About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes we would rather skim visually instead of listening to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript to episode 009 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.
Episode 009 Transcript
Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast Episode 9. Time for my chat with Rhonda Davidson-Irwin. Apart from the fact she is a friend, I know that she’s just done amazing things for music education in her career. Again, we’re splitting this episode into two. There’s just so much to say, and I do plan to have more episodes with Rhonda. It’s amazing.
The first episode, we will listen to a little bit about what she’s done, the highlights of her career/journey as a music educator, and some of the experiences she’s had. We’ll talk about the people who’ve been influential in her life, and of course, we’ll talk about gratitude. I think you’re going to love listening to Rhonda. If you haven’t met her before, she is a positive force to be reckoned with. I hope you enjoy part one of my chat with Rhonda Davidson-Erwin.
Hello and welcome, Rhonda Davidson-Irwin. Yay!
Hi. I like Debbie. (laughing)
Now, I’m going to start by reading your bio.
Oh, dear. Okay.
Okay, so just chill and not everybody who’s tuning in has heard of you, mind you, I find that difficult to believe but there’s probably one person out there that hasn’t heard of you. Rhonda is an expert in the field of early childhood education. Well, we know that’s where it counts, don’t we? Anyway, television and music.
She is a virtuosic flautist, producer, conductor and advocate for music education in all its forms. Rhonda has a master’s of music education with distinction, a BA in music education in flute and piano. In 2008, she was Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Education, Outstanding Alumni Award winner. Well, we could probably just stop there, but I will keep going. In 2021, Rhonda was also nominated for a Telstra Business Award and has also won the Born to Fly award spread over her lifetime and through music Rhonda has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a large number of worthy communities in need. Rhonda has taught more than 50,000 children. Hey, that was good to do that math and it’s actually a bit scary, isn’t it? I don’t mean scary, I mean wonderful. Not scary. Wonderful and established the dynamic Queensland music organisation Viva La Musica.
She has composed music for the 2004 Athens Olympics and her orchestra performed for the Warner Brothers Great Outback Spectacular. Rhonda is internationally recognised for her consultancy work and is sought after as a keynote speaker throughout the world. She has advised the governments of Singapore, China and Hong Kong in music, education and written curriculum for Queensland and Victoria. She is currently the education consultant and corporate trainer for P&O Australia and the co-producer for the Lord Mayor’s City Hall Concerts.
Rhonda is passionate about combining community and professional musicians together in outstanding performance experiences and has done this regularly for the Commonwealth Multi-Faith Service for Commonwealth Day, which is live streamed to Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth, the second as a professional musician. Rhonda has performed in Albert Hall, London, Red Square, Moscow, Beijing, and China. She has performed for the Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth the II, Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali, and many other famous personalities and dignitaries. I know this is just your brief bio. Okay.
Rhonda is currently a music specialist education consultant specialising in early childhood to year seven and composer and live pianist for Network Ten’s hit kids show Crocker Malay. She has a pedigree of thousands of compositions for children, which have been performed on television every day throughout Australia for 23 years. Her hands on approach, combined with vivacious communication skills linked with music excellence, gives her the ability to get the best out of any community she has the pleasure to direct. Oh, my goodness. Well, there we go, we could just mic drop, done, interview over. Yay! so listening to that, before we have a chat about any of that, is there anything you want to add to your summary of work?
I think just how blessed I’ve been in my life to have been a musician and be able to. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t have been a musician and an educator. I would have been pretty useless at anything else. Tapestry actually, I’m good at doing Tapestry. That’s how I keep myself sane.
I suppose I’d like to start before we get into the nitty gritty, just saying what an honor it is to be interviewed by you, Deb. I know you do an extraordinary amount of stuff, and I feel very blessed that you’ve asked me to chat a little bit about my direction and how I got to where I where I am. I think for me it’s been the combination of all those things that you’ve heard performance, community, television, education and to be able to marry them all together successfully as what I’ve been able to do, which has given me a fantastic career in music.
I’m going to also let you all know I’ve got a tissue here, there’s something in our Queensland air today that’s making me a bit allergic. I’m not all emotional, I’m just giving my line of work, although I could be but no, I won’t be. I think that in a nutshell says everything in a paragraph. It’s difficult to put life’s work into a couple of paragraphs, but you’ve done a great job.
I think, too, what makes all of us unique, but for you, all of those different aspects of your career, they feed into each other and nurture each other. You wouldn’t be the educator you are if you didn’t have those other elements, the same way I don’t think you’d be the musician you are if you didn’t have the other components. They feed in to that from me, from the outside. That’s what it looks like anyway.
I think the other thing that keeps me grounded as a musician is children. I think that’s been my key, my love of children, my love of teaching kids and making their world a better place through music. That’s just such a cool thing which is what we all do. We make a huge difference in people’s lives that way, and I think that I grew through performance that I love to do that with adults as well, particularly adults who’ve never had music or the opportunity. It’s like being an educator, I like to use the expression “from the womb to the tomb”, you know, whether you’re minus as Zoltan Kodaly said, if you’re nine months before the mother’s born is when we should start music education. Well, I believe the same thing and I believe that. I hope on my deathbed I’ve got live music happening to get me through to the other side. All aspects of our life start with children but I think it’s important that we have it all the way through.
