“My initial goal was simple – to go to Villawood [Detention Centre] and run music classes for whoever wanted them. Being a musician myself and having worked in the stress-related field for many, many years, I knew that music could help. Refugees suffer from a lot of stress,” said Philip Feinstein, founder of Music For Refugees.
When Mr Feinstein first visited Villawood in 2009, he found a music room, but no instruments. “So, my idea took a twist,” he said. “I decided to send emails to all and sundry, to try and get some instruments. A couple of months later, I was put in touch with a lady who had an upright piano . . . when I called her, she warned me, ‘It’s a very, very big piano – the biggest upright you’ll ever see in your life.’
“And I thought, that’s funny, because I used to own an upright, which I’d sold about 25 years previously. And it was the biggest one I’d ever seen. Well, it turned out she had my old piano. It was delivered to Villawood and is still there.”
Within six months, Mr Feinstein had found a piano for each of Villawood’s five sections, as well as more than sixty guitars, numerous keyboards and a few drum kits. He started giving one-on-one piano lessons to children and running jam sessions, while Sydney-based guitarist Adrian Mees took care of guitar classes.
“Once it was all happening, I thought, ‘What about the rest of the country?’ And I started contacting other detention centres,” Mr Feinstein said. Today, Music for Refugees delivers lessons, workshops and instruments to detention centres all over Australia, as well as to Manus Island and Nauru.
“I’m a fanatic when it comes to building self-esteem and undoing stress by way of music . . . The whole thing is a fun learning experience. And wonderful things happen. Sometimes, there are people from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka – all over the world – in the one room, playing different rhythms at the same time and I just sit there, in awe . . . One day, I took about a dozen kazoos out to the family section at Villawood. I broke the children up into four groups of three, showed them how to play, and they got into it so quickly that within twenty minutes, I had them performing as a kazoo orchestra for the adults . . . The amount of musical talent in the detention centres is amazing.”
Music for Refugees sessions also include theatre sports, puppetry and story telling. Even though security demands are stringent, Mr Feinstein managed to organise Australia’s first in-detention centre orchestra performance. “In mid-2013, I got about fifteen members of Symphonia Jubilate, which is an orchestra made of school students, inside Villawood for a show. They were so well-received, it was wonderful.”
Last year, Music For Refugees received the 2014 START Special Projects Award, which acknowledges excellence in humanitarian work.
Donations of instruments can be delivered to one of the programme’s drop-off points, located in every state and territory in Australia. Financial assistance is also welcome. Contact Philip Feinstein at [email protected].