Archive for May, 2012

On turning 21….

May 29, 2012

In a recent post I wrote a report on our picnic in the park. It was a celebration to mark 21 years since we first opened a little music school in Randwick.

All those years ago in 1990 it was just me, a rented classroom, a phone line, a photocopier (romantic 21st birthday present) and a little advertisement in the local paper. My then boyfriend, now husband remembers me saying ‘Well I’m ready – now all I need is for the phone to ring’.  And it did – I still remember my very first phone call.

By 1992 our little school was big. I was well & truly married by then, to a man with incredible people skills – and not bad business skills either. Together we ran the school – and started an Inner West location. (Ah yes – the same day that I went into labour with our first child.)

It’s all very well to have a great idea, write music, be efficient and try to run a wonderful school – but your best ideas can only be implemented by the best people. The ones who share the vision, see the big picture, catch the dream. I have been so fortunate over the years to work with amazing people. The ones who have stayed long term have become my friends as well as my colleagues. There are a few who have really shaped the school alongside me.

In 1992 Samantha Coates joined the staff. (She was actually yet to become ‘Coates’ in 1994) We knew each other from school (Conservatorium High) and I knew how good she would be at what we do. I was right – she’s still with us. (So of course it was her job to contact the ‘old’ AMS families for our 21st bash!) While teaching classes Samantha realised her knack for making theory accessible and fun – and somewhere along the way, her brilliant ‘Blitzbooks’ was born.

We started with 4-8 year olds, added 9 & 10 year olds, then a few years later I wrote a course for 3 year olds – Mini Musos – and published the book and the CD. By this time, (1995) Lindi Greenfield was on staff – with more energy and kid-friendly enthusiasm than we had ever seen. Mini Musos was great! The kids developed music skills early in their lives and continued on to Junior Course with aural experience and a musical advantage. (And even a visual advantage – our 3 year olds are fluent rhythm readers!)

We published more books and extended the material to continue on to higher levels as well as to incorporate a wider age group. Lindi took on the role of Head Teacher along with the reigns of the preschool end of the school.

We knew there were people out there teaching ‘music on the lap’ and music ‘courses’ for 1 and 2 year olds. We got phone calls from Mums wanting to enrol their tiny tots. We knew we could entertain these Mums & bubs for 30 minutes each week but we agonised over calling it ‘Music Education’. Here we were, a serious music school – winning the AMEB shield for the highest theory results in the state, running eisteddfods, sending out first lot of kids off to the Conservatorium High School – and we were going to entertain 2 year olds? Hard to justify.

We decided to trial a couple of groups of 2 year olds with Lindi. If we could ethically call it music education, we were in. I figured it wasn’t that much of a stretch from all the stuff I was doing in my own children’s’ local preschool anyway. We drafted a course and took the enrolments for our 2 year old course, which we called ‘Tiny Musos’. With Lindi teaching it, of course it was fun and of course it was successful! What we didn’t expect were the results…

This was not entertainment or babysitting – we were teaching colours, body parts, numbers, letters, conversation, co-ordination & confidence. All through music! A couple of local therapists started to recommend our classes for ‘therapy’ and ‘school readiness’. Even more validating was the outcome of these little people moving through into Mini Musos and Junior Starter – they were amazing! Aural skills, co-ordination and classroom skills galore. (You should see our ‘Tinys’ once they are 4 or 5. Hard to believe. They are already musicians.)

We officially launched ‘Tiny Musos’ for 2 year olds and never looked back.

Then came the ‘other end’ of the scale. We were having more and more students finish the course material (end of primary /early high school) and want to continue. Advanced Course was the logical step – the final book in the AMS collection. Students keep on coming at the end of ‘Advanced’, but at that point we put together little handbooks  for them with cool names like ‘More Advanced’, ‘Even More Advanced’ & ‘Super Advanced’… with plenty of  input from the students themselves. The focus is on harmony, composition, chord charts & advanced sight reading – as well as the next level written Theory exam.  And as they soar past us in height & get into their senior years at high school we know that we as teachers are no longer the draw-card: they are now addicted to each others’ company (as well as to the music of course) and it is a pleasure to still be teaching them each week.

Recent years brought lots of enquiries from adults and we teamed up with our local community colleges to really get the adult classes going. What fun! Grown-ups who have always wanted to play the piano – or sing – or both! And once we get past the stress of playing / singing the first solo in class it is all sweet…

Somewhere in all of that there were a few more children in our own household, a move of house back to the Northern Beaches and the logical move to open a school close to where we were living. The current day Northern Beaches AMS, with Keryn, Nancy & Anna are not what we had back then – much better – and in a brand new location with a wonderful vibe.

Adding new locations was never the aim. What we always  wanted to do was run our own schools really well with fantastic results. To know exactly what is going on all the time. To have the best staff.  To run a tight ship. The idea of satellite locations and courses running out of wherever was never the goal. But every now and then someone special comes along and we have had the privilege of helping established teachers open independent AMS locations. There are currently 2 of these:  AMS North Shore and AMS St George (with another one or two in the works). Fabulous people who share our passion for a well rounded music education.

And not quite a decade ago we struck gold: Sandi Pomirski in the full time admin role at Randwick. One of the best people you will ever meet with a knack for making the job seem easy – incredible!

21 years later – 5 Sydney locations teaching well over 1000 students a week. Offices, staff, COMPUTERS (can you believe we didn’t have one back then!?) our own books & CDs, our own Eisteddfods, our own Exams… it’s a different world.

I haven’t stopped to calculate the number of concerts, exams, eisteddfods and camps we have run over the past 21 years but I know that we have improved! Of the many highlights, perhaps none is as exciting as watching our ‘AMS kids’ go right through the system and become ‘AMS staff’. We have had quite a few and they are brilliant, intuitive musicians. We are so proud. And we are eagerly watching our next generation come through the ranks…

Well that’s plenty on turning 21. Another update in about 10 years perhaps?