I’ve had a great break over the silly season (apart from getting stung by a sting ray, but that’s another story. Very painful. And yes, I stepped on it. No, I didn’t see it.), and didn’t play the cello at all.

I always find it hard coming back to practising, physically. My finger-pads get sore. My right arm tires. (I know, precious little apple blossom I am.) But it’s often an exciting time, musically. I am fresh, and eager to try out some new ideas.

This year was no different. My first concert is a solo cello concert, and I’m playing a Bach Suite to start it off. I’ve played this suite for years – it’s hard not to just go-through-the-motions with it. So I tried something different. I practised for two days with a metronome clicking beside me. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s a gadget to keep you playing exactly in time. You set it to click to a prescribed number of beats per minute, and then you play over the top. It’s not actually as easy as it sounds. They seem to always speed up in the hard bits.)

Playing with one of these is strange. I feel a bit strait-jacketed, and it requires discipline, but I was eager to see how the experiment turned out. Here’s how it has changed with the Allemande – one of the movements in the suite.

I never really ‘liked’ the Allemande, probably because I thought I never really thought I played it convincingly. I tried to play it beautifully, sure, and I sort-of hoped that Bach’s genius would carry me through), but I never really knew what to do. For some of it, yes, but not all of it.

So I found a click speed that worked, stripped all the bowing and ornaments out and pulled it apart. Then I put the bowing back in – only if it worked in time. Then I put the ornaments in in the repeats – but only if they worked in time. It sounded odd, and I felt hugely restricted, but wanted to see where this might go. Yesterday it felt less restrictive, but still odd. 

This morning less odd. 

I have just tried it now without a metronome. And I have it! It feels dance-like, with a few spaces. The repeats are different, so it’s interesting. It’s still beautiful, but today, for me, utterly convincing. And it has the most excellent sense of phrasing.

I can’t help but think Bach would be pleased.

Let’s hope it feels like that tomorrow….


It’s the end of the year, and I am knackered. Yep. Totally. I’m sitting at my lap-top, with a cup of tea and a purring cat next to me, just reflecting.

I have performed so many cello concerts. I’ve loved them all. I’ve worked with some incredible artists. I’ve had so much help – not just at concerts, but beforehand. I’ve had friends listen to pieces before I play them. I’ve had composers write me pieces to play. I’ve had dear friends listen to rants, and programming ideas. I’ve had dinners cooked and drinks administered. I’ve had a husband who has supported me every step of the way.

I’ve recorded a CD and released it. Again, enormous amounts of help was required. Music gathering, permissions given, editing done, first-listens done, art work created, photos taken. And then there’s the playing part… It’s been huge. And worth it. But huge.

And I’ve taught so many children. I’ve challenged and cajoled. I have danced and been silly. I have been serious and demanding. I have drummed and played and sung. I have been bossy. And I have relied on the help and support of other teachers and staff in schools. And I’ve loved it nearly all the time.

And the point of my list here? I realise how important music is. To people who play it. To people who listen to it. To people who learn it. It breaks down barriers. It breaks hearts and puts them back together. It draws people closer. It makes you proud. It makes you think. It makes you smile.

It’s so important, you know.

I am proud to be a musician. I am proud to be a cellist. and I’m proud to be a teacher. I am proud to be an artist. It’s tough. I will not own a house, or a fancy car. I will not own expensive shoes or handbags. I will never be able to fly business class. But my heart is full and satisfied. I love my gifts I have been given.

I can’t do it alone – and I am so incredibly lucky I have such a huge support network.

Happy end of 2018 to anyone reading this. Thanks for walking through the year with me.

Here’s to 2019 and all it brings…

I have had to run a lot of concerts this term. And I have mixed feelings about them. They are an enormous amount of work. They disrupt class time, with extra rehearsals. They are a huge amount of pressure and extra work for me. But they are also hugely important. So much goes on that isn’t just about the playing, or singing, or drumming, or whatever is being performed.

There’s all the other stuff that I see too…. The pride that consumes kids as they achieve. As they nail a really tricky section. The moment they realise that what they are singing sounds excellent. The fact that there are a bunch of people there looking at them – just them. And that this bunch of people are all enjoying what they do. There’s a lot of pride within little people. A lot of smiles. A lot of shoulders back. To use a buzz word, a lot of resilience being created.

And here’s the thing. I’m sure of this, you know. (Just like I am sure that champagne is delicious, and copha tastes disgusting.) If the kids know what to expect as they walk on – where to sit, how far to place themselves on the stage – all that stuff, they are far more settled. They play better. So they become more proud of what they are doing. They succeed more. There’s a huge spiral of positivity.

And this isn’t just achieved in a music lesson. This is where I need class teachers to help. I’ve worked with so many of them (class teacher, that is.). And I see the difference with their kids. It’s bigger than you think. Teachers who practise with their classes when I’m not there – I can tell. The kids really own what they do. And the ones who don’t? Well, it makes me cranky. And sad. Mostly sad, these days. Because I know what can be done, and achieved.

I know there’s a lot to get done in classes. Curriculum to cover. Books to read. Numbers to add and subtract. But this is just as important. Not because of the music stuff. Because of the pride. Because of the self-worth. Because of the joy.

I often see these sentences that say things like “Do one thing a day that frightens you”, usually on a bag over a woman’s shoulder wearing active-wear. Or on someone’s fridge. But when do we do that? Really?

When, as grown-ups, do we do something that we don’t really want to do? Sure, we go to work, and most people would rather not – but that’s how we earn money to buy food. But I’m talking about answering those emails – you know the ones I mean. Or not checking instagram, or facebook. Or making that phone call.

Most people tell me that they get around to insert-whatever-they-don’t-want-to-do in the end, most of the time, but not always.

This got me thinking. You see, I am one of those people who don’t put off things. This is not me saying how good I am – ooohhhh no, no, no. I go the other way. I can’t really sit down until everything I think needs to be done is done. And that means I don’t often sit down. I write endless lists of things of ‘things to do’. It drives people close to me bananas.

And I regularly do things I don’t want to do. I do it in yoga classes nearly every time I go. Some crazy backbend that involves me supporting all my (quite large) bodyweight on my wrists? I’ve learned that it’ll never be as hard as that first time. So I do it. I figure I expect kids I teach to do the same (not the yoga poses, but doing something they think they can’t do, so don’t want to do), so I can suck it up too.

You see, this post has come about for two reasons. One is I am reflecting on how many emails I write per week that are ignored. Totally ignored by people. I can handle ‘no’ in an email. I can even handle ‘I’m too busy right now – can I write back in a week?’ as well. But please don’t ignore what I write.

And I listen to discussions on the radio often about how we should educate kids. ‘Take away their mobile phones’ is a big one right now. Really? As adults, would you give your mobile phone away to be locked up for 6 hours? Do we, as grown-ups actually ever reflect on the amount of stuff that we ask kids to do that they actually don’t really want to – but do anyway.

And then do we apply those same rules to us?

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.