The student at Perth’s Challis Community primary school is suffering from Tourette syndrome, located in an area with high unemployment, high rates of violence and low income. Worse, there’s cancer in her family. Yet Anastasia’s got a big tone, composing her music.
“I live in a disaster / Life gets harder,” she sings in the three-part ABC documentary Don’t Stop Music. “Writing a song about it is easier than speaking to people,” she says.
Anastasia isn’t on its own. Year 3 student Taj, who has 40 epileptic fits per day, says she sees “stars everywhere.” For Cody, who lives with his nan, playing the guitar makes his dream of “all these things I never thought I could be.”
All three students benefited from the massively successful Don’t Stop the Music Donation Drive, led by the ABC with Musica Viva and the Salvation Army as a way to combat the terrible lack of musical education in Australia’s schools–63% of which do not offer music lessons in the classroom.
There have been collections of more than 7,000 items. To date, nearly 100 schools have issued 2,500 instruments; the rest will be allocated over the next year.
The crisis in the public schools of Australia also comes down to teaching. Here, only 17 hours of music training (in Finland teachers receive 350 hours) are included in a typical primary education degree. The music teacher at Challis, Simon Blanchard, was only selected as he was seen holding a guitar around the school one day.
“To teach music, I don’t feel confident,” he says. “I don’t even realize what I don’t learn.” Teri Calder, ABC’s influence director, says: “Most public schools can’t provide continuing music education. That’s because it’s costly, there’s a crowded program, and access to adequate training is required.
Filmmakers are pursuing a new music system at Challis in Don’t Start the Music, which first screened in November last year and is being re-released in honour of Ausmusic Week. Pop singer Guy Sebastian gave the program his weight, giving two of his guitars personally as well as teaching lessons. There was also a crash course for Blanchard.