When music teacher Crystal Barreca started working at Marrickville High two years ago, she was excited about joining a school in one of Sydney’s most creative communities. “Marrickville is such a creative suburb,” she said. “It’s constantly changing and growing. New music venues are opening every year and there are so many art exhibitions.”
It was no surprise, then, to discover plenty of talent among her students. And to give them the chance to perform, Crystal set up a variety of ensembles, covering rock, pop, hip-hop and reggae. “I grew up playing in bands my whole life and I wanted to take the school in that direction,” she said. Crystal studied jazz vocals at the ANU and, when she’s not teaching, leads the 7-piece Queen Porter Stomp
However, while the students loved jamming, few took their musical studies seriously. “They were natural performers, but didn’t want to take their music that step further. It seemed that, when it came to taking individual lessons, there were barriers, especially socioeconomic ones,” she explained.
Crystal was determined to remove them. “I wanted to change the culture. I wanted to introduce the idea of valuing lessons and show the students how much you can get out of learning an instrument properly – and not just in class.”
After successfully securing an Arts and Cultural Grant from the Marrickville Council, she ran a nine-week program during Term One 2015, which saw 40 students receive private lessons from local music tutors. These lessons were taught one-on-one, in pairs or in trios, and were available to vocalists, guitarists, drummers, pianists and bassists. In addition, students attended band workshops. “Receiving the funding was awesome,” Crystal said. “It’s really good that the Council is encouraging creative projects in the area. The students began building confidence overnight. I’d seen hardly any of them doing individual, focused practice, and all of a sudden they started doing it.”
At the program’s conclusion, the participants performed in three concerts at Marrickville High – one for their fellow students, one for pupils from local primary schools and one for local senior citizens. “The show for the senior citizens was probably the most rewarding,” Crystal said. “Marrickville Council put me in touch with senior citizens events coordinators, and they helped me plan and advertise it. About 100 people came and, afterwards, some of the hospitality students cooked lunch. So the audience and the performers got to eat and socialise together. The senior citizens were over the moon to be doing something they didn’t normally do – to be having conversations with so many kids, to be sharing their stories with them and to be feeling that they were respected. One woman in the audience was 104 years old and the kids were amazed. They were all hovering around her, wanting to talk to her, to touch her cheeks and to hear what she had to say.”
Crystal intends to run the program again in the future. “I’m going to apply for a grant again. I think I would like to develop the project, so there’s less funding, but over a longer period. It would also be great if the students could perform, not only at school, but also go on a mini tour or appear at one of the local venues in Marrickville. That would be an opportunity to engage with the creative community that little bit more.”