Monday, 5 August 2013

Violin all over Australia

Elizabeth began learning the violin in Year 3 through the school instrumental music program.  This involved a 30 minute lesson once per week and very little practice between lessons.

When we enrolled in Mount Isa School of the Air (MISOTA) at the start of our trip in 2011 it was an added bonus that it was a strings school, meaning it offered instrumental music in stringed instruments.  Other schools specialise in brass, woodwind, percussion etc.

We really had no idea how learning the violin in the distance education mode would work in practice, but essentially it is no different to all our other distance ed lessons. We use a Bluetooth device for amplification and our mobile phone.


It works like this:  Once a week, for 30 minutes, Elizabeth telephones the instrumental music teacher who is located at the school in Mount Isa.  There is usually one or two other students 'on-air' at the same time.

The teacher will listen to one student play while the others practice.  When she moves on to another student, we mute our phone, Elizabeth practices and we listen out for her turn again.  It works!  Amazingly, the strings teacher, Ms Moore, can even correct Elizabeth's posture and finger positioning over the phone!

Of course, the logistics are a bit trickier in that the violin, music stand and all music has to be packed away when not in use.  So each practice is a bit more complicated than just picking up the violin and playing.

She has literally played all over Australia!  Larry tends to oversee this subject, so will hold music in windy weather, swat flies away from her legs when necessary and generally assist wherever he can.

Needing to wear a fly net to keep away the pesky flies near Woomera SA
Larry's job was to swot the flies from her legs.

Playing 'Waltzing Matilda' at the Combo Waterhole, the billabong in north
west Queensland the song reputedly refers to. 
In bad weather the lesson is conducted in the van.  Standing room only!
Larry is managing the 'mute/unmute' on the phone during the lesson.
If we pull up at a free camp and she practices, she regularly gets positive feedback from any grey nomads camping nearby. We also had some Norwegian tourists stop and videotape her when she was practicing by the side of the road in remote South Australia.  They couldn't believe it and nor could they quite understand how the whole distance education/telephone system worked.

Practicing in the sunset, Coorong NP, SA

A lesson at Tumby Bay, SA

We regularly forward photos of Elizabeth practicing to her strings teacher, Ms Yvonne Moore.
Little did we know she was blowing up the photos and putting them in the school foyer!

Towards the end of 2012 Elizabeth decided she wanted to try busking so started learning a group of 20 favourite songs, however during a visit to a music store in Tamworth, she was advised to just have 5 songs and repeat them the whole time, as people will only stop and listen for a few minutes.

Her first opportunity to busk was at the Tree of Knowledge Festival in Barcaldine in May 2013.  We were very proud of her, she didn't make a lot of money (although she had a small mountain of loose change in her case), but overcame the nerves and knows what to expect, as well as some tricks of the trade such as having breaks when the crowd thins out, playing upmarket happy tunes and making eye contact when people put money in her case (a bit tricky when you are trying to also read the music).

First busking experience at Barcaldine, May 2013

When we visit Mount Isa in May once a year for Activity Week (NAPLAN, science, art, drama, disco, sports day), Elizabeth will have a one hour lesson with her teacher in person. She may also attend a rehearsal with the Mount Isa Junior Strings Orchestra which she finds odd as she doesn't know anyone and is not used to playing in a group.  In 2013, Activity week coincided with the Eisteddfod so she performed on stage for the first time and loved it even though she had only rehearsed with the group once. 

She also entered a number of violin sections for the Eisteddfod of the Air (performed over the phone) and was awarded a 1st place and two 2nd places.  Not bad for her first music Eisteddfod.

Receiving her 2013 Eisteddfod trophies from Mrs Mills, the Eisteddfod Coordinator
 at Mount Isa School of the Air

Ready for her first Eisteddfod as part of the Mount Isa Junior Strings Orchestra, May 2013

We also returned to Mount Isa for the city's 90th birthday celebrations which included a concert with Troy Cassar-Daly and James Morrison.  These types of experiences (working within an orchestra) are invaluable given she mostly plays on her own.

While travelling, some of the music books come with a CD so she will practice along with that to get an idea of the correct timing.   Her playing has improved significantly in the last few years, proving that face-to-face instruction isn't always necessary to progress as a musician.

Practicing in the van using the computer

While in Karumba in June 2013, she had another go at busking at the local Sunday markets and made over $65 for less than two hours work.  Not bad for an 11 year old!

Busking at the Karumba markets, June 2013
Every cent counts.....
During our travels, Elizabeth outgrew her 3/4 violin and we had to purchase an adult sized instrument.  We made a deal with Elizabeth that we would invest the money (almost $1000), if she would invest the time and effort to play through to Year 12.  After that, she can decide to continue or not but at least she would have a reasonable grounding in an instrument.  She agreed, so is looking forward to continuing with the violin at secondary school in Toowoomba in 2014.  Our Toowoomba house is quite close to the neighbours so thank goodness she has improved so much over the last three years that we are more likely to receive compliments than complaints!
When we were last in Mount Isa for the 90th birthday celebrations, Ms Moore casually mentioned that students at Elizabeth's level would normally start to play a second string instrument and Ms Moore suggested cello or viola.  My first thought was 'there is no way we can fit another instrument in the van'!  The cello was obviously out of the question, but we accepted a school loan viola, found a space for it in the van and Elizabeth has started to practice with it.
First practice with the viola, July 2013
Our experience proves that it is possible to learn an instrument (or two!) and continue to receive musical tuition while living in a caravan and travelling around Australia.