Almost every single pupil at Trentham and District Primary School plays an instrument

When you walk into the music room at Trentham and District Primary School, you could be mistaken for thinking you had walked on to the set of School of Rock.

FUN: Trentham and District Primary School's band during rehearsal with their teacher Andrew Zollia. Photo: Dylan Burns

FUN: Trentham and District Primary School's band during rehearsal with their teacher Andrew Zollia. Photo: Dylan Burns

The plethora of instruments, including saxophones, electric guitars, a baby grand piano, drums, percussion, bass and brass are played by an impressive number of students who come together to form the school band. 

Headed by music teacher Andrew Zollia, who trained in clarinet at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and started teaching at the school five years ago, the school’s music program is flourishing with almost every student participating in and learning an instrument voluntarily. 

One could be mistaken for thinking they had walked into a fully-fledged musician’s studio due to the abundance of instruments, but the only giveaway that it is not is the spattering of small plastic chairs and chorus of excited voices waiting to rush into the room for music class. 

Talent

Many of the pupils are actively engaged in their musical development and, according to Mr Zollia, are talented enough to go on to become professional musicians.

Mr Zollia said the level of musical engagement at the school was far greater than anything he had seen elsewhere.

“This is partly because the Trentham parents are often highly engaged in their children’s learning, and they are often very musical or arts oriented as well. There is also great support from school leadership and the staff team,” he said.

“Music has become a part of the culture in our small country school. The junior students see so many of the older kids, and siblings, playing instruments so they want to do it too. They have the opportunity to explore that option in the classroom music program and as I know how to work out which children are suited to particular instruments, it streamlines the process.”

There are several students who stand out as being very talented. 

Arabella, who is 12 years old, plays bass and is a talented singer.

“She sings with delightful tone and accurate musical phrasing for her age,” Mr Zollia said. “I was pleased to be able to secure her a grant to commence singing lessons with a sensational teacher who is a Churchill Fellow and a Royal Academy of Music graduate.”

Another student, Lola, has been learning the clarinet for three years and is about to undertake her first grade music exam. Her mother, Fiona Miovich, said her daughter had never shown an interest in learning music until Mr Zollia started at the school.

Another musical prodigy in the making, 12-year-old Bridie, learns a number of instruments including piano, euphonium, tuba, Irish flute and saxophone. 

“She is another one that has it within her to be a professional musician one day. Either that or an efficient roadie!” Mr Zollia said.

But Mr Zollia said the school band was about more than fostering the talent of students who could potentially forge ahead with a career in music.

“Music is for everyone and every child at our school is given the opportunity to explore music, music making and creativity,” he said.

Benefits

Mr Zollia is also a reading recovery teacher. He said music education also offered developmental and educational benefits for other aspects of learning.

“To quote Plato – I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but more importantly music; for in the patterns of music and all the arts, these are the keys to learning. Music is scientific, it’s mathematical and it is a language,” he said.

He said learning to play an instrument activated many different parts of the brain simultaneously.

“Studying it enables you to make greater connections in areas such as literacy and numeracy. Participating in the program allows students to develop their self-esteem, teamwork skills and self-discipline in particular – it really does take hard work to succeed in playing your instrument to the best of your ability,” he said.

“As it is in our DNA, music is a gift that we are all born with; we interact with it in different ways throughout our lives – it’s always there.”

Teaching

Mr Zollia teaches all of the instruments that can be found in the classroom but is assisted by a number of other established musicians.

“I have been incredibly lucky to have the services of a number of colleagues and friends who have been keen to come and teach instrumental music at the school,” Mr Zollia said.

“Our drum teacher is an ADF Master Drummer; our Choir Leader is a gifted singer whose enthusiasm and drive is contagious; our woodwind, brass, piano and strings teachers perform in many ensembles throughout the area and are highly experienced at passing their skills and passion on to their students; our guitar teacher is a professional jazz musician who performs regularly across the state,” he said.

It is a privilege to help shape young minds. Whether I'm teaching a child to play an instrument, or to read, write or numerate, it's all about the ah-hah! moments when it all comes together.

Andrew Zollia

“I think perhaps what we have here is a case of a bunch of the right people in the place at the right time, with the right students.”

The students are able to perform with three main ensembles; the school band, the drum corps and the school choir. 

Throughout Mr Zollia’s time at the school, the students have performed around the region in choirs, brass bands, parades and even at the Melbourne Town Hall.

“The kids here are incredibly receptive to learning music. When you work hard with them, they reciprocate by practising and playing, often at lunchtime and after school. They really want to learn and have fun. These kids are amazing,” he said.

“It is a privilege to help shape young minds. Whether I'm teaching a child to play an instrument, or to read, write or numerate, it's all about the ah-hah! moments when it all comes together.”

Ms Miovich said he had made the kids love music in ways she never thought possible.

The school is always looking for new instruments and is happy to take donations.