Rowena Tall teaches music to St John’s Junior Shool, and this year her students are producing Seussical Jnr, a musical based on the books and characters created by Dr Seuss.
Both you and your husband are into music. In what area do you both teach?
I am a primary music specialist, and my husband Stephen is a private singing teacher. Before we left Sydney, Stephen was a professional opera singer with Opera Australia. He left the company in order to spend more time with our family, and then I was offered a job at NEGS. We were impressed with the extensive music scene in Armidale and decided to make the move. Stephen began his studio here with just a handful of students and is now in great demand, with a waiting list.
How long have you taught at NEGS, and describe your role …
This is my fourth year at St John’s/NEGS. My role includes teaching classroom music to boys and girls in Transition through to Year 8, organising and conducting various instrumental and vocal ensembles and directing junior musicals.
What are the main instruments played amongst your students?
We have a number of instrumental programs at St. John’s, including a string program in Year 1, a recorder program in Years 3 & 4 and a concert band program in Years 5 & 6.
By the time students leave St. John’s, they will have experienced a number of instruments, including percussion and will hopefully have found the ‘right’ instrument for them. Of course, the one instrument that unites them all is the voice! One of our main objectives is to develop the singing voice and the inner ear, as this will pave the way for future success on an instrument.
Tell us about ‘Seussical Jnr’?
St. John’s produces a whole school musical every two years. Even the boys and girls from the Transition class have a special part to play on the stage. This year we have chosen Seussical Jnr, a musical based on the books and characters created by Dr Seuss. It is a relatively new musical that premiered on Broadway in 2000. We are presenting the Junior version, which has been simplified for younger actors.
The story is narrated by the Cat in the Hat and involves Horton the Elephant, the Whos from Whoville, Gertrude McFuzz, Maisie La Bird and the Sour Kangaroo. It’s full of fabulous songs, eccentric characters and the imaginative language of Dr Seuss.
Is this your first show?
I’ve always loved musicals and can remember acting out shows with my friends in the playground in primary school. I finally became involved in amateur shows when I left college, and Stephen and I met during a production of Kiss Me Kate.
During my years as a music teacher, I have been involved with a number of shows as choreographer, musical director or director. This is my second musical with St. John’s.
Which students are playing the main roles?
We are fortunate to have some very talented children at St. John’s, who are relishing the opportunity to develop their singing and acting skills. Mikaela Ball plays the central character of the Cat in the Hat, and Kira Dooner plays the hero of the story, Horton the Elephant, who saves the tiny planet of Whoville on the speck of dust. They are well supported by Lucy Haynes, Laura Claridge, Priscilla Clonan, Olivia Fenwicke, Lucinda Parry and Imogen Gifford.
Who assists with the costumes?
We have a wonderful group of staff and parents who are helping with various aspects of the production, from costumes, to advertising, to set design. Myfanwy Gullifer, a well-known local artist, is working with some of the children to design and make various props and my husband, who worked as a scenic artist at the Sydney Theatre Company, will be designing and painting the set.
When and where is the show to be held?
The show will be held in the NEGS assembly hall on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 October at 6.30pm. Tickets are available from the accounts office near reception.
What do you love most about teaching music to young children?
Everything! I have one of the best jobs in the world. Nothing is more fulfilling than sharing the joy of music with young children and leading them into this amazing world of sound and self-expression. Young children are innately musical, and they respond eagerly and without inhibition to musical experiences. I have the privilege of tapping into that natural well of creativity to develop their love for music and foster their skills. Music is such an integral part of being human, but unfortunately in previous generations in Australia, it has not always been valued or taught adequately in schools.
The situation has definitely improved, and I am proud to have been part of the movement to improve music education in schools. In the words of Zoltan Kodaly, a famous Hungarian composer and educator, “Real art is one of the most powerful forces in the rise of mankind, and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of humanity’. Thanks Rowena.