Last week I was lucky enough to play in a tunnel. Well, not exactly a tunnel. I was in a chamber off the tunnel. I was sitting on a sandy floor, facing a bare rock face. The ceiling was a about 12 metres above my head, and you had to bend your head to get through the ‘door’ to come into the chamber.

I was playing as part of the ‘opening’ of the tunnel – an ex-coal-loading facility on Sydney harbour. A HUGE hooray to North Sydney council who are releasing this land back to the public, rather than selling it to developers. It’s full of veggie patches, battery-recycling places, a cafe – I like it a lot. (It’s here on Facebook if you want to have a look around….)

There were all sorts of people wandering around at the opening – and a lot of them perched on bits of rocks to have a listen as I played a Bach suite. Some people played for a long time. Others for a movement or two. The acoustics were EXCELLENT. I had a great time playing down there – and I get to play for one night in the actual tunnel in September. Made me look forward to that a lot….

Coming home, I got to thinking about how great it was to be able to play in these sorts of spaces. I play in crypts, and caves, and tunnels… I’d play in other less-than-normal places, if I could find them. And it’s fabulous. It makes the concert really special – it’s not just about the performers and the audience – but also the space itself. It becomes an entity in the mix, if that makes sense.

It’s often said that people don’t go to classical music concerts. I wonder how many more people would if they were in interesting spaces and places. I have to say, it’s sometimes a pain to set up these places. They are dirty, sometimes drippy. I understand there’s not great disabled access. Often the toilets are a way away. There’s never a proper place for me to warm-up. But there’s a real charm to it.

It does make my shoes dirty though…

I have been doing a fair bit of performing at the moment. Or if not actual performing, I’ve been visiting venues, setting up concerts – all the stuff that goes with performing. I love it – the actual moment of performing. Of sharing with the people in the room with me. Of giving the audience a piece that I have prepared for them in as true as way as I can play. This piece mightn’t always be ‘beautiful’ – it might have strange sounds in it, or be exciting, or disturbing – but I will try and play it as accurately and as truthfully as I can. This tight-rope walking in a concert, this risk-taking – I love it.

And then after the concert there’s times when people want to come and talk to me. I have been their centre of attention, and continue to be, just for a moment more. They want to share stories with me, or give me a hug, or just say something about the night. I like this part too – it still feels like a celebration to me.

I am still the centre of attention, as the performer. Then I often go out to dinner, and everyone is still buoyed up by the performance (usually). There’s laughing and eating and drinking – and people are still often talking about the concert. Again, there’s attention directed towards me, and what I have achieved.

And this might happen three nights in a row for me. It’s easy to get swept up in the hype… (For other performers it happens more.) I usually perform over a weekend, as I have another part of my life.

Then, for me, it all changes. I go into a school and teach kids who have no idea what I’ve just done over the last few days. They don’t care how well (or not-so-well) I’ve played. They don’t give a damn.

I love this. The attention goes totally away from me, and what I have done. My feet come back to earth. I am just the music teacher. I am still doing the same thing – sharing music – but in a totally different way. It reminds me that it’s not me that is important. It’s the music.

I like this about my life. Very much. Keeps everything in perspective for me….

I found myself having an interesting conversation the other day with a teacher-friend. She’s married to an Aboriginal man, and teaches at a school with lots of Aboriginal kids at it. I’m there too, and we found ourselves with a few minutes to have a chat, and it got me thinking.

We talked about a few things…. And here they are in no real order.

We talked about how her kids will not tell her school that they are Aboriginal, because they don’t want to be trotted out as either ‘success stories’, or have to do all the ‘Welcome to Country’ stuff that schools often ask children to do. This led to me wondering out loud what it must be like – to be a child in a family who is really struggling, who is dealing with mental health issues in the family (a lot of the kids I see have to deal with this), or addiction, or some kind of abuse. These children’s families are often struggling because of the way white Aussie society has treated them – and then we (white Aussie society) expect them to get up at functions and welcome us. To the land we’ve taken from them. I’m still wondering about that.

We talked about when she took a bunch of kids from this school on the train – good kids – and watched commuters hold their bags a bit tighter. She was angry. These kids must have seen this. Does this happen a lot, I wonder? I think it does…. Probably not just to Indigenous people (or Aboriginals, or First Peoples, or whatever you want to call them. The ones I talk to don’t mind…). Probably also to Muslims. How has that happened? In my experience, people live up to the expectation you give them – especially little people.

And we talked about how we hear security guards following Indig kids in shops. Here’s an example of it. Here’s another example. What must this be like? How can we tell these kids to be proud of who they are if this is happening outside school?

Again, I don’t claim to be an expert. I don’t have any answers. Neither did this teacher. But it’s been something I’ve been thinking about. And I’m slowly learning that people read this (Hi, Gen!). So I wanted to raise it. Because if you do read this, maybe the next time you see an Aboriginal kid, smile at them. Maybe we can slowly turn the tide. They won’t hurt you. They might smile back. The kids I see deserve all the smiles they can get, you know.

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.