Over the last three weeks ABC TV have been showing an incredible series called ‘Don’t Stop The Music’. The series focuses on the students of a poor, outer suburban, primary school in Western Australia; and the amazing decision from the schools principal to do what she can to bring music into the school.


Many watching this series would perhaps have just seen a sweet story about the lives of a group of kids, but this piece goes so much further than that simple outcome. As someone who has been fortunate enough to play music my whole life, I think sometimes I’m not able to see the impact that that element of my education had on my life. Watching these young people transform as they started to learn about music and about their instruments was something else. Seeing the change in other elements of their life, the change in their abilities with the standard reading, writing and arithmetic, seeing the confidence boost, makes me realise how fortunate I’ve been to have music in my life.


Whilst many school staff would find what they could in their budget to gather some recorders and some percussion instruments the principal at Challas community school turned to the West Australian Academy of Performing arts (WAAPA) for instruments and instruction. The one teacher in the school, who had been assigned music simply because he played guitar, with no formal music education  training, was given instruction by lecturers from the college. The students were lucky enough to be taught by people from WAAPA and members of the local Salvation Army band.


Just like Taj, one of the young lads in the show, I was born with epilepsy. Admittedly my situation was much less confronting and had a lot less of an impact on my life. For me, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised the epilepsy was actually having an affect on my day to day life. Looking back at my childhood though, I can say confidently that those skills I learnt in music, the concentration, the hand eye coordination, the listening and focusing on an exercise, helped keep me focused on school and life, even if my brain had gone off to lala land in a micro seizure on multiple occasions through the day.



The amazing experience that these kids had over a 6 month period are life changing for all of them. Some of these kids will, without a moments doubt, continue in music for the rest of their lives. For many of these kids music wasn’t even on the radar and, for at least some of them, owning an instrument was out of the question. What the school, the ABC and the Salvation Army have done here deserves real recognition. The Salvos involvement in this project hints at the idea that it might go further than just that one school with all of us viewers being encouraged to deliver unused instruments to your local store.


One of the real surprises in this project was the level of support at home. We all know that real success in education only comes with the involvement of the family at home. In a struggling community parents often don’t have the time or the interest in pushing their kids to do the homework required and parents often don’t get involved in events at the school. It’s these scenarios that see kids left behind in the classroom and as they get bored they become the trouble makers of the school. So many parents in this program were supportive and involved in the process with the kids. This, for me, was what made it such a success.


I can’t encourage you all enough, firstly to watch the series if you haven’t. More importantly though, if you have any instruments lying around at home that you have upgraded from or out grown then please give them to someone who is going to benefit from them. Note there that I didn’t say ‘instruments that you’ve given up on’ if you’ve got a guitar or violin or brass instrument sitting in the bottom of a wardrobe, pull it out, clean it up and give it another go. No one is incapable of playing an instrument, you just haven’t spent enough time with it. The values of playing and singing with others, the lessons that come from reading from sheet music and working with a conductor and the skill involved in site reading or listening and copying, go so much further than the lessons you are learning right then and there.