“Inspired and inspiring … this unique style of creative learning manifests who we are, how we stand in the world, and what we might be as a society … it evokes life”.
— Professor Pamela Burnard, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

For the Boxties, teaching music is every bit as important as performing. With 25 years of combined experience in music education, the Boxties are now very pleased to open their own music school, offering their award-winning, internationally recognised teaching methodology to high school and tertiary aged young people.

The Boxties Music school offers two programs, The Boxties Mentorship Program and The Young Boxties Ensemble Program.

Having worked with students all over Australia, I can honestly say that I have never witnessed such joy and unbridled spirit as I have in the students of Stephanie McCaw and the Boxties. Their approach to music education is nothing short of revolutionary and I am convinced that the impact on the students goes far beyond music-making. The empathy, passion, self-motivation and strength of community that these students experience as a result of their work with the Boxties will surely leave an indelible mark on all areas of their lives.
— Dale Barltrop, Concertmaster Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, 1st Violin Australian String Quartet

The Boxties Mentorship Program

The mentorship program is for more advanced instrumental and choral students who have technical facility and a good sense of pitch, and who are expressive singers or players, enthusiastic about making music with others.

Program participants will have an immersive experience, rehearsing and performing alongside the Boxties and absorbing their serious but playful, passionate but relaxed approach to music making. 

They will learn how to create musical meaning, to express that meaning in a way others can understand, and gain insight into music’s power to uplift and transform. You can read more about the Boxties’ teaching methodology here.

The mentorship program includes two ensembles: The Boxties Singers, open to both male and female singers, and The Boxties Ensemble, open to instrumentalists and vocal soloists. Entry to both ensembles is by audition. 

Read more about The Boxties Singers here.

Read more about The Boxties Ensemble here.

The Young Boxties Ensemble Program

Following on from the success of the 2018 Boxties Mentorship Program, we are pleased to offer a new program, the Young Boxties Ensemble Program.

In 2019 we will begin The Young Boxties Ensemble, open to intermediate level instrumentalists with some technical facility who are enthusiastic about making music with others. The ensemble is open to instrumentalists of all ages.

Ensemble participants will have an immersive experience, rehearsing and performing alongside The Boxties and absorbing their serious but playful, passionate but relaxed approach to music making. 

They will learn how to create musical meaning, to express that meaning in a way others can understand, and gain insight into music’s power to uplift and transform. 

Entry to the Young Boxties Ensemble is by audition. 

Read more about The Young Boxties Ensemble here.

Why the Boxties Music School?

When we’re young, we are curious about everything and eager to find things out.  Children’s eyes shine with engagement and wonder. Any teacher will recognize the look of true engagement in a young person’s eyes.

The conductor and educator, Benjamin Zander calls this “the glistening eye” - that look that speaks of enthusiasm, communication, imagination and joy. It’s hard to define but easy to recognise.

However, if you’ve ever been to a school concert, you’ll often notice that many students play and sing as if the life force has been sucked out of them. Where did it go?

Some educators suggest that our system educates children out of their natural enthusiasm and capacity for wonder. Music education, for instance, doesn’t necessarily ask children to think about creating meaning, to express emotion, or to be imaginative – the rationale, if there is one, being that the creative, imaginative stuff can be added on later.

Unfortunately, most people give up singing or playing an instrument before they properly experience the things a worthwhile music education will nurture – our enormous capacity for creative expression and imaginative thinking, and music’s power to bind us together through shared emotion. 

So the glistening eye is often missing when young people play music – their natural expressiveness and enthusiasm get dampened. 


The Boxties have honed their methodology over more than 25 years of collective experience teaching music, in schools and the community. Our aim has always been to nurture the glistening eye.

It may seem painfully obvious, but we try to fan students’ enthusiasm rather than dampen it down. We want kids to use their imaginations, to be creative, to take risks when they express themselves.

We know that music has the power to stimulate people’s imaginations, to connect them with their inner creative world and we’ve learnt over the years that even very young kids are quite capable of expressing loss, joy, love, a full range of emotion. 

Ensemble music teaching can be a fabulous way of giving young people this experience - in fact group teaching can often do this better than one-on-one teaching. (Of course there's no substitute for one-on-one teaching when it comes to developing a high level of technique.)

Once young people get hooked into this expressive world, they can’t get enough of it. And that’s when you’re most likely to see engaged performers and glistening eyes.

“The Boxties’ method of achieving their high-level music tuition is something unique in my experience. Their fully immersive team-teaching method builds confidence and stimulates physical connection with performance in an incredibly enjoyable way. The disciplined playfulness achieved in rehearsals is transformed into thrilling performance that connects directly with the audience.

Musical engagement with the Boxties as a student, professional performer or audience member is always a transformative experience.”
— Jason Barry-Smith, Opera Singer, Singing Teacher, Conductor and Arranger

Teaching the Boxties Way

The Boxties have developed their teaching method based on ensemble teaching. It is systematic and sequential, geared to liberating artistic impulse in everyone, not just the gifted and talented. 

We aim to provide young people with opportunities for a sense of togetherness, to have meaningful musical experiences that are often hard to find elsewhere.

So, how do you get a technology obsessed, text messaging teenager, steeped in pop culture, to take an interest in something that's low-tech, requires concentration, discipline, overt expressiveness and repetitive rehearsing of unfamiliar music?


The Boxties use a team-teaching approach in which all the members of the ensemble are involved in variously leading, singing or playing alongside, mentoring and encouraging students. 

Ensembles are usually taught by one person who is solely responsible for creating the music-making environment. One benefit of a team-teaching approach is that young people can see their teachers up close —interacting, offering ideas, being silly, taking risks, being emotional. 

Expressiveness, taking risks and being open to emotional connection can be daunting for young people, and this kind of team-teaching helps to create an environment where they can explore those dimensions in an atmosphere of exuberance, safety and support.


We do a lot of physical movement, singing, memorizing, and repetition – not mindless repetition, but inventive repetition that gives students time to dig deeply into a piece of music and respond imaginatively and emotionally to what they hear, so they don’t just let notes fly by without thinking about what they mean, or without even noticing them at all.


Young people have an enormous capacity for creative and imaginative thinking. Youth is a prime time for developing these important human qualities and music is one of the best art forms for nurturing them. 

It's the most abstract of the arts – largely non-verbal and completely non-visual. A single piece, or even a single note, can have many rich interpretations. There are so many ways music can distil an emotion, or crystallize it in a moment. In a world where many long for communication and belonging, music allows us to create, share and tell stories. 

And young people love story telling. Even sophisticated 16 and 17 year olds, once their guard is down, love it. We devise stories – often illogical, silly ones - to illuminate character in the music, and we encourage students to do so too. If their imagination is engaged, they’ll approach playing the music with the mood, character or emotion that the story generates in their mind. 


The music the Boxties like to use in their teaching is emotionally engaging, full of variety and intellectually sophisticated. 

In our experience, once students get a taste for the emotional satisfaction of genuine artistic participation, they’re hooked and open to explore the new, the unfamiliar and inspiring.