Case Study: “Money for Jam” – Margaret River Primary 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.
From offering a little music for a select few, Margaret River Primary has developed an all-school approach to music-making and has taken the message to town.
Regular performances by the school rock bands in the local pub see the hat passed around and all the money raised going back into the school music program, while the choir of 70 or so kids recently completed a flash mob tour to Busselton and back.
“We’re always out the in the community – we’re certainly not quiet.”
When Helen Collis started at Margaret River Primary School in WA five years ago she inherited two heavy metal rock bands along with a fledgling choir. “It was all pretty good but pretty isolated.”
The music specialist had a bigger vision. She saw the potential to engage and inspire a student body of diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds and knew that music was the key.
“Now”, explains Helen, “whatever is going on, the music is interrelated – into the curriculum, into school life, and into the community.” And it’s that relationship with the broader public that has proved the life blood of the school.
What’s in it for the school and community?
- Parents and local musicians work with school music group and give advice
- The school receives fundraising support from local businesses
- The community identifies closely with the school, through music
- The school music room is made available to the community
- School music groups perform for the local community
“There’s an importance in connecting in a small community, a rural community. It’s very important how people see each other.
“Our school choir is regularly invited to sing at community events, we utilise local musicians and musical parents to run workshops and perform mini lunchtime concerts, and we now have four school rock bands that are coached by local musicians and perform in the community.”
That connection, explains Helen, was formed early on in her tenure.
“When I arrived there was a wonderful man taking the bands. But we lost him. When he died all the local musicians came in and took over.”
The school has fostered a close relationship with the local music community ever since. On top of their coaching and performance roles, the local musos provide a knowledge pool invaluable to Helen.
“I go to them for advice – on amps, instruments, how to do certain things. I’ve built up such a network and they know we’re there for them.”
Along with its own musical agenda, the school promotes anything musical that’s happening in town via its newsletter and blog.
Despite the outside support, Helen knew that the only way to make music mandatory was to integrate it into regular school life. “Get it into every nook and cranny.” To achieve that, support from within was essential.
She started with her fellow teachers. “They’re a great staff but, as at any school, very busy. I had to find a way to get them on board but not add extra work. So we agreed to introduce all-school singing.
I put music on the network hard drive – based on what was happening in school at the time – self-esteem, respect, virtues – then did little PDs for the staff.
Without the kids realising it, singing just became part of every school day.
“We built on that by making Music: Count Us In a bigger event.”
Over five busy years Margaret River Primary has morphed into a musical school that resonates within its community. Helen says it’s all about building on your successes. “You have to keep plugging away.”
These days, as well as the performance choir and rock bands, there is also a junior choir and, as part of WA’s School of instrumental Music Program, 70 students are learning a variety of concert instruments. Just to ensure the right tone is set, music is playing on the PA every morning as students arrive at school.
Making music part of the norm has been Helen’s stroke of genius.
“Parents are invited to be part of the music room whenever they want and during Making Music Being Well it’s open all week for anyone from the community who wants to come in and see what we do. We invite the community to anything we have in the music room.
“And I’m not a very subtle person. If we need something I’m quite happy to be so bold as to ask, I’m happy to get a ‘no’.”
As it turns out, says Helen, the local community is very generous with sponsorship and donations to help with touring costs, instruments and their upkeep, and gear – like the iPads that see her students composing and arranging on Garageband.
And when BER funding saw the construction of a new school library, Helen piped up and asked to have the old one as the new music room.
“The curtains were revolting, so the parents came in and washed them, put glittery ones up, and artwork from the local aboriginal community who also come in and do a lot with us… now we’ve got a huge music room with work stations – no air conditioning in summer and it’s not soundproof, but hey!
“Of course it helps that we’ve got a fantastic principal – Sinan Kerimosski. You couldn’t get anyone more supportive – he’s there on all levels. He loves these kids and wants them out there in the community.”
“The thing is, Margaret River culture is based around arts along with the wine industry,” explains Mr K, as he’s known at the school. ”There are so many musical people in town and our students thrive off that exposure, that saturation.
“There’s a jam night every Wednesday at the local pub where they pass the hat around. Whatever money is raised, the pub matches, and it all goes back into the school music program.
“When one of the school rock bands play there the pub is packed with family and friends – and I mean packed, like it would be if Jimmy Barnes came to town. So it’s a two way relationship.”
Such is the school’s musical profile in the town, says Mr K, that the bands and choir have to limit what they say ‘yes’ to.
“It’s a constant request fest.”
The success of his school’s music program comes down to three key things, he says. “It’s sustainable, integrated, and we’ve got a very passionate person who drives it.”
“I struggle with the triangle,” admits Mr K, “but I have a brother who is in a number of bands so I do value music – I see what it can do for people.
There is the research that shows that students who do music do better with maths and literature, so that flows in harmony with us.
“But beyond that, when the kids are out in the community with their music it affects people emotionally, it connects people everywhere no matter what your race or nationality. Music connects people.”
Helen sees those effects first hand. “I’ve taught for about 34 years, not always as a music teacher, but music is so important because music infiltrates. There’s so much documentation on how good music is for academic achievement, self-esteem, integration… basically music will spread anything you want. Infiltrate it into every nitty-bitty corner and it is going to make a difference. And it is making a difference.”
Pictured: Margaret River’s Ukulele Players and Students In the music room.