This Guy’s in love with spread­ing the muse

The Australian - - THE NATION - VIC­TO­RIA LAU­RIE Don’t Stop the Mu­sic starts on ABC TV on Sun­day

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

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