After 20 years of teaching music at Woodridge State High School in Logan, it is time for me to reflect on what keeps me energised and excited about the job.
As a professional musician and educator, the opportunity to indulge my passion for everything music, combined with the challenge of engaging students in a creative environment, means that rather than a job, it is more of a journey. This journey involves challenging students to explore their own musical tastes and abilities so as to advance learning from a personal perspective rather than a prescribed syllabus of instruction which, quite often, stifles creativity. If a student wants to learn ukulele instead of trumpet or keyboard instead of violin – so be it, I’ll make it happen. A crotchet is still a crotchet in classical, RnB and Heavy Metal.
"This journey involves challenging students to explore their own musical tastes and abilities so as to advance learning from a personal perspective rather than a prescribed syllabus of instruction which, quite often, stifles creativity."
A classroom may have a clear divide with rap, hip hop, soul and RnB on one side, and everything hard-core and metal on the other. My job is to open up the blinkers and, usually, by the end of their time at Woodridge State High School, they have a respect for all forms and styles of music and will even help each other out on assessment tasks – with very interesting results.
We have a high proportion of students from the Pacific Islands whose upbringing involves emersion in a rich variety of gospel, cultural, and secular music, which identifies strongly with American gospel, soul, RnB and reggae. By embracing these genres as part of the learning and practical experience students maintain a sense of ownership and comfort. These students have an extremely well developed aural and retentive capacity which manifests itself in vocal harmony and instrumental ability. There is, sometimes, a reticence to develop the skills of formal music literacy but modern forms, such as TAB, chord charts and music technology have contributed to a gradual successful incorporation of the music stave (an A in prac and a D in theory = C overall).
The most enjoyable part of teaching contemporary music, in our diverse community, is watching the light switch on in students’ heads. Being the cause of that enlightenment is why I became a teacher. Some of my students stand out as exceptional examples, these include Junior Finau and Mad Mike.
"The most enjoyable part of teaching contemporary music, in our diverse community, is watching the light switch on in students’ heads. Being the cause of that enlightenment is why I became a teacher."
Junior was always playing and singing. The joy he got from music was always evident and his hunger to learn always kept me on my toes. Music technology was in its infancy and the price of new computers was well beyond our means. Thankfully, for us, Education Queensland went PC and all MACs were replaced. I managed to salvage some Power MAC’s literally catching them as they were thrown onto the truck for disposal. With a small grant to buy music software we were up and running. Within 12 months Jnr had formed a group of Year 12 music students called “Sneaky Lil’ Fellas” with their own CD. They wrote, arranged, recorded, produced and burnt that CD by themselves. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
Mike once told me that he wanted to be a “gansta rappa” . “Fine,” I said, “Just what America needs: one more 'gangsta'".
After much discussion, it transpired that Mike's influences were fairly eclectic. As a youngster, he listened to country music and, as a Christian, he loved gospel. We cobbled all of this together to come up with a unique style: “minimalist gospel rap”. That was the start of an amazing journey, for Michael, which is still going strong today.
"We cobbled all of this together to come up with a unique style: 'minimalist gospel rap'".
What gets me excited? Hearing a student successfully play. I’m an old softy and quite often I can be moved to tears by the beauty of performances. One particular school tour that our Certificate III classes undertook, performing at schools and venues in the Granite Belt and South Western Queensland, was even nicknamed “the make 'Stuie' cry tour”.
I like to think that I have become a part of a culture of success through music. My relationship with my students has been built on mutual respect and, as part of the Woodridge High community, I value and treasure the time I have spent here. I celebrate the diversity we operate in and the successes of these amazing students.