The ARIA Music Teacher award nominations are a reminder that music education matters

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

When the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) announced the four nominees for its 2023 Music Teacher Award, it served as a powerful reminder that honouring teachers is important – and that quality music education matters.

The Tesltra ARIA Music Teacher Award is supported by Telstra and the arts education organisation The Song Room.

The award category was added to the annual ARIA awards in 2017, when Adelaide music teacher from Woodcroft College, Renee McCarthy, was the inaugural winner.

In 2022, the publicly voted gong was awarded to Victoria’s Matt Orchard, from Apollo Bay P-12 College.

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The ARIA website lists multiple positive outcomes for students who receive quality music education, including improved grades (with benefits to both literacy and numeracy scores), drops in absenteeism, and increases in students’ self-esteem and confidence. Research has also shown, the website says, that students who receive music education at school experience a reduction in feelings of loneliness, anger, stress, and depression.

And the 2023 nominees are…

Hank Lewerissa, Upper Coomera State College, Upper Coomera QLD

Hank Lewerissa has been a teacher for more than 40 years. Singer Dami Im was given the honour of revealing his nomination.

“Quite often I’ll have students who don’t perform very well in the classroom but when they come to music, it’s something that’s been able to sort of transform their lives,” Mr Lewerissa said.

Jessie Copeman, Ainslie School, Braddon ACT

When musician Kate Miller-Heidke announced Jessie Copeman’s ARIA nomination to the music teacher’s classroom of students, the cheers were deafening.

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“Music education is at the foundation of what it means to be human,” Ms Copeman said. “Who wouldn’t love coming to work every single day and working with these little people?”

Sue Lowry, Southport Special School, Southport QLD

The honour of letting Sue Lowry know she was nominated went to former Yellow Wiggle Emma Watkins.

“Sue creates pathways by being inclusive, so no matter what the disability, everyone can be a musician,” said Southport Special School principal Susan Christensen.

Peter Earl, numerous schools in the Blue Mountains/Western Sydney region, Bullaburra NSW

George Sheppard from indie pop band Sheppard was tasked with letting music teacher Peter Earl that he’d been nominated for an ARIA.

“I love being a music teacher. I love that I get to see firsthand the impact that it has on kids,” Mr Earl said.

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Celebrating music teacher success stories

EducationDaily invited one of the nominees, Jessie Copeman, to share some of her own insights and experiences as an Australian music teacher. Look out for other nominee profiles in future editions.

“There are several challenges that face music educators today including funding, governance systems and the changing educational landscape,” Ms Copeman told EducationDaily. “However, I prefer to see these challenges as opportunities to shift music education and learning for the better.”

AI in music education

“Technology has changed the way we experience, compose, learn and enjoy music,” Ms Copeman told EducationDaily. “AI is the newest addition to the music classroom and is something that can enhance a child’s music learning experience. This is because AI has the capability to assist a student to compose a song, even if they have never received formal training.”

The fact that AI has the power to support a child to balance audio levels when recording songs, autotune vocals to enhance a listener’s experience and write lyrics using common song structures is something that helps make music performance and production more accessible to students of all abilities, she says.

“When used as a teaching tool, AI can be a valuable partner in the music classroom, however, it can’t replace good quality instruction – particularly if the goal of good music instruction is centred around expressing a person’s humanness.”

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Technology makes music accessible

One other benefit of technology when it comes to music education, says Ms Copeman, is the way it is assisting First Nations and remote communities to access music, learning resources and musicians – “all of which help bridge the gap”.

“This access has a direct impact on learning outcomes for students and is a silver lining from the remote learning methods forged during COVID,” she told EducationDaily. “However, we still have a long way to go to ensure all students – regardless of background, location or socio-economic status – have consistent equitable access to high-quality music education.”

Accessibility to First Nations music has also improved, thanks to technology, Ms Copeman says.

“Music educators and linguists have worked with communities to record First Nations songs so that their language, customs and traditions can be preserved. These recordings are not only important for First Nations people, but all Australians – given it provides insight and authentic exposure to music and ideas that strengths our collective understanding and appreciation of their music, customs and culture.”

All students deserve music education

Her hope is that one day, “music education in schools is seen as important as numeracy and literacy and is given the funding, training and support other subjects are given”.

To help address the current inequity, Ms Copeman says she was motivated to “work with app developers to create accessible music programs as well as work with researchers and universities to broaden knowledge and accessibility to music”.

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“If we want happier children with better reading, writing and maths results then we need music every day for every child,” she told EducationDaily.

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]