Will you sing in our school? Gimme 16,000 at Cropredy any day!

The previous blog briefly mentioned Mark, the chap who’d asked if we’d like to go into his school, to do a few songs and chat to the students about what we do. This all seemed very nice and the icing on the cake was the offer of payment for doing so. There was also the offer of a bed on the Monday night which was gratefully accepted as we were due in school at 8:30am on the Tuesday morning. The school in question being the Newcastle Waldorf School in Glendale. We had not heard of Waldorf schools before although Kip had heard of Steiner schools, which if I’m correct are the same thing.

Rudolf Steiner was a Swiss philosopher and social reformer (Where would I be without Wikipedia, and yes I do donate), who in the early twentieth century searched for a connection between science and spirituality. The first Waldorf school was set up in Germany in 1919 by Emil Molt the owner and managing director of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company. He recognised that the only way the average working man was going to break out of poverty was through good schooling, so he set up a school for his employees’ children and based it upon Steiner’s philosophy of education.

Our accommodation was a sofa bed in the studio which is in the garden of a school house occupied by Joel, Ebony and their three beautiful daughters (all of whom go to the school). Joel is a teacher at the school and he invited us in for Chinese tea (he’d just been to China on a two week educational exchange). We had a good old chat and Joel answered our many questions about the school. He explained that they have to meet the same outcomes as state run schools but they focus on and encourage the use of art, music and creativity in general to help the students in their learning.

Ebony had told us that the mosquitos can get a bit vicious at night as well as in the mornings. Following her advice we sprayed ourselves, our clothes and bedding with a potentially lethal dose of “sod off you bastards” insect repellent before sitting outside to play scrabble that evening. One thing we both love about Oz is the different sounds of the birds in the evening. They are noisy buggers, but very different from what we’re used to. There was also the soothing sound of a truck’s refrigeration unit kicking in every five minutes from the yard next door.

It wasn’t the best night’s sleep we’d had. It was hot, there was no aircon and the fan by the side of the bed kept sending ripples across the bed sheet which made me think of man-eating spiders. By three am the fan was driving me nuts, so I switched it off and we marinaded in sweat.

Either we were too repulsive for the local mossies or the repellent had excelled itself as neither of us had been bitten. This is a truly rare event.

Up and showered by 7:30am the next morning and we were in school by 8:25am, which was the first time either of us had been early for school in our lives. Mark took us to get a coffee in the kitchen, the walls of which were lined with tiles, everyone was hand painted by someone at the school. Mark gave us a brief history of the school and it was clear to see that he’s passionate about what he does and loves his job. I hope he can maintain this enthusiasm. We told him that we know so many teachers around our age group in the UK that have packed it in. The job is nothing like what they signed up for in their twenties and they’ve burned out.

Our first stint was with a group of twelve to sixteen year olds. They sat on the floor in the hall facing us and you could see that some were thinking “what are these old hippies doing here”. Others just yawned and one or two seemed genuinely interested.

We started talking about where we’re from and how we got to be doing what we’re doing now. We then sang some songs that reflected upon our history and some social comment upon things as they are now. The time went very quickly and the session was over in no time. I didn’t think it had gone very well, but they all clapped and a few cheered at the end (it may have been relief). Once we’d finished one lad came over and grilled me about songwriting for a few minutes and then said it had been really interesting and thanked us for coming. A few minutes later another lad who’d yawned most of the time we were playing came back into the hall to ask if he could stream our music on Spotify (you can by the way). So far so good, then.

Then it was time for the youngsters. A group of seven to eleven year olds were then lead into the hall. Halfway through the first song one of them is giving us the thumbs down sign and saying he doesn’t like the music. Within five seconds a teacher has expertly slid him across the floor to the side of the hall and silenced him. We go into the second song and a lad raises his hand. ”Have you got a question?” I foolishly ask. “I can whistle” he says. Like an idiot I say “go on then” and thirty five kids join in within three seconds of him starting. I thought playing in front of sixteen thousand umbrellas at Cropredy festival was nerve wracking. It was a breeze compared to this. To be fair it was a lot of fun and the kids were great. I will never complain about teachers’ wages – they earn every penny and their influence is enormous. Nobody remembers a mediocre teacher, but we can all remember the good ones and the bad ones.

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