Moorambilla’s choral music program offers primary and high school children a unique chance to develop their own capacity in an outstanding creative environment. This year we have four music education professionals as interns in the primary program – two international and two regional – working alongside the artistic team.
With only three dedicated, tertiary qualified music teachers in the entire region, the program provides, for many students, the only music lesson they will access each year from someone who has the skills to unlock their vocal potential. The children read and write music, sing in parts and sight sing, and discover and develop their vocal capacity.
“Our commitment is to provide this opportunity to every single student who has the potential,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “We also welcome community members into the workshops, as well as teachers whose active involvement serves as part of their professional development.”
Jen McPherson grew up in Ballata near Narrabri. After studying film making and completing a degree in teaching, Jen is now teaching choir in the region at Rowena and Wee Waa Public Schools. She’s also an incredibly accomplished singer herself.
“All of these children are in some ways disadvantaged by living in a rural area,” says Jen. “They are missing out on creative and musical opportunities. But Moorambilla gives those children with a natural ability an opportunity that would not otherwise be fostered.”
Music education is proven to increase the development of neural pathways in children, and specifically benefits memory, concentration and listening skills. The benefits to the children overall are life-changing, and range from boosts in confidence and self expression, developing a willingness to explore and crucially to ask questions, and confidence in teamwork and sharing.
“Engagement is a big word in primary teaching!” says Jen. “The children are asked to sing high and they just do it! They normally say it’s too hard! They’re doing it here because they are expected to do it. Every time they start making a sound they are encouraged to make it more beautifully. That’s what it takes to be a good choral singer. They have to find that space in their own voices.”
Anna Williams, a primary school music teacher from London in the UK, is on a Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship at Moorambilla to study primary music excellence. She’s in Baradine with intern Rachael Pennington from the UK, who works with her at the music education charity “Orchestras for All” in the UK.
“I was looking for an organization that demonstrated leadership and high expectations of what children can do with their voices,” says Anna. “So I googled ‘excellent practice in children’s singing’. Moorambilla Voices came up and here I am!”
“The program is focused on the practical but also rooted strongly in music theory and music skills. The sol fa warm ups have really impressed me. Also drawing out the music that the kids are singing to a link to understanding stave notation has been really exciting to see in action.
“All the kids have music in front of them and they’re all expected to follow it. They may not know every note but the strong modelling in front helps them understand what they are doing when they look at the page. It encourages them to be really independent as musicians.
Primary school teacher Jody Nott, on professional development to Moorambilla from the small regional Wellington Public School, sees this in practice.
“This program places the best in the business out in regional NSW. I particularly like the way that the Moorambilla program is cross curricula and the music sessions incorporate maths in the breaking down of the notation and the time signatures.”
“I love the way that Michelle has such high expectations of primary boys,” says Jody. “Don’t expect less because they are boys,” she says. “Expect more because they are boys!”
Anna engages with “the power of pink positivity” message of Moorambilla Voices. “The program’s message is that singing is a really normal thing to do. To do something well is a really normal thing to do. And to want to improve and make it as good as you can possibly make it, well that is normal. It’s a very empowering culture.”
Anna Williams is on a Winston Churchill Memorial Scholarship. Jen and Jody acknowledge the support of their primary school principals: Michelle Ether and Denis Anderson at Wellington Public School, Peter Caret at Wee Waa and Paul Cecil at Rowena Public School.
Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.