Festival of music a life-changing experience

More than 2,700 primary students from 326 public schools are performing at the Opera House for the Festival of Instrumental Music. Linda Doherty reports.

Students standing in front of the Opera House stalls. Students standing in front of the Opera House stalls.
Image: Candelo Public School students and principal Suezanne Bourke travelled six hours to perform at the Opera House.

Candelo Public School students travelled six hours to Sydney this week to play recorder at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Festival of Instrumental Music.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to play here,” Year 6 student Layla said.

“It’s really fun to play recorder and quite easy when you get to know it and learn now to read music,” Peyton in Year 4 said.

“And it builds up your finger muscles,” added classmate Emily.

The students from the Bega Valley village were among 2,745 students in Years 3 to 6 performing four concerts this week, with repertoire ranging from Franz Schubert’s ‘Marche Militaire’ to ‘Singin in the Rain’ and new works by Australian composers Tracy Burjan and Alex Pringle.

Each concert has 500 recorders and 200 violins and outstanding student solos, ensembles and choirs.

People playing recorders. People playing recorders.
Image: Minister Prue Car joins the students at the Tuesday recorder rehearsal in the Concert Hall.

Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car visited Tuesday’s recorder rehearsal and played ‘Singin in the Rain’ with 500 students.

“I had a crash course with a student who showed me exactly how to perform a G on recorder. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that,” she said.

Year 6 Excelsior Public School student Archie Ke also showed Ms Car the correct hand position on the recorder.

Ms Car said the Festival of Instrumental Music, produced by the Department of Education’s Arts Unit, provided equity of opportunity for public school students from right across NSW.

“A very big thank you to the teachers who put so much of their own time making sure that kids can have this life-changing experience – performing in the Concert Hall of the Opera House,” she said.

The student recorder concerts at the Opera House started after World War II. Generations of families have participated and audience members at this week’s concerts included parents who played recorder at the Opera House as children.

The recorder is often the first musical instrument children learn at school. It is popular because it is simple to learn, accessible, cheap and portable.

The woodwind instrument dates to medieval times and still features in popular music. The Beatles played the recorder in ‘Fool on the Hill’ and the Rolling Stones on ‘Ruby Tuesday’.

People sitting on a couch in front of a camera. People sitting on a couch in front of a camera.
Image: Music teacher Wilf MacBeth on Sunrise.

Veteran teacher Wilf MacBeth has been bringing rural students to the Festival of Instrumental Music for 33 years.

This year he brought six students from Currabubula Public School near Tamworth, including his grand-daughter Kayla, who is in Year 6.

Mr MacBeth OAM started teaching in 1962, tried to retire 20 years ago and at age 81 still teaches recorder, clarinet and guitar one day a week at Currabubula.

The self-taught musician has performed in bands in Sydney, across NSW and in his hometown of Coonabarabran.

At age 14, Mr MacBeth contracted polio and switched to music as a hobby when he couldn’t play sport.

During his recovery from polio, his father taught his horse, Shandy, to kneel down so the teenager could mount and dismount and have some form of mobility.

Mr MacBeth said he loved seeing how quickly the students he has taught progress with their music abilities.

“When you get a little kid in Year 2 who has very little coordination and just wants to make a lot of noise – and then by Year 3 they’re ready to go to the Opera House, it’s mind-blowing how fast they learn and improve,” he said.

“And when you get 500 recorders in the Opera House, with the full range from bass to descant, it sounds like a pipe organ. It’s the most amazing sound.”

Mr MacBeth was interviewed by the Sunrise breakfast program on Channel 7 as 23 students from public schools participating in the Festival of Instrumental Music performed ‘Marche Militaire’ live in the studio, directed by conductor Susan Sukkar.

  • The Festival of Instrumental Music continues at the Sydney Opera House tonight and Friday night.
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