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 (or music lovers) 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 program for children aged two to six. A lot of material I use weekly in programs 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 numerous music programs for the ACMF in Sydney and rural NSW, and mentor numerous other teachers running music programs around the country. I teach classes of kids how to read music, tuned and un-tuned percussion work, drumming (on hand drums, water bottles, upturned chairs 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.
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 program for Mary McKillop East Timor Mission in East Timor. This was a great success – hundreds of Timorese children now have access to music lessons taught by young Timorese teachers in Dili and the districts of Timor. I travelled over there twice a year, with translated lessons, and trained 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 children’s songs. Again, work that I 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!
I continue to travel all over this large land of ours – to schools in the city, the country and the outback. I continue to laugh and dance around in classrooms. I continue to teach little people and watch them learn to believe in themselves through their success in music. I watch the magic of music change children every time I teach. I watch music make this place a better one – one kid at a time.