Why the Boxties Music School?


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

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. 

But, of course, the potential is still there. Teachers just have to find a way to liberate it.

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.