Please know, as you read this, I’m not trying to change your mind. And I’m not going to get on a soap-box, or get all ranty. I’m just going to say why I’m going to do what I’m going to do, when it comes to the referendum. And why. I want to tell you a story…

I was working at a school the day after Kevin Rudd’s Apology. I listened to it on the radio – I thought it was a great speech. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened the next day. At the particular school I was at, there were a lot of Indigenous kids. And they were SO excited. SO proud. They were tall, and seemed to be physically bigger. Because what had been said, for them and their mob, was huge. For them, it wasn’t just a speech. It was a validation.

I was at another school when the conference was happening that created the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And there was a girl in year 6 who had family there. She was hugely excited at what was going on. At the change that she thought would happen. The fact that her family was going to help her country. She was proud of who she was.

I still work with Indigenous kids. Lots of them. And I see that many times they don’t feel proud of who they are. Their little lives are hard. They don’t stand up straight. And so I will be voting yes. Not for me. But for them. To validate them. To let them know that I stand with them. And they are important. Because they are the future of this country.

I have listened to the people who say we should vote no. That there’s lack of detail. That this will divide things further. But I see something else. I see kids who want hope. And I will try and give it to them.

You can do what you think is the right thing to do. And I will respectfully agree, or disagree. But for my little friends, I will be voting yes. I will do it with them at the front of my mind.

J.S. Bach wrote his cello suites between 1717 and 1723 – no-one really knows exactly. I’m playing the second one at the moment, for a concert of spoken word and cello. A dear friend of mine is reading from her new book, and I’m playing music that we think fits to her words. It’s not a hugely crazy concept – if you feed the sound of a cello through an oscilloscope (the instrument that measures soundwaves), the graph that is produced very like the human voice – so she’s speaking, and then the cello is speaking back. Same, but not-same, as my primary-school friends might say.

I read her excellent book, and found passages that I thought would match with movements from the second suite. And we are now fitting the whole concert together. (It’s really exciting, experiencing all the pieces falling into place!) This book is partly about being on a sheep farm through a drought year. And in one part of the book she describes a day of shearing – the energy, the gestures, the sounds. And you know something? It fits PERFECTLY with the gigue. And this amuses me as I play.

Bach solo cello and a Tassie shearing shed. Who’d have thunk it, ‘eh?

I’ve had a really challenging class this year. They are older kids. Kids who have seen a bit too much already. I haven’t taught them for long (only this year), so I haven’t really established friendships with them. They don’t really trust me much (and why would they?). And there’s a big range of abilities, and some really strong personalities.

Ususally, I drum with older kids, and they love it. NOT this bunch. After two terms, they basically mutinied. They drummed it with another teacher, and are bored. They don’t like it. And I was getting nowhere. I hadn’t won them.

I work with an amazing AP (Assistant Principal to those not in the know…). She went into the class and talked to them. Found out what they might like to do in music. They gave her a list – they wanted a song that they could play along to on didgeridoo, percussion, and clap sticks. And sing as well. So she wrote all this down to me. It must have taken her hours. And then I read it. And then panicked.

Now, modern songs aren’t something I listen to. In fact, I hear auto-tune in tracks and switch off (both my ears, and then the radio). I get bored with most of it, and lots of songs aren’t really singable with kids. So I am NOT the right person to create this new percussion-stuff-to-a-song for these kids. But I’m all they’ve got. And I have a weekend.

Ben (long-suffering husband) came to the rescue. He found a song, and with very clever editing software edited it for me to be in the right key (so I could add percussion stuff in C), edited it again so it was in a format we could all memorise, edited it more to remove a few unsiutable lyrics, and then I sat down and dreamed up percussion parts and a way to teach it. This was all done over 48 hours, in the middle of a weekend of a concert, cello teaching and desperately needing to plant out seedlings.

And last week, I started teaching it. And the kids loved it. This week, I’ll find out if they’ve practised it. But for the first time, they were all engaged. I won’t ever like this song. But what we’ve done with it I will. And the fact it makes kids smile makes me smile. So I will suck up my hatred of auto-tune, and try to sneak in as much musical teaching as I can. And enjoy kids enjoying it.

I was talking to a teacher friend a while ago as I got kids ready for a performance, and they told me that they’d never really seen a teacher who says ‘no’ so much to children. To clarify, they didn’t mean that I say ‘no’ as just one word, but I tell kids that what they’ve just done isn’t good enough. And I don’t use language like ‘This is really great, and you’re trying really hard. And now we’re going to do it again and you’re going to be really awesome!’ Because that’s not me. I’ll stop a track and say ‘This isn’t good enough. You’re not concentrating.’ Or ‘You’re not following my conducting.’ Or ‘You’re getting too fast. Why aren’t you watching me?’

To begin with, children are a bit taken aback. Sometimes they get a bit cross with me.

But here’s the thing. They suck it up and they do better. Mostly enormously better. And they sense that it’s better. And they can see that I think it’s better too. I smile at them. And then they start to work harder. They sing better. They drum more accurately. They play better.

And then when I say something like ‘Yes! That was fabulous!’ they know it’s the truth. They were fabulous. It was something that deserved a ‘yes’.

In my experience, after all these years, when you are preparing for a musical performance, kids don’t need the sugar-coating. They don’t need the affirmations. They need a really solid lead-up time, good preparation, and the truth. And then, when they excel – because they always do – they need honest, heart-felt praise. And then they’ll trust you more. And the whole process begins again.

I go and have regular massages. It’s a wonderful thing for me – not only has it fixed my back (like most cellists, I often have a sore lower back), but also undoes things in my arm muscles (and shoulders) from lots of playing. And most importantly for me, my brain switches off. I can think of nothing else. I visit a wonderful massage therapist – he used to be a professional dancer, and we often talk about performing and the discipline it involves – the conversation weaves around all kind of things arts-wise.

I’ll just side-step for a bit….. I have a live-stream concert coming up that means a great deal to me. It’s a tribute concert to someone who was really important to me – both as a person, and as a musician. I am playing most pieces in this concert by the composer Martin Wesley-Smith. And these pieces are hard. For many reasons. Some of them are just technically difficult. Some are difficult because I have to sing and play. One has a very complicated backing track I need to know inside-out. There are difficult rhythms. Difficult time-signatures. And every so often, I miss Martin terribly. I marvel at what he’s musically done, I laugh at the jokes – and then I feel very sad. But right now, I don’t want to be playing anything else. I love this music. I want to play this concert – and play it the best I can. But it’s draining. I am practising early in the morning, and late in the evening to fit around teaching. I am giving up spending time with friends. I feel like I am working all the time. I am anxious about it. I am having to be extraordinary disciplined – even for me.

So back to me chatting to my massage therapist. I was telling him about this. And he summed it up perfectly. “It’s a labour of love, isn’t it? But it’s still a labour….”

Yes. Totally. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But boy, it’s a slog at the moment.