In grade 6, my aspiration was to be the principal clarinettist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Fast forward six years, and I was a graduate of Ballarat Clarendon College, and on a walk around Lake Wendouree with my now husband. I was carefully breaking the news that I was planning to travel the world as a professional musician and that we should go our separate ways.
What I didn’t know then was that I think I was destined to become a teacher. I had just completed Year 12 as Music Prefect under the direction of Head of Music Graeme Vendy, and had toured Europe with the Senior Concert Band. What I thought I wanted was only to perform, but what I absolutely loved the most in the prefect role was leading and creating opportunities for others. I remember thinking that GV had the coolest job in the world.
Throughout the next few years, I supplemented my university life with teaching music around Ballarat schools, including Clarendon, and then worked as a music therapist. After having my two children, I also worked as a Worship Director for a large church. But it seems all paths led back to Clarendon.
I have been fortunate to be a Music and English classroom teacher, Learning Mentor and ensemble director for the past two years here at school, and every day it is a mix of old and new: the uniforms are the same, some of the teachers are the same, half of the PAC is new, the curriculum is new, and the students are definitely living in a new world from when I was a student! It is fantastic to see students thrive in many areas. In the English classroom students are getting a grasp of the technicalities of a language which is used for great creativity in a piece of writing. In the Music classroom they grasp technicalities to create other types of art. In the Study Room I see students grasping all sorts of technicalities, including social and emotional.
I feel like I am working in a weird time warp; I am now conducting the Geoff Smith Jazz Orchestra, an ensemble where I used to sit in the clarinet section, but I am also directing a very new exciting contemporary band called Feet. Both ensembles give me such a rush when I listen to what sublime music they make. GSJO’s rehearsal today was a brilliant one: they managed to make beautiful music out of a challenging score with the choir and Year 9 soloists. I didn’t know I was holding my breath until it finished. We also farewelled Barry Currie and celebrated with him on his retirement. I still find it easier to call him Mr Currie, as he has been working here just about as long as I have been alive.
It makes me wonder: how can I make as much impact on students’ lives? How can I influence them as much as Barry or Graeme influenced me? I certainly have no idea. All I know is this – what gives me a real buzz is seeing a student play a hard passage for the first time, and then looking up with excitement, or an ensemble playing really tightly, or younger students seeing senior students perform and just wanting to be like them, or a student who is reticent or rebellious until they pick up a guitar or sit at the piano, and then they really communicate.
Music is such a complex multidisciplinary skill that it does increase capacity in other areas: it helps socially, it keeps you healthy, and it makes connections neurologically that nothing else can. Everyone can respond to music, whether in the womb or in a coma or anywhere in between. Think of the music you love to listen to, how it makes you feel and why you like it. What a powerful thing it is to teach others how to harness that. It is the international language.
This is why I am so passionate about it. This is why I will always still perform as long as I am able. This is why I will always be involved in championing young musicians. Next year I will be working with Head of Performing Arts Steve Belcher and the other music staff in the role of Head of Music. It seems like I might have the coolest job in the world.