I do a fair bit of speaking about the importance of music education. In the last little while I’ve had to do two speeches in very quick succession, and it got me thinking.

I find the speaking quite thought-provoking. Often draining. And it often makes me upset. You see, most of my speeches follow the same pattern. I talk about the type of kids I see and how music education affects them. I also have a few statistics about young people in Australia. I’ve found this helps – particularly with men. In the past, it’s men who have told me that what I’m not speaking is the truth, so I simply now cite my sources, and that stops them in their tracks.

Here’s something I’ve found out that I don’t really like. ONE IN SEVEN kids of primary school age in this country experience serious mental health issues. That means that they are anxious, or worried, or fearful MOST of the time. And this is just an average. In my experience, these things happen in clusters. But even without clusters, 1 in 7 isn’t a good thing. And kids as young as 4 are being diagnosed with anxiety. Also not good. In fact, both of these things are very bad.

Now, I know that mental health is far more in the public eye than it used to be. In fact, sometimes I get a bit sick of hearing about it. A cricketer making a whopping salary tampers with a ball? There are all sorts of people that start talking about his mental health, and how we should all be concerned with it. I roll my eyes at that and sigh. But a kid who is 8 dealing with arguments and violence at home and possibly doesn’t have a space of their own to retreat to? This now gets my attention. I will worry about their mental health, thank you.

I know that society at large can’t stop things like this domestic violence happening. But I think that we can help kids be better equipped to help themselves. We can make them more resilient. We can give them more self-belief. And how do I propose to do this? Me, the expert? Well, I think it’s quite easy actually. Give kids more creative outlets IN THEIR SCHOOL DAY. A good chunk of music, or art, or drama. Every day. Free time to play and negotiate problems. And less time on numeracy and literacy.

Here’s why… I know it’s really important to be able to read, and do maths. But every child I know knows where they sit in their class ‘ladder’. They will say things like ‘Oh, Josh is best at maths.’ or ‘Hannah is the best reader.’ Which is all well and good for Josh and Hannah, but for kids who need their self-esteem boosted, this is not helpful. And Josh and Hannah may not want to know they they could be toppled off their throne at any time. It’s things like art and music that kids who aren’t necessarily good working within the school academic system can shine. You never know who’ll be the amazing person in the school musical or play. And yet it’s these things that are left out of a weekly timetable. I see the effects on kids – and it’s really powerful.

Kids also need time to have free time in the classroom. To sort out their own spats. To talk to the person next to them – maybe about school work. Maybe about a game, or a book. Maybe about nothing much. Because that’s what grown-ups do at work – and yet class time is managed so much now that this doesn’t often happen.

I am not criticising teachers. By no means. Because they are told what to do by the Education system. Every teacher I see (well, nearly all of them) are doing their absolute best.  But they are severely hampered. By NAPLAN. By huge emphasis or reading and numeracy stuff. There’s huge pressure on them.

And I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that it’s not serving our kids very well. In fact, not well at all.

A week or so ago, I had this conversation on the phone….

“Hello. I have a ticket to your concert in X. I don’t want it anymore, and want a refund.”

This is five days out from the concert, by the way.

“I’m sorry, but there are no refunds. It says so on the website. You can sell it on to someone else, if you like – the person who turns up with the ticket doesn’t need to be the same name as the person who bought it. Sorry about that.”

This seems fair to me, in a number of ways. I am the person who does everything for the concerts, and I don’t have time for refunds. Also, I have guaranteed a fee to my other musician – I need to know that the money will be there. I have other expenses involved as well, so it’s all a financial juggle.

On the other end of the phone….”Sigh.”

I’m sorry, did you just sigh? A $25 ticket that I’ve just told you you can hand on, or resell and you’ve just SIGHED?? Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?

“Well, I bought this ticket AGES ago. How am I expected to keep this date free for all this time?”

I don’t know, lady. Perhaps like you keep doctor’s appointments free? The funny thing is this. I know many people who would snap up that ticket. The concert has been sold out for weeks, and I’ve got a number of requests for it. But after the sigh, I’m not doing anything. I’m sorry for your inconvenience, and maybe you’ve had a bad day. You’ve got shouted at at work, maybe. Or someone has driven into the back of you. But you know that you are talking to the concert organiser and player, and you’ve just made her feel like shit. So you can sort out your problem.

Sorry I can’t help you further. Feel free to pass it on, if you’d like.”

“This doesn’t help me at all.” And she hangs up.

