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Inside Teaching : April 2010
www.atra.edu.au | firstname.lastname@example.org MY BEST TEACHER 25 work with the Voices from Inside Choir of women at Tarrengower Prison, broadcast in the Jail Birds documentary series on ABC television last year. If you watched that series, you would’ve seen something rare on any television screen: people actually learning and teaching. His aim, says Welch, is to help people to learn for themselves.. His aim as a teacher, says Welch, is to help people to learn for themselves. ‘People are looking for good, clear direction,’ he explains, ‘as well as the opportunity to take that and make it their own. They’re best able to do that,’ he adds, ‘when you use a combination of instruction, clear guidance and lots of experience so they have plenty of opportunity to absorb what you have to offer. ‘When you’re teaching a large group, you have to recognise that everyone learns differently, unlike a one-to-one situation where you can tailor what you do quite specifically. Working in large groups is more like Monet, very broad brush strokes, while working one-to-one is more like Rembrandt, where you can be quite specific, quite technical, even.’ Half an hour into conversation, you realise that if Welch is a man on a mission, he’s alsoamanwhocanputhisegoinabox. Whether it’s a senior role in a production for Opera Australia, leading a choir, appearing in a television documentary or working with the New South Wales Department of Education through the Southern Stars and Wollongong Performers Company, the Training Development Program or the School Spectacular, Welch is surprisingly unassuming. Flamboyant, yes, but ego- driven, no. His mission, quite evidently, is to help other people. ‘You don’t take on the role if there’s not that part of you that wants to pass on knowledge and skill, that wants to care, that wants people to fulfill their potential,’ he explains. ‘I think teachers have these things innately. My sister is a teacher and my brother teaches at TAFE, and I know they both get real satisfaction from seeing people pursue their dream, but,’ he adds, ‘teaching is still grossly undervalued and unrewarded in Australia.’ If Welch is a person with a deep understanding of learning, that’s perhaps because he’s well able to learn for himself. ‘In my childhood,’ he admits, ‘I was terribly shy, and to become a performer I had to build my confidence. In a show, you can find a character and use that to build your confidence, but I wanted to find that confidence in myself, and I wanted to help other people to find that confidence in themselves.’ Welch might be a good learner, but he also counts himself lucky to have learned from many great teachers as well. He was taught at Melbourne High School by American exchange teacher, Rodney Rothlisberger. ‘Rodney was the protégé of Rodney Eichenberger, who’s considered to be one of the key exponents of the subconscious effect of body language in conducting,’ he says. ‘He was a very demanding, but passionate and inspiring mentor.’ Bettine McCaughan was another very influential singing teacher. ‘What made Bettine a great teacher was the way she related to me, and her method of using incredibly imaginative imagery to impart her knowledge. ‘Max Speed, my singing teacher in Sydney, really started to develop my voice. Donald Smith, one of Australia’s greatest tenors, teaching at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in the 1980s, taught quite differently again. Donald would demonstrate. Max was very specifically kinetic. Bettine was more visual. ‘Someone who’s been another great teacher and mentor for me,’ he adds, ‘is John Bolton Wood. His gift wasn’t to teach about singing, but to give me life skills as a singer.’ That’s quite a roll call of legendary teachers in Australia’s music community, but it’s not the end of Welch’s list. ‘My very first great teacher,’ he says, ‘was my mother, who gave me first and foremost unconditional love, and whose gift was to accept people into her life and treat them with great respect. I saw her mentor a lot of other singers, and saw her encourage them to follow their dreams. My sister wanted to be a teacher. My brother wanted to be a plumber. I wanted to be a singer. She encouraged us all.’ With the gifts of acceptance, respect and encouragement, it’s no surprise that Welch is in the middle of a successful and supposedly glamorous career, as a choirmaster, and he’s not stopping anytime soon. ■ Jonathon Welch has created the School of Hard Knocks Foundation, to be launched by patron Jimmy Barnes this year, to provide homeless and disadvantaged people with educational opportunities through music, arts and cultural programs as part of the Play It Forward program. He is also the founder of Social Inclusion Week and the National Street Party, in association with the Commonwealth Department of Families Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Origin Energy and Realestate. com.au. His memoir, Choir Man, was published by Harper Collins in 2009. LINKS: www.jonathonwelch.com http://socialinclusionweek.ning.com www.nationalstreetparty.com.au