This Guy’s in love with spreading the muse
Most Australian children are missing out on the benefits of music education, with 63 per cent of schools finding no room for music in their teaching programs.
The call for more music teaching was one that Australia’s most respected educator, Richard Gill, who died this month, spent his life promoting among students and teachers.
That challenge was taken up recently by a primary school on the outskirts of Perth, where 10year-old Taj Sweetman has discovered it has given him an unforeseen gift.
The Challis Primary School student has learned to sing, play notes on the violin and even compose a song. Those acts of concentration seem to banish momentarily the epileptic seizures that have plagued him since birth.
And when pop singer and former The X-Factor judge Guy Sebastian walked through the classroom door, Taj struck up a friendship. “We wrote a song together, about friends and family,” he says.
His mother, Jess Sweetman, says: “I don’t know how but it’s reduced the seizures. It’s made a big difference.”
Ample proof exists to show that learning music facilitates learning in other subjects and enhances a child’s broader skills, according to Anita Collins, a neuro-musical educator who helped Challis roll out intensive music classes for students in the lower socio-economic suburb of Perth.
“Richard (Gill) was battling to change public perceptions of why it matters,” Dr Collins says. “The answer is it fundamentally changes the culture of the school, the academic performance of the kids.”
The plea for music education to become part of every Australian childhood is being made in Don’t Stop the Music, a three-part ABC documentary starting on Sunday that features Taj and Sebastian, the first winner of Australian Idol in 2003, who also agreed to spread the message.
The series is accompanied by a national campaign to promote and support music education Australia-wide; viewers are invited to donate their unused musical instruments.
In the series, parents are invited early on to become involved in their child’s music-making. “I didn’t really see music as important before,” says Ms Sweetman.
Private music lessons were too expensive for her parents when she was a child, she says, and barely affordable for her own three sons. “But I’ve seen test results on the kids here at school and it’s amazing the difference it’s made. Every child should have the opportunity for music in their life.”
Dr Collins says music participation can change the way some children are viewed. “Often all people see is a kid getting into trouble, and then they come to school and see them doing something brilliantly.”
Ms Sweetman says a highlight was watching Taj blossom under the tutelage of Sebastian. “He’s as proud as punch.”
Taj Sweetman with songwriting partner Guy Sebastian