I have started music lessons in a new school this year. Well, I’ve been there for a while, but not teaching music lessons – just running a choir. This year, my timetable is a bit changed, so I’m teaching the choir every alternate week, and music lessons for years 3 – 6 the other week. Because I’ve been away last week, this week was the first week of lessons.

I teach in class groups – so 28 – 30 kids at a time, mostly. I expect a few things with kids, and they can expect a few things from me. I try to be engaging. I try to be fair. I try to be as fun as possible. I try to teach them something every lessons. And back? I expect them to treat instruments with respect. I expect them to try their best. For some children this might be simply looking at the board, rather than singing, because they are too shy. For others, it might be sitting still for 2 minutes at a go.

So yesterday I had a fairly tricky year 3 class for the first time. They ran into the hall (I’m often teaching in large spaces. I find it easier that way.). I let that one go. We started reading rhythm. Most kids were engaged. I let the few wrigglers go, as I didn’t really know them yet. Then I delivered my expectations as I handed out instruments. I told them that if they didn’t put their instruments on the floor I’d take them away. Did they understand? All heads nodded.

So I handed out the instruments. Three children didn’t stop fiddling. So I took their stuff away.

“That’s a bit harsh.” said one little voice (a mate of one of the kids with now no instruments).

“Why?” I asked? “You all said you understood what I asked of you. I told you the consequences. And yet these children didn’t do what I asked. They aren’t in kindergarten. They are in year 3.”

And to my surprise my little friend said, “Oh. Fair enough.”

I had no more problems for the rest of the lesson.

And I did eventually give all the stuff back to my fiddlers. They did the right thing.

Ah, boundaries. How I love you.

This week something happened that made me feel really awful. And angry. And sad. All at the same time.

The dad of a family I teach died. He died in a horrible way – he fell off a balcony. Of course there are two sides to this story. According to police they were coming into the apartment. He panicked (and was taking drugs), and tried to climb off his balcony (on the 13th floor) to the balcony below (the 12th floor) to escape. He was wanted for various offences. He slipped and fell, and this is terrible. According to the community, he was chased. But the ending is the same. He died. It’s awful. His family and friends are angry. Really angry. And he’s Indigenous, so this community is still getting over Invasion Day (sorry – Australia Day).

I am really sad for his kids I teach. And for me, this part is black and white. They shouldn’t have to deal with this. You don’t choose your parents, or where you live. They should just be able to come to school, go home, sleep in a safe place. Be fed and loved. These kids I see are great kids. They are resilient, and full of personality. They have amazing independence. They are talented. This dad loved his kids, I know that. His kids loved him back. I am sad for these little people. Their lives have now changed enormously.

I am also angry. Because the picture of him that is being used in the media is horrible. I can’t help but think that is he was a white bloke from the Eastern Suburbs, or Rozelle, or the North Shore, they would use a different sort of picture. It would be really flattering. He would be surrounded by his kids. It would be the sort of photo that would make you think it was sad that he was gone. The photo of this bloke? I can see readers of the Daily Telegraph thinking that it doesn’t matter he died. It simply feeds into the stereotype of black-man-up-to-no-good.

And I feel awful. I feel awful for these kids. They have so many things thrown at them. So many hardships. So many setbacks. And it’s not fair.

It’s actually not fair. Not for them.

Last weekend I was teaching at a music camp for grown-ups. I like being at this camp – I’ve written about it before. There’s an awful lot of people who are really passionate about music, and want to learn. But there’s this weird belief that a lot of them have – than me, as a teacher, can give them one insight that is going to make things hugely different for their playing – like putting more rosin on their bow, or sitting differently, or adjusting their music stands. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

I was also fortunate enough to sit in on a lesson given by a very-fabulous guitarist to a young student. And really it all boiled down to one thing. You need to know so much background knowledge to play better. You need hours at the instrument. And not just a few – but hundreds of hours every year. You need to work hard, and work hard consistently.

I joke with a regular playing partner of mine about a certain style of amateur player. They have every gadget available. Tuners. Fancy stands. Magnetic self-sharpening pencils. Apps that show them all sorts of stuff. But they don’t play very well, because they don’t actually sit down and practise.

