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Music program hits the right note

22 January 2019

After six years serving in the Royal Australian Air Force, musician John Collinson spent some time volunteering as a music teacher in a highly disadvantaged school in the Victorian city of Geelong.

“The school (where John’s wife also served as a social worker) had no music program,” he says. “It was so disadvantaged that my wife and I and other teachers were paying for some kids just to have shoes to wear, and food for lunch.”

John grew up in The Salvation Army and has dedicated much of his life to music, from teaching to being part of many brass bands, including Salvation Army bands, the Melbourne and Tasmanian symphony orchestras, Orchestra Victoria, and the RAAF Central Band.

His brother David had also been a music teacher before becoming a Salvation Army officer, and he also grew up playing brass.

Witnessing the profoundly positive effects on student behaviour, confidence and teamwork, after those first music lessons in Geelong, in 2010 the brothers officially started a children’s music program called “Just Brass”.

Spreading the music

Nine years on, the program runs from more than 20 Salvation Army centres around the country, giving children from local primary schools the opportunity to learn a brass instrument at no cost.

John says that team building and leadership development is an important goal of Just Brass, which often works with primary school children who have not thrived, or even engaged in other areas of education.

“Just Brass is a band program, so it’s (also) about doing music together and learning to work in teams,” John says. “The educational benefits of doing music are extraordinary.”

John believes the quality of Just Brass music teachers and volunteers is an essential part of the program’s success.

“One of the programs in Kilkenny/Arndale (SA) is run by all retired volunteers in a highly multicultural environment. It is so successful and beautiful to watch. The older people are so caring and the kids have such great respect for them,” he shares.

Life-changing

The Just Brass program recently featured in an ABC documentary Don’t Stop the Music (from Artemis Media), hosted by well-known Australian singer and songwriter Guy Sebastian. The series follows students from the Challis Community Primary School in Armadale (WA) as they start learning music and the change it makes in their lives.

In conjunction with the series, a national instrument donation campaign was launched to encourage Aussies to donate unused instruments at any of the 350 Salvos Stores around the country (in a partnership between Musica Viva, Salvos Stores and local corps).

John says he has had “hundreds of moments” when he was almost moved to tears – some triumphant like seeing a student and their family’s pride in a public performance.

And some moments, he says, are simple but equally profound.

“For example,” he says, “it may sound insignificant, but was so beautiful – we had a little boy who so lacked confidence he was in tears most of the first week. He was so scared socially.

“We would go around the group each week and do a piece where everybody had to play three notes by themselves and he would never do it, until one day, he finally did. It was just three simple notes – but his grandparents were in tears and I was just about in tears and all the other kids roared and clapped and cheered.

“These moments, big and small, often prove to be a real turning point in a young life.”

Your generosity enables programs like Just Brass to change lives and give hope.

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