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Inside Teaching : June 2011
from the big picture down to more relatable issues of the real personalities and problems of individual students. Key among these are Emily Sun and Iris Shi. Emily, a talented violinist studying at MLC School on a full music scholarship, has been chosen to perform a solo piece in the concert. Emily began playing the violin at a very young age, introduced to the instrument by her father Daniel, a composer, violinist and conductor, who died in a car accident when Emily was five. Staff mention at-risk behaviours and difficult peer dynamics, acknowledging some of the difficulties Emily is facing off- camera, but more telling is her to- camera venting as she struggles to develop the confidence, maturity and leadership needed to excel in her solo. Iris, an articulate and rebellious Year 10 student, is opposed to the compulsory participation in the concert. She doesn’t want to be involved, and resists, disrupts and argues with teachers every step of the way. The eponymous Mrs Carey is determined, intense and sometimes severe, but clearly driven by a belief in what her students can achieve. Carey and her staff are united by their passion for music and education, while their students range from talented, inspired and confident to stressed, fractious and bratty. The cameras filmed all of it: every 7.30 am Chamber Orchestra rehearsal, as well as individual and group lessons and practice sessions, for 18 months. As Australian Chamber Orchestra Artistic Director Richard Tognetti puts it, ‘This isn’t just a film about the lofty ambitions of an elite private girls’ school. It’s about shifting demographics; “cool” versus brave, the meaning within music through the eyes of teenagers, and most profoundly it’s about the power of “classical” music to move people way outside of their comfort zone.’ Here, we talk to Karen Carey about the power of music, the challenges of pushing students to perform at their best, and what being the subject of a documentary meant for the school. RL: You’ve been a music educator for 30 years, Director of Music at MLC School for 22 years, and the film documents your 10th Sydney Opera House concert. In the film, you note that ‘Just when (the students) really start to get it, they leave school, we lose them and we have to start all over again with the next lot.’ How do you find the motivation to keep starting over? KC: It’s about a belief in what we’re doing, a belief in the power of what music offers kids. It’s a huge emotional investment to get children to realise their full potential, but that’s the challenge of teaching. It does take a long time, and it’s a gradual process, to help children to develop that real belief in what they’re doing, the confidence to perform at that level – but that process also helps us, as teachers, to develop courage and expertise and passion for what we’re doing. In teaching, in any discipline, you’re always reinventing what you’re doing. It happens in any orchestra as well: key players move out and you reinvent with the new lot. When students move on each year, we focus on the new students coming up. That’s part of what teaching’s about. I think the energy also comes from having a huge collaborative team here. We’re always working together on strategies to develop and maximise kids’ potential, so it’s not just me on my own. RL: You mention in the film the importance of ‘stretching’ your students. How do you do that? And how do you balance stretching with supporting their needs, and maybe acknowledging that some perhaps can’t handle the demands of practice and performance? KC: It’s about scaffolding, mapping out the journey. We start preparing for the Opera House concert 18 months out. We think about what we want in the concert repertoire, but we don’t start by teaching those pieces: we do lots of pieces to help scaffold the technical difficulties of what Inside Teaching | June 2011 CURRICULUM & ASSESSMENT 38