Yes, I was going to say it’s fortunate that you get to do that right across the spectrum. It’s not just about being fortunate. It’s like you have crafted that career for yourself as as you’ve gone along.
I agree but I also think an extremely important point that you made out is that I am a far better musician because I’m a teacher and I’m a far better teacher because I’m a musician. I think that that’s where it has been a little bit of a secret to my success. My mum was an early childhood expert and she was the head of the primary correspondence school. I’ve had music in my life and around me and I’ve been nurtured in that way, which is what of course we all want to do. We want to be able to make a difference with kids and spark that initial love of music and music education and the jobs that we do and that we all do.
That reminds me of another Zoltan Koldaly quote that we all should be striving to be the best musician educators.
Yes, and that is a journey for life. I think that’s the other important thing, people say to me, ‘Oh, you know, you shouldn’t rest on your morals or you’ve done so much’. You know, I just feel I’ve just got started. I feel I have so much more to do and achieve and this is not personal gains. This is letting the world know how crucial what we do is as music educators and musicians. It’s a little daunting because sometimes the more you know, the less you realise you do know.
Not sometimes, always. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know and that’s very comforting. It’s actually personally is heart warming to hear you say, being of a similar vintage, to hear you say…
(laughing) No, actually, I’m 22, you know, I’m sorry. Sorry. Technically people could say we are at the end of our careers. However, there’s just too much to do and I feel like I’m just on the brink of beginning my meaningful career. It’s a very weird thing. I’m waiting for that, ‘you should be retiring feeling’ to come in but it’s just not.
I agree. I think that will keep all of us motivated. I mean, that’s what gets me up every day. I’m so excited to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, whether they’re a child, an adult, an audience member, even this remarkable opportunity to talk in this podcast, the opportunity to reach somebody who might go, ‘oh, do you know what? I feel a bit the same way’ or, reinforcing things, which as music teachers, if we go back to that part of my role, it’s a very lonely job. We don’t get the chance to really talk properly about what we do at our schools and our institutions. In fact, we’re always the weird, funny lady over there that smiles all the time, laughs and sings a bit. You know, I really have no concept of what we do and that’s why I think this is such a wonderful initiative of yours to bring us together and share ideas from around the world. How extraordinary that we can do that now.
I know. Isn’t it amazing? I just love being alive at this time that we can do this. You are so right, the difference that we make and to the development of little human beings, not professional musicians, though, if some of them do that, fabulous. But it’s about just developing those little human beings to be well rounded.
When I was a Conservatorium student, I double majored in education and performance. All of the orchestral musicians, because I was in the Queensland Youth Orchestra at the time, all thought I was studying performance and instrumental music and all of the students who I was studying with thought that I was just doing education. They had no idea I played the flute. It was really interesting.
Then when I decided in that crucial time after my degree to make a very huge turning point in my life, do I become a full time orchestral musician, which I had the opportunity to do in Vienna? Or do I take a position at the Gold Coast as a music teacher? First of all, instrumental was a big, big sort of pathway for me to make the decision at 22. Now, I knew I adored kids and I knew that I connected with them and I had a passion for that area but I’d like to be living in Europe, playing in an orchestra, right? So all of my instrumental colleagues were absolutely flabbergasted.
They had no idea I was studying education and that I didn’t pursue that and that I did teaching. Then all my education people, when they eventually heard me play in orchestras and do solos, just went, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you played the flute’. And back then, when I was at the Conservatorium, it was almost discouraged that the only people that did education were people who were failed musicians.
Those who “can do” and those who “can’t teach”. We’re still fighting that, aren’t we?
Correct. I feel I went, ‘Well, you know what?’ This is the way I tend to tackle problems in my life. I’m going to do it all! Stuff you. I’m going to do the lot. I’m going to be a wonderful music teacher. I’m going to keep my performance and my ability on my flute and piano skills up and continue that journey. I think because I have done both and I just performed professionally at an opera on Sunday doing very stressful music, you know, that any flautist in the world would be challenged with that. I did. I think that that’s been a bit of my secret of my success, that I’ve kept them both going. Now most of my instrumental colleagues know that that education has been a huge part of my life. And then the other way around, a lot of my education friends know I’m a pretty good flute player.
They should be envious of being able to do that because that’s massive to be able to do both of those things.
But then how do you do that? Because I have practiced 8 hours a day. People don’t quite understand that. People say, ‘You are so good at this instrument’. Well, it’s because I have practiced. I didn’t have a life as a young woman, making up for it now. I didn’t see a movie. I went to parties after concerts, but I practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and I’m still practicing.
Well, that’s dedication.
It’s because I love it and I can still play today. So I feel very, very fortunate that I’ve been able to maintain that part of my career.
Those two sides, well there’s obviously more than two sides but the two sides have married together really well.
They have and I think the last 15 years educators are listening more to educators. I really believe that even though we’ve got a long way to go and we’re always fighting this battle, I think there’s more gravitas in saying that you’re an educator and a teacher now, than say 20 years ago, interestingly enough.
