Our program first got off the ground in Wentworthville in September 2017 when the first students came to be sized up for instruments. Some of those students are still with us, some have moved on and many more have joined us. It has been two years marked by growth: our teachers have grown as a team, our students have grown as musicians, and our program has grown into a fully-fledged string orchestra with a group of beginners not far behind!
From the start our program has worked on the principals of Orff-Schulwerk – a music education methodology that puts a focus on breaking down and internalising the separate elements of the music. This means we have been instilling a very strong musical foundation in our students. There were, as is often the case with start-ups, other things that took us a little while longer to work out. We are the only program of this nature in NSW, and one of only two in Australia, so rather than having a model to work off, we are developing the model ourselves.
Our second year was spent refining our teaching style and working with groups. It is no mean feat to teach 60 students string instruments using only group teaching. Singing has been one of the keys to unlocking this. All our students (and staff) sing everything they play before they play it. But our secret weapon without a doubt has been the parents. We have seen an incredible change and improvement from the students since we began actively involving the parents in the process. By the end of 2019 not only was our orchestra making a serious sound, but even our beginners were rattling off tunes that you would keep whistling for days. A local primary school teacher remarked how she heard two of our young students singing their orchestra songs at lunch!
A new year has a way of feeling like a fresh start, and I can think of no better way to have begun 2020 than with a summer camp! In February we took up residence at St Andrews College at the University of Sydney for a short but intense weekend of music making, technique refining, and friendship building. That’s not to mention the Inaugural, Annual, Official Symphony for Life Staff and Student Cricket Tournament. This weekend won’t be forgotten, and has set us up for a year of success.
This year holds many more exciting opportunities for Symphony for Life. Twelve new students are joining us in term one. With that comes new teachers. There will be many performances, both inside and outside our community. Behind the scenes there are the countless hours of teaching and practice that make all of this possible. There is, however, never a destination with string playing, only a journey. And that is a journey we are now well and truly on.
Christopher Bennett, Director of Programs