Music to her ears

Music to her ears

Willandra Primary’s Jane Nicholas has been nominated for an ARIA Award for Music Teacher of the Year. Photograph – Richard Polden.

“The first thing you’ll notice about Jane is she’s a bundle of energy,” Member for Armadale Tony Buti says as Willandra Primary music teacher Jane Nicholas bursts into his office.

He is not wrong.

Jane is positively brimming with Primary School Teacher vigour.

When she speaks, the words gush from her, dancing across the table in an excitement of passion that can only come from years of keeping rooms full of school children focused on her every word.

Ms Nicholas, as her students know her, has a lot to be excited about. She was recently nominated for the ARIA Music Teacher 2022 award, along with three other hopefuls from across Australia, putting her in the running for Australia’s most prestigious music honour.

Big stuff for a Primary School Music Teacher in the backwaters of Armadale.

Seemingly born into a sense of social justice, the need to make a difference has imbued every step of Jane’s career, in a journey wandering across both the Australian landscape as well as its culture.

Taking to Carnarvon as a nineteen-year-old journalist with the humble goal of changing the world – “I had no idea what I was doing” – Jane felt the cultural divides of 1980s Australia first-hand.

“It was really tough, this was in 1987, you could feel the racism as you drove through town,” she said.

On her first day on the job a local MP strode into her office talking loudly about putting together a vigilante mob to deal with teenage hooliganism

“It was wild, you were right on the frontier,” Jane said.

Studying politics at university before settling into a 20-year career of teaching history and economics, you could be forgiven for thinking that her foray into her role as a Primary School Music Teacher would be a step away from that inspired, adolescent goal Jane set for herself all those years ago.

But she is dead serious when she says she’s in a better place to change the world now than she ever has been.

“Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely,” she said, letting the sincerity of her words to sink in.

“Because I get to be in contact with over 100 kids every day, I get them moving, I get them singing, I get them dancing.

“And I give them tools that they’re able to go out and face the world and connect with other people with a renewed sense of themselves.”

It is a sense of self, of connection and identity for the kids she teaches, that fuels Jane’s gleeful exploration and celebration of music as the ultimate tool of expression and correlation.

“It takes you on a journey, it’s about the physical engagement with music, playing with music,” she said.

“When I engage in music from different places, I become a different person, because you are totally immersed in that art, that message, that sound.

“And then I have that connection to the person – and the people – who put that together.

“I try to give that to the kids, you know – ‘I hope that you have a song that you carry in your heart.’”

With over 40 ancestries represented in the students of Willandra Primary School, Jane organises her music program to reflect and celebrate that diversity, using different elements of culture and language in doing so.

One of the results of that approach is the founding of three choirs at the school, including a First Nations Choir in collaboration with First Nations musicians.

“When I was doing my music training, they said I had to use folk music, the ‘music of the people,’ and I thought, that’s great, but why are we teaching American folk music, where’s our music, where’s the Australian folk music?

“That began my journey.

“We know that music is good, music education matters, it gives students the opportunity for their hearts to soar.”

Voting for Telstra ARIA Music Teacher of the Year awards are open until November 16.