I grew up on Sydney’s North Shore. I went to a good school, and was taught both classroom music and instrumental music by some fabulously inspiring teachers. As I was going through university, I realised a few things – not every child has this opportunity, and most of the inspiring of young musicians needs to be done before they leave primary school. It became obvious to me that as a musician, I should give back to children, to inspire young people the way that I was inspired. And due to my personality (which I think of as ‘often child-like’, but some would say ‘immature’!), it was obvious that I should work with children under twelve.
After studying and working in London for a number of years, teaching early childhood music and cello, I came back to Australia and worked with a wonderful teacher and mentor, Shirlie Andrews, in Newcastle, running an early childhood programme for children aged two to six. A lot of material I use weekly in programmes now I was generously taught by her – and I offer up a silent ‘thank you’ to her weekly!
In 2007, I met the great children’s entertainer, Don Spencer, who runs The Australian Children’s Music Foundation (ACMF), a charity that uses the power of music to enrich the lives of disadvantaged Aussie kids. I now run three music programmes for the ACMF in Sydney and rural NSW, and mentor numerous other teachers running music programmes around the country. I teach classes of kids how to read music, tuned and un-tuned percussion work, drumming (on hand drums, water bottles or feed containers, depending on where I am!) and I find myself running a lot of choirs.
Often I run workshops teaching teachers, encouraging them to teach music in their classrooms. Not many generalist primary teachers are comfortable teaching music, and it is a joy to watch them becoming more comfortable in a training session, and getting to the point where they feel they can share this information with the little people they see nearly every day.
I have a team of people who make this work possible – classroom teachers, the staff at the ACMF, the person who creates backing tracks for me, and co-teachers on the day. I come home from a day’s teaching exhausted, but so excited and inspired by the children I teach.
I also have close links with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Australian Navy Band – both of these groups regularly come to visit me in schools and I arrange for children to perform with them using percussion equipment. The kids absolutely love doing stuff like this, and the whole day becomes a joyous time of music-making for all involved.
People often ask me why I do all this teaching — I believe that childhood is a special time for every child, and it should be full of learning and laughter. Children learn best when they feel safe and loved by whoever is teaching them. And a love of music enriches every life. I have a gift to be able to teach. And I have been given the opportunity to reach a large number of children. So I do – with all my heart.
In July, 2009 I was invited by Ros Dunlop to help set up a music programme for Mary McKillop East Timor Mission in East Timor. This has been a great success – over 900 children are now being taught by a team of six teachers in Dili and the districts of Timor. I travel over there twice a year, with translated lessons, and train the teachers in the best way of delivering the new materials. The lessons are in Tetun, the mother tongue of the Timorese, so it involved me being involved in the translation of all sorts of childrens songs. There are two programmes running – an early childhood programme (ages 4-7) and a primary music programme (ages 8-12). Again, work that I have loved doing. For anyone wanting an amazing holiday destination, I cannot recommend East Timor enough. The place is beautiful, the people are incredibly warm and friendly – and the bananas are out of this world!