It’s not magic. It’s not really a gift. I mean, sure, there are people who show aptitude. And there are people who instinctively can phrase beautifully. But actually, most good players work. And work hard. Damn hard. Day in, day out.

I deliberately try to steer away from political issues here. I do this for a number of reasons. I’ve tried to have only a few ‘battles’ in my life and work, and speak about them only. I know a fair bit about those issues, and so can talk about them knowledgeably. I don’t have the time to know (and learn) about other stuff enough to talk about them with enough knowledge to propose a good case, and to rebut points from a differing point of view. I won’t talk to you passionately and persuasively about Trump, or American politics, for example. I won’t talk to you about mining. I won’t talk to you about high school education problems, or tertiary education. There are too many things I don’t know.

will talk to you about primary music education – I know a lot about that. I mightn’t talk to you a lot, as I’m too busy just doing it, but if you get me at a good point in the week, I’ll sit you down and bore you to tears, if you’d like. I’ll also talk to you about chamber music, and performing it in a real and risk-taking way. I’ll talk to you about how hard it is to run your own concerts, and all the hurdles you’ll face. I’ll talk to you about how great it is to perform with other inspiring musicians.

But now I find there’s a political issue that has sort-of flowed into my teaching practise, so I’ve thought about it a lot. And I’ve read about it. And now I’m going to talk about it. And what’s more, I’m happy for you to talk back to me about it. In a grown-up, let’s-have-a-discussion-about-this-properly-and-not-start-name-calling way.

It’s about Australia Day.

Here’s the problem I have. You see, I work with a lot of Indigenous kids. And this really affects them and their families. This day makes them really angry. They are in fairly tight communities, and the whole community is angry about it. There’s marches, and drinking and anger. (Have I mentioned the anger?) And the kids pick up on this. And then, very soon afterwards, they go back to school, and are taught by (in my neck of the woods, mostly) whites. And they are still angry. And it takes a while to settle down. A goodly while.

I wonder what it would be like if my teacher-friends didn’t have to start the year off like this.

This all-important public holiday hasn’t always been a public holiday. It has only been like this since the 90’s (1994 to be exact). Why does our ex-PM think it’s appropriate to send off barbed tweets about the only reason to change the date of this is ‘political correctness’? Did he learn nothing as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs?

Have a think about this. Picture yourself in a share-house, and you want to have a party on a particular Saturday. One of your flatmates says “Guys, my grandma, who I loved so much, died on that day. I feel really miserable on that day. Can we have it the next weekend?” What do you do? You change the party date.

I am not saying let’s not have a day to celebrate this great country. I’m saying let’s have a date that everyone can celebrate together. We talk about ‘reconciliation’. We talk about ‘respect for the first peoples’. So let’s actually do something. Surely no-one really cares about celebrating on January 26?

And as an aside, how about a public holiday in November instead when everyone’s really knackered?

I have just come back from two wonderful weeks away. I swam in cold ocean water every day. I didn’t wash my hair at all. (I didn’t brush it either, but that’s nothing new….) I ate fresh oysters and just-caught lobster. I listened to a lot of music. I stayed up late, playing games and laughing with people I love. I didn’t play the cello at all. I read a lot.

It was perfect.

2017 was a busy year – full of concerts, artistic challenges, a few disappointments (but they come with the territory, really), lots of teaching problems (and mostly solutions), headstands, handstands, a new wine bar in Marrickville, recording plans, good food and a big trip overseas. I needed a rest!

Now I am sitting writing this ready for 2018. It’ll be bigger, I think. More concerts already. A CD to record. Some travel – some for work, some for play. I’m looking forward to so many things! I know that not everything that 2018 will throw at me will be positive. I know that there will be some hurdles, probably a mountain to climb (that’ll most likely be the CD recording), plants in my garden will get eaten by snails, and there will be some bendypretzel yoga stuff I’ll not be able to do at all.

But I think I’m ready for it. I have some funky new tye-dye pants. I have new pieces to play. I have friends there with me. My cello is good to go. Bring it on!