Well, that is heartening to hear that opinion because I imagine it could be argued the other way. I’m very heartened to hear.
You know where that comes from, Deb? I think that comes from parents. Parents are becoming far more discerning about what they want for their children. And I think that particularly now that we’re having to fight this very hard battle of maintaining music education in our schools, particularly nationally, it’s the parents that are starting to recognize more the importance of music. I can talk about that at some point but I think that might be why parents are much more involved and discerning with their kids education, in particular music.
Yes, I really would like to pick that thread up in a little bit because I think there is that growing body of parents who realize what music education offers, that music education doesn’t just offer a pathway for professional musicians.
It offers so much more and that it is not a frill. It is not something that kids deserve even. It’s something that the children need. They need it.
It’s not something that we do to be a better mathematician. It’s something that we do that makes us fundamentally better people.
Yes. Of course I agree. Naturally, I agree. I’m thinking that is a difficult thing to convince people of, not some people, of course, more easily convinced. Now, let’s come back to that. I’d like to finish up talking about how we can really help promote music education in our own little circles. If we think back about your journey and we’ve talked about that briefly, if we look at people that you have met in your journey, could you pick a person or a couple of people that have been particularly influential in your life. It’s okay if it’s personal/professional or both. I reckon this is a hard question because I imagine there’s a lot of amazing people that you’ve connected with in your journey.
I think it depends on on your age. There’s no way I could have done what I’ve done in my life without mum because she was passionate about education, won a scholarship to Armidale Teachers College, got straight sevens and then she failed music. She felt like such an ignoramus, she vowed that her children would be musically educated so that she never went through that. A few of us have made it our careers so that’s an interesting one.
The second one is Therese O’Brien, who was my classroom music teacher at Sherwood Primary School, who inspired music in me if it was not in me already. She just put the icing on the cake and I have had an ongoing relationship with her, my very first music teacher since I was five, and then later down the story. We talk about that beautiful program that I’m also passionate about, too, and in which she was one of the directors of. Then we work together as peers with Therese overseeing all the lesson plans and working with the recordings for this program to tune in that all about. For me, that was just extraordinary that as a five year old, I still find it very difficult to call her Terese after all these years but she insists on it. Only a couple of years ago, I was asked to speak at her 80th birthday party so these relationships endure a very long time, and she’s very close to my heart.
I think the third person that absolutely inspired me to go in the journey I have is Katalin Forrai. Katalin was the most extraordinary mentor. She was at my school regularly working with my children, working with me, working with my choirs. I don’t have enough words to express the love that I have had and have still. I still think of her as alive in my heart and what she instilled in me as a musician, as an educator. It’s always there with me when I’m working with children and that was because we were running some amazing courses at the school that I was at, and I was incredibly blessed to have her at my fingertips and we became firm friends for many years after that corresponding.
I think the only other person I’d like to mention briefly is John Curro, who took me all around the world with the Queensland Youth Orchestra when I was a flute and piccolo player and he was amazing. He gave me so much knowledge of making opportunities for people, which is what I love to do. So those people all combined to really set the scene for what I’ve done in my life.
Oh, wow. Amazing! Oh, I love it. Another reflective question that I like to ask. For what are you most grateful? I think it connects partly to the people because obviously you are, from what you’ve said, you’re very grateful to those people. Take a big step back, for what are you most grateful?
I think that I will always have work with children. That’s the essence for me is the kids and connecting with them. They bring me so much joy and pleasure and they keep the young person thats still in me alive.
They do, don’t they?
I did a lesson the other day and a little boy said to me, Oh, that was an absolutely marvelous session. He’s five, it’s a marvelous session. I went, Oh, thank you very much. We could all write a book on what children have said, but, you know, I cannot imagine my life without children. My own children, of course, and the children that I’ve had the pleasure to work with and still work with. I also am very grateful for the people I mentioned earlier because I wouldn’t have had music in my life. I wrote an article for you, Deb, recently about chocolate or music education, and I love this analogy because it refers to everything we’ve been talking about. If you’ve never eaten chocolate, you don’t know what you’re missing. That to me is the essence about music education, and it’s the terror as well. We do not want to be in a situation where we have people who have never experienced it, therefore don’t value it. Music was valued in my life. I was nurtured and encouraged so that I could pursue not only in my youth, but also in my adult life and my marriage with my children. They’ve all had to run around while I’m doing all the things that I do, and I’ve just been blessed to have these amazing people in my life that have supported me. So I guess that’s the gratefulness is every day I pinch myself and go, I’m so blessed to be a musician and an educator. I really mean that because my happiness of who I am as a person is all derived through those two things.
Yes. Oh, that’s so wonderful. Very inspirational.
I appreciate you and all of my colleagues and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don’t forget, you’ll find the show notes on crescendo.com.au. I’d love a share, rate, or review to help other music educators find this podcast. “All I can be is the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you” until next time, bye.
This podcast was brought to you by Crescendo Music Education. Connecting, supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes, you’ll find links to Crescendos social media platforms. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo Community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. For a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables, workbooks, repeat workshops, webinars, and receive great discounts on events. Come and connect with me, Debbie. Okay, see you in the socials.
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