From a very early age, P2 had shown an interest in music. Neither of her parents were educated beyond the age of compulsion. Both, but particularly her mother, wanted more for their daughters. They encouraged her musical interest. They were fortunate to have a neighbour, Claire Shand, who taught piano, taking private students and holding regular concerts. She took P2 under her wing, teaching, encouraging and mentoring her.
When P2 went to a selective girls’ high school in Sydney she was fortunate to find a strong choral music tradition and another talented, committed Music teacher who recognised her potential. Even though she was the only student enrolled in Leaving Certificate Music and Music Honours, her lessons were timetabled, she was taught and enabled to sit exams and matriculate in Music. Music was her thing, and she never deviated from it. The Music teacher was her advocate and mentor, negotiating with other teachers who complained about the impact of Music studies on other subjects.
Her dilemma, as she approached Matriculation, was whether to proceed to the Conservatorium of Music to pursue a performance-oriented future, or take a more general Music pathway through Sydney University. The university had recently introduced a B Mus degree, focused initially on composition, while still offering a BA with a Music major. The school Music teacher encouraged her to take the broader university path which opened more options – including teaching. P2 took this advice, along with a Teachers’ College Scholarship, and enrolled in the B Arts (Music).
She has never regretted the decision. It gave her a breadth of experience and interest as well as networks that have grown and supported her throughout her career. She compromised by also studying piano, at the Conservatorium under Gordon Watson.
She was the first of her family to attend university. Her parents could not have been more proud. Although her original piano teacher had wanted her to train as a performer, she believes she chose the right pathway. She is a skilled accompanist and has done a lot of accompanying. She has had a breadth of options beyond pianist and had held on to and taken advantage of that freedom. Whether from her working class roots, or perhaps from being part of a Faith community, she had a strong social conscience and commitment to community improvement. Teaching appeared a good fit.
On completing her university honours program and her Diploma of Education she applied for a teaching post on the North Coast of NSW. She was appointed to a High School 800+ km north of Sydney. Her parents were sad, but accepting. She looked it up in an atlas, caught the train up, was welcomed by the local Anglican clergyman, found an apartment in a nearby coastal town and launched into teaching Music basics. The school did not have an elective Music program, so, when a nearby school had a two-term temporary vacancy for a teacher of Elective Music, she transferred there for two terms.
She was transferred to Sydney, to a Northern Suburbs Boys’ High school for two years where she starred in Paint Your Wagon. She married in this period and travelled to London where she taught Music for another two years. On her return to Sydney, she once again headed north, this time to a Northern Rivers high school, where there was a strong elective Music program and a teacher on her third maternity leave.
Because of her broad musical interest, her need to socialise and the inconsistency of music offering in schools, she took opportunities to teach Music at the emerging Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education. She joined, and formed, local choirs. She moved in and out of schools, and took private students. In schools she was always in charge of the whole Music program – including instrumental classes or groups, and, of course, choirs.
She enrolled in and completed a Grad Dip Mus at the Queensland Conservatorium, commuting to lectures, tutorials and performances. In her 30s, to her delight, she had two children, fitting work around their routines. For six years she supervised the Practicum for education students at two local schools in the fields of Music, Visual Arts and Personal Development, Health and PE. She replaced staff on leave in two different departments of the Education School of what had become Southern Cross University. She took private students in Singing and Voice. She bought and learned to play a harp.
Throughout these experiences she maintained and nurtured her interest in Social Justice and making a difference in the community. She had been assessed as a Special Mistress within the Education the Department, but was not motivated to take it up. She wanted something more. She took herself off to TAFE to get a Diploma in Social Studies (Community Welfare) and excelled. On completion she accepted a position as a Welfare Worker for a North Coast Children’s Home and coordinated a Health Care program of short term care for children. It was stressful work, did not pay as well as teaching, and did not involve music. Before long she returned to casual teaching in both Music and English. The experience had, however, changed her. It had given her experience and insight into working with young people at risk and with older people in the community.
She found casual teaching hard work; it was more satisfying with either a full teaching block, or a regular day or two per week. Students recognise temporary teachers and many act accordingly! She did a lot of Choral teaching. She helped form and nurture a district Children’s Choir. Putting her experience with older people to good use, she established the Inspired Voices Choir which won an Excellence Award and a Best Practice Award for Choir. When she retired as Director of the latter she left them with a repertoire of 150 songs and a suggestion that they fund and pay a professional to direct and conduct, which they did.
Early on she established a Studio in her home, where she could take students and also practice and hone her programs and skills. She tried teaching piano for a year but says ‘it drove me bonkers’. Thereafter she took mainly voice students, but also a range of others on specific skills, including choral direction. Her studio teaching of Singing and also her solo singing and her singing in choral ensembles, has been a major part of her working life . She directed one singing ensemble for 30 years and continues as a member of another.
She worked across Primary, Secondary and Tertiary institutions – and continues to take students, as well as performing with choirs.
P2 reflects that what she could do well was teach Music. Around that she could do all the other things she wanted – perform, accompany, sing, help others, play instruments, learn new things, participate, contribute to the life and welfare of her community. She felt affirmed by people she respects – academics, teachers, performers, conductors who are part of her network. Living outside a major city has not limited her growth or contribution. Her knowledge is sound and dynamic and she feels part of the flow of ideas and best practice.
At the age of 3 she played the bells in Claire Shand’s band. She was fortunate to have Claire as a mentor, and later Olga Bobroff, her High School Music teacher. The latter, in particular, was important in convincing other teachers to cut her some slack in the light of the demands Music made on her.
There was never a suggestion that her career would not revolve around Music. Her choices, as a matriculating student, were between Music pathways.
She does not regret giving up the Conservatorium pathway to performance. She knew she was good, but perhaps not in the elite few who can succeed on a global stage. She doubts she’d have survived the loneliness of the long-haul pathway to performance as a living. Had she stayed in Sydney she would have, she thinks, followed a similar path, but taken longer to achieve it. A regional centre gave her community, networks and easy passage between sectors of education and community organisations. It gave her flexibility as her life changed.
Even now, her life flows on a tide of Music – infusing her community life, her social engagement, her faith, her friendships and family. This story is music and teaching as the tide is water and salt.