I am left looking at my handset. And shaking my head in disbelief.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been playing in out-of-town venues. I’ve been sitting in the car, doing lots of driving (or being driven). I’ve seen some beautiful countryside – dry fields full of brown grasses, sparkling blue water, burnt bush-land, snow falling just as the light was fading. I’ve seen a lot of road. I’ve listened to some excellent podcasts (I’m turning into a bit of a true-crime-podcast addict, I confess…).

Whenever I play to audiences out-of-the-cities it feels totally different to, say, Sydney. There’s a real feeling of gratitude – I have trekked to wherever they are to play to them. And it makes me angry when I hear that money for regional touring from arts organisations has been cut. In previous years, Government finding bodies funded about 20% of applications. This year, they’ve funded 2.7%. (And yes, my decimal points are correct.) Where is the money going? To make a surplus? (I have no idea, and I’m sure someone will tell me.) Arts organisations, big ones, are cutting regional tours…

But here’s a thought…. You see, ALL of NSW is in drought. This is hard. There’s a lack of colour. There’s worry. Anxiousness. People are concerned. And concerts make you forget about stuff. You would all have experienced that – just for a small amount of time. And good music feeds the soul. It makes you happier. And I’m not just talking about classical music here – any music. SO why doesn’t someone, somewhere, making these types of decisions have a bit of think.

Hay, money, feed – yes, this is all totally important. I do not disagree. But balm for souls is also hugely important. Allowing young kids in the country access to arts and music and seeing live music is hugely important. Actually, not just young people…. I know there’s a huge amount of money needed for all sorts of stuff. But isn’t mental health just as important as a state in surplus?

Perhaps even more so?

I am going to preface this post by saying it’s going to make me sound like a grumpy old woman. Ah well. But I feel like I need to say it. It’s about people being noisy, you see.

So I am a big practiser. I’ll sit at my cello early in morning a lot. Sometimes late in the evening. There might be days where I’ll play for up to five hours. Sometimes I have the door open in my practise room, which goes into the front garden. I know that people can hear what I’m doing, because I see them stopping and listening. It makes me really aware of noise that I make – and also that other people make too.

Did I miss some kind of announcement that it’s ok to talk on your mobile phone in public on speakerphone? When did this become a ‘thing’? When is it acceptable to sit anywhere where there are others and talk to someone on the speaker part of your mobile? I don’t want to hear your conversation. I don’t care if it’s in English or not – I don’t want to hear it. Turn off your speaker (it distorts the sound) and HOLD YOUR PHONE UP TO YOUR EAR.

And why is it ok to allow your kids to run around in public spaces and yell? I can remember knowing about my ‘inside voice’ and ‘outside voice’ and realising they were something different when I was a little tacker. OK – I give you a few exceptions. School playgrounds. Sporting fixtures shouting support for your team. But the pavement? The shopping centre?

And since I’m having a rant about it, why do people listen to videos on their phones WITHOUT HEADPHONES in a public space as well?

It makes me smile that the house of two musicians is one of the most quiet on our street. Ironic, isn’t it?

I’ll stop ranting now, and get down off my soapbox. Very quietly, mind you. You won’t hear a thing.

Last week I was lucky enough to teach an Early Childhood Music class. This is a music lesson for pre-school aged kids. These particular kids were 3-and-4 year olds (mostly 4, I think), and there were about 20 of them. It was part of an Open Day program for Hillston Central School – a stroke of genius, I think (Hooray for Mrs Murphy!!)

It was a fabulous lesson. And I’m sitting here reflecting on it for so many reasons…. I don’t teach this age group much at the moment – I used to do it a lot. In fact, I had most of my training in it. It’s something that can be done really badly. But when it’s done well, it’s so wonderful for the children participating, in so many ways. It builds on social skills, aural skills, motor skills, vocal skills, patience, confidence – you name it, a good early childhood music lesson will probably cover it.

My most favourite part of these lessons is handing out instruments. You see kid’s faces light up. Mini cymbals? For me? And I can BANG them? Really? A lot? This is the BEST day EVER….

It reminds me to take pleasure in the small things, you know. One children let out a loud squeal of joy when he realised he was going to be able to play an egg shaker AND a bell AT THE SAME TIME.

So – adults out there. I know that we all have bad days. But this little boy reminded me of something. There’s a lot in those bad days that might be good, but we forget. Your car has heating? That’s a good thing. Someone made you a coffee? That’s brilliant!

And if someone gives you an egg shaker and a bell? Shake them will all your might. And squeal with happiness. You’ll feel better, you know…