On World Teachers’ Day, ARIA award nominee uses music to bring students together

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A class that sings, plays, and performs together, stays together,” says Queensland-based music teacher Hank Lewerissa.

He’s one of four Australian music teachers across the country who have been named as nominees for the 2023 Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award.

When performer Dami Im arrived at the Gold Coast’s Upper Coomera State College, where Mr Lewerissa has taught for nine years, the man Ms Im described as “a local hero”, said the news of the nomination was “a real thrill”.

Since he began his music teaching career more than 40 years ago, Mr Lewerissa says “music education today has changed considerably”.

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“The advent of technology has been, I feel, the biggest contributor to this change – especially in the delivery of music education,” he told EducationDaily.

“AI certainly has made a significant contribution and been extremely useful in and around music production,” he says. “It has enabled students who are not overly proficient in playing an instrument, or in voice production, or reading and writing of music, to be able to produce a sample of work that would otherwise be impossible without the aid of technology.”

Although he admits this reality may be a “hard pill to swallow” for “musical purists”, Mr Lewerissa says “this is the world we live in today”.

The power of music brings real benefits

But despite the huge advancements made possible by technology’s influence on music production, Mr Lewerissa says he doesn’t think there will ever be a time where AI can fully replace “the human touch”.

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From his perspective, that unique human touch music education can add to the lives of school students is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a music teacher.

“The impact of music education for students and their well-being, I feel, is downplayed. Literacy and numeracy are the two main ingredients of any education system; however, the role music education plays cannot be underestimated,” he told EducationDaily.

Research showing that participation in a formal, continuous music education can enhance a student’s literacy and numeracy skills supports his belief.

“Here in Queensland, we are fortunate that there is a music teacher attached to every school, unlike some other states of Australia,” Mr Lewerissa says.

“The stressors of everyday life and coming out of Covid has highlighted how vulnerable our young people can be and how this has impacted on their mental health. Engaging in music education helps improve their well-being, and social and emotional skills.  It’s a subject area that, from foundation levels, allows and encourages students to participate without fear of being singled out through games and role-playing.”

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Music education is a life-long endeavour

With many music educators challenged by the rising financial costs involved in getting students to participate in instrumental programs, Mr Lewerissa says the modern world of instant gratification is another distracting force that sees students making the ongoing commitment to master an instrument or improve their vocal techniques – pursuits that Mr Lewerissa says are “life-long endeavours”.

As a teacher of music, he wishes there was more emphasis placed on the value that musical education can bring.

“In most schools, there is thirty minutes set aside per week for a music lesson, which equates to five hours per term,” he told EducationDaily. “That totals only twenty hours of music for a whole year. Personally, I don’t feel this is sufficient, considering students are in class for five hours per day.”

He says he can pinpoint many instances throughout his teaching career where music has assisted students who struggle in daily classroom situations.

“In music, there is no pressure placed on them to achieve a certain goal. There are varying degrees of success which can be celebrated,” he says.  “Students are able to express themselves and be creative.  It is inclusive and universal.”

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The ARIA awards, divided into 21 categories, will be presented on 15 November at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion.

Members of the public are invited to cast their vote for Australia’s favourite music teacher here.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live