Mary finishes on high note
TPHS teacher looks back on 3 decades of tuneful tuition
When music teacher Mary Gentle starting working at Te Puke High School, she didn’t have a whole lot of resources.
“When I came here I basically found a room, a piano and half a drum kit, a couple of violins and a flute in a cupboard and a box of resources,” she says.
“The first thing I did was chuck out everything that had pounds, shillings and pence on it.”
How times have changed. Mary is retiring at the end of this term, leaving a very healthy music department in the hands of Josh Crump with whom she has shared music teaching duties this year.
“It was really starting with nothing, then you look at it now, with all the thousands of dollars worth of equipment that has been built up over time.”
The first thing she did was to get more instruments “so we could actually have the children playing stuff”.
“The first prizegiving I was here for, we had the first little band of, I think, eight kids playing — and it’s grown over the years.”
Around 15 years ago a major building project meant the creation of a music suite.
“And music education has changed over the years and I’ve had to change with it.
“I grew up with a classical background and [30 years ago] there was still this notion of oldfashioned classical music, theory etc. But I’ve always had a different approach to that. We don’t learn by theory, we learn by doing and playing.”
Now there are three levels of music study in the school and the music room is in use virtually every period.
“We have a concert band and we’ve also had groups doing chamber music competitions and had students involved in concerts, we’ve had pianists and singers and just recently had the band tour of primary schools.”
Huge advances in technology have changed the music teaching landscape immeasurably.
“[Josh] has been amazing with the technology and that’s a huge thing — Mac computers, a suite of other computers, Google classroom, sound files — and he’s taught me heaps — it’s a bit sad because I’m just feeling I’m getting my head around all this.
“How kids compose songs and how kids perform with backing tracks — it’s all changing. You can’t say one [way] is right and one’s wrong — it’s all changing to suit the needs of the students and that’s the big thing.”
Mary says that over her years at the high school only a handful of students have gone on to have careers in music.
“But how many students have there been that music has been a significant part of their life?
“I have engineers who come back and see me and say ‘I’m playing in a band in Dunedin, or I’m doing this or that — not many kids go on and have a career in music, but music, like drama and dance, enriches lives.
“I’ve seen kids perform or learn a piece of music and it has become their thing. They might not be sporty but maybe into one of the arts and the whole arts thing helps create a whole person and I think that’s something we are overlooking now with this focus on careers.”
The productions that have been staged over the years have been among the highlights, as have seeing talented students grow.
“You get so much satisfaction from seeing what the students can do. Students come into Year 9 from varied backgrounds — a lot have had [no music teaching] — boys especially — and all of a sudden they are putting things together and playing with drum beats and their parents are ringing me and saying can you teach them another song please.”
Mary says she is happy to help out with music at the school, even in retirement.
I’ve seen kids perform or learn a piece of music and it has become their thing. They might not be sporty but maybe into one of the arts and the whole arts thing helps create a whole person ...
— MARY GENTLE Retiring TPHS music teacher
Mary Gentle is retiring after teaching music at Te Puke High School for 32 years.