Case Study: “What happens on tour” – Virginia State School
This case study was prepared as part of collaboration between Music: Count Us In and the Music in Communities Network. A Music Australia initiative.
“This kind of integration with the community gives you that extra level of support. And it goes both ways. I can have a kid from a single parent family sitting next to granddad teaching him notes on the trumpet… the kids see that adults struggle and have to try too. And the adults enjoy it just as much. Who would have thought you’d have adults wanting to get on a bus with a whole lot of kids and travel around the country?”
The band at Virginia State School has a bit of a reputation. “It’s really a community band – with students, ex-students, parents, grandparents, community members.”
“It’s become bigger than Ben Hur – the core of our school,” explains music teacher Kathryn McLennan. “People travel for miles out of their way for their kids to come here so they can be part of our music program. We just have a lovely thing going on there.” As with most big things, it started small.
The open door policy is huge and one thing that makes people feel like they’re very welcome here
Kathryn’s checklist for creating and maintaining a great school music program
- Direct parental involvement in learning, fundraising, touring and more.
- A music teacher who loves what they’re doing.
- A supportive principal.
- Support from admin staff who see further ahead.
- Staff who are willing to support music.
“I had been teaching for years throughout Queensland, but when I was looking around at different schools Virginia State just had something different from all the others – something that made everything click.” What it didn’t have however was much musical mojo.
“There was a band of 15, but not a lot of love for it or desire, and no involvement of the community. Music was not big in their lives at all.”
A decade down the track, as well as the ‘all students’ choir, the primary school is home to a concert band of 93, with another 25 set to join the ranks next year.
“We have flutes down to tubas, guitars, drums, bass; a stage band with vocalists who have to audition each year; and every instrumental group has its own ensemble – flute, brass there’s heaps of stuff for the kids to do, and they just love it.”
To change the musical culture, Kathryn knew she had to shift the mindset. Her solution was simple yet inspired. “We include the adult community in our program.
“When I first started teaching I was involved in PCAP (Queensland’s Priority Country Area Program) out west, where parents learnt with kids.”
Having seen the positive impact of that model first hand, Kathryn adapted it to her new school.
“I think I just set things in motion. We got a couple of adults first as well as their children and it just blossomed.
Wanna be in the band? There’s one primary criteria, says Kathryn. “You’ve got to show a desire and love to be part of it.”
As it turns out, that’s not a problem.
“The kids will do anything to be involved in the music program, so we try to do anything to have it open to them.
“We also have a team of technology students that does workshops with industry. When we tour they set up the mics, do the mixing, recording… they may not be musicians but they do that side. Just because some students are not ready to learn an instrument doesn’t mean they’re not interested in music – we make them feel like part of our music world and that they have a spot in it.”
Every year the band hits the road, performing through Queensland and into New South Wales.
A tour party of 117 means two and a half coaches worth, plus support vehicles.
“We have an entourage of parents following us on tour. They often don’t know until they come along just what their kids are capable of and the effect they have on other schools. Then all of the parents pick up jobs – kids teach them how to set up stage, pack up the buses – they all become little teams over that time.”
Of course a music program like that of Virginia State’s requires infrastructure and upkeep.
Kathryn was delighted to move from her “very cosy old Victorian-style music room” into a new hall thanks to BER funding. But whether a little or a lot, she says everything helps, and as such has applied for “grant after grant” to build up and maintain her instrument supply. And then there are the ever-ready parents and community members who organise fundraising to help subsidise tour costs.
“The open door policy is huge and one thing that makes people feel like they’re very welcome here.”
Testament to the lasting impact of the music program at Virginia State comes by way of the local ANZAC Day memorial service, which can see the band’s number swell to double the usual as former students return to play for the occasion.
Picture: James Morrison joins the Virginia State School kids for Music: Count Us In