Feasts for the Ears
The St Andrew’s music department has been widely regarded to be one of the most unique and well-esteemed in Sydney. We speak to the teachers and students who have worked with the department to find out what makes this place so special.
10-year old Lucia Li’s toes barely touch the pedals of the piano, but that doesn’t stop her from performing a remarkably good rendition of some pieces from the Anne Lander Preludes by Carl Vine. Lucia is only in Year 5, but she has already earned herself a reputation as a brilliant pianist; drawing the media attention of both the Sydney Morning Herald and Channel 7’s Sunrise and completing the highest credential grade in piano. “You have to play your music from the heart, not from your fingers”, Lucia says with a bright smile. It seems to fill up the whole room.
A Strong Heart for Music
The St Andrew’s music department beats with an exciting pulse. Students weave up and down the corridors and in and out of rooms to the eclectic sounds of music pieces being perfected for concerts and recitals. “(We’re) hard working and vibrant”, says Ms Kate Scarfo, a music teacher and former Captain of Music at the School.
Even the shortest visit confirms the department’s fast pace and buzzing atmosphere.
Before and after school and during the holidays instrument-toting individuals can be seen milling about, booking practice rooms, going through recitals or even helping Mrs Belshaw (Head of Music) sort out the department’s logistics – something Old Andreans’ are often more than happy to return for. “I think what’s nice is how much of a community we create here, and the people you’ll see coming back after a year or two out, dropping in to say hello – many may even work or assist in the daily running of the place,” says Rohan Grey, an Old Andrean, home from studying in New York. “It’s nice to have a feeling that you can come back and do that, it’s not expected but really appreciated and encouraged.”
Regular visiting Alumni who have gone on to accomplish great things include multi-award winning solo violinist Niki Vasilakis, conductor, composer Huw Belling, and the driving forces behind the Sydney Chamber Opera Louis Garrick and Jack Symonds (both former Dux’ of the School), together with Huw Belling.
The music staff’s approach to education is quintessentially about inclusion and participation. They aim to imbue in every student a certain confidence, the belief that in giving something a try, they are far better than having never begun at all. “It’s all about confidence and giving (our students) the belief that they can do anything,” says Mrs Belshaw. “That confidence holds you in good stead for the rest of your life.”
“My main philosophy is that music must be fun,” Mrs Belshaw explains. “Busy, hard work, but still fun… This [place] becomes a safe-haven for music lovers, and because we’re open from 7am to 8pm at night, it becomes a home away from home. The most rewarding thing about my job is seeing the (students) grow as human beings through music.”
Young performers at St Andrew’s are trained to work with others in a stimulating learning environment. “Students are given a real feeling of support here,” says Miss Reomi Mito, the department’s accompanist. “This isn’t just present in their HSC or IB, but throughout all their school years… they are really nurtured from when they’re young.”
A Strong Heart for People
This is a department that is designed to cultivate confidence ready for harvesting, as its young musicians appear post-school, to a bigger world. Opportunity lies at every turn in the St Andrew’s music community, with every ensemble available to students and with every nurturing staff member. “It’s just the opportunity they get and also the wide range of repertoire they’re exposed to’ says Miss Mito. “It really does help develop the students musically and is something that will stay with them after they graduate. I think that’s why a lot of the students have gone on to do great things with music.”
Back to Lucia Li. For a student so young, she is already armed with a strong sense of confidence in her own abilities – though she admits she finds Chopin quite a challenge. To counter this, she focuses on feeling “what the composer felt”, what they were thinking when they put a piece together. “Whenever you start playing a new phrase, it has to be like a new beginning… well it has to feel new, especially the repeated parts. You have to use your imagination.”
There is a sense of passion within Lucia, who is now a member of many Junior School music ensembles - an insatiable yearning to develop her skills further. “I want to travel around the world giving concerts” she shares. Even by Junior School, it seems our young musicians are aware of the fact that the possibilities for personal growth are endless.
Words: Micah Chua