and help them to discover that opera can be fun and wacky as well as an emotional, dramatic experience.
“The opera scene in Australia is narrow and getting narrower. Staging big new operas today is risky and expensive, but a smaller opera company like ours, performing in more intimate settings, can work."
One of his primary motivations with Blush is to give expression to people who have traditionally been excluded from opera.
"We're working in smaller, inclusive venues like bars and makeshift black-box spaces, and I am particularly interested in telling minority stories concerning race, sexuality and gender," he said.
I have never worried that my work will fit.Dr Paul Smith
"At its best, music can cause people to reflect on issues and sometimes to change their minds."
Brave choices and a willingness to collaborate with other artists have been hallmarks of Paul's eclectic career.
"I try to foster that in my students by exposing them to new music in a non-judgemental way," he said
“I learn from their musical influences and tastes, too, because every type of music and every response to it is equally valid."
This all makes for some fascinating discussions with students.
"Studying music challenges you to consider what music means culturally and socially, and I enjoy being able to discuss with my students how or indeed if a piece of music fits into their world.
“Together, we test the limits of what can be considered music and how it can be performed."