Music is a part of most people’s daily life today, with everyone listening to the radio or their favourite play-lists, but for many it’s a fairly passive presence; just always there in the background.
However, for three Dubbo families, music is definitely front and centre. The Hall, Clark and Newby children learn a number of musical instruments, with their parents leading the way as players as well.
Their family members study and play a range of brass, wind, strings and keyboard instruments, making for a busy family life, with some challenges but lots of rewards.
Robin, Sarah and Jessica Hall play tuba, trumpet and trombone, while their mum Melinda plays the organ and their dad Travis sings.
Robin picked up the tuba in primary school when he joined the school band.
“Mum was incredibly surprised when she arrived to find me standing next to a gigantic instrument case. The teacher got me to dig to the back of the storeroom and we found a tuba. I was pretty tall in Year Five so it seemed like I was the right kid to play it.”
Sarah and Jessica chose their instruments through the “Puff and Blow” instrument demonstrations and try-outs run by Macquarie Conservatorium teachers at their school.
“I chose the trumpet because it is my style, I am a loud person and the trumpet is loud,” says Sarah.
“I was desperate to play the trombone because it looked like it would be a fun instrument to play moving the slide, plus I have long arms,” says Jessica.
“Stephen Smith from the Conservatorium is a really good trombone player, and he teaches all three of us.”
Back, Brianna and Samual, Front, Athalia and Isabelle Clark
In the Clark family, sisters Athalia, Isabelle and Brianna all play violin. Their brother Samuel chose to play guitar to follow in his dad Mitchell’s footsteps, and now they really enjoy playing together. All four children also have piano lessons. Their mum Evelyne didn’t have the chance to learn an instrument as a child, but as a primary school teacher she ‘dabbles’, playing percussion and recorder.
“Athalia chose the violin because her kindergarten teacher often played violin to the class. She began lessons with Conservatorium string teacher Sue Hovenden when she was in Year Three,” says Evelyne.
“Then of course Isabelle and Brianna wanted to be like their big sister, but this was difficult at the beginning as they thought they would sound like her straight away! They were very squeaky at the start, compared to Athalia who had been playing for several years, but they persevered.”
For the Newbys, learning musical instruments is a family tradition for both parents, with music teachers in the family and each generation learning a variety of instruments.
The three Newby children and their parents all play piano plus one more instrument – violin for Emma, saxophone for her mum Cathy, while brothers Ben and James and their dad Ken play guitar.
The choice of instrument was influenced by what was at hand. There were two guitars already in the house, so Ben and James took those up.
“Then Emma learned violin mainly because we had her grandmother’s rather special old violin,” says Cathy.
So having made their instrument choice and started their routine of weekly lessons and practice, what is it like to live in a multi-instrumental family?
“With everyone playing a musical instrument, we are constantly juggling practice times and music lessons around school, swimming and our other music activities like playing in bands,” says Robin Hall.
“It’s never boring in our house – even our dog Bob sings along,” says his sister Sarah.
“Making your own band is fun, we can play lots of songs together which sound nice.
“And if you make a mistake you can hide it easily as the others cover it up,” says her sister Brianna.
For the Newbys, it means there is constant music playing in the house.
“This can be nice but sometimes the music clashes and it ends up being noise instead!” says Cathy Newby.
“It’s also amazing the space musical instruments take up – imagine a piano, a violin, a saxophone and four guitars, plus three teenagers, all in one house.”
Despite this, families can play together and enjoy making music together, according to her daughter Emma.
“Usually someone else is around who can give some input into your music. We all understand the hard work and focus needed to learn your pieces.”
The Clark sisters have found it hard sometimes competing against each other at the Eisteddfod.
“But it teaches you to play your very best at all times and to be happy with the results,” says Isabelle.
“It’s a great way for the family to be encouraging of one another,” says her dad Mitchell.
“Praising each other when there are successes and helping one another through disappointments is a bonus, and not focusing on always being the ‘winner’ is an important lesson.”
Ben, James and Emma Newby
For all three families, the benefits of learning and playing musical instruments are worth the quite substantial investment of time and money.
Travis Hall believes learning a musical instrument gives you a skill for life.
“Whether you’re a soloist, or part of a band or orchestra, you can try to take it as far as you like, so it becomes a life-long learning experience. Playing together in bands has given our kids a strong sense of community as well.”
For Mitchell Clark, there are many positive flow-on effects into other areas of his children’s lives.
“Musicians really learn about commitment and dedication. Playing collaboratively with other musicians gives you the skills you need to work with people and negotiate together.”
The proven positive effect of learning music on the acquisition of other learning skills is an important advantage for the Newbys.
“The benefits for brain development are huge,” says Cathy.
“Playing an instrument definitely helps you focus, be attentive, persistent, and know how to finish a task to a high level. Then there is the advanced development of hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills.”
But probably the most important aspect of their children playing musical instruments is the experience the families share when making music together.
“Music is like learning another language and when you all speak that same language, it’s very rewarding,” says Evelyne.
“Our kids share their music with others and give back to their family as well as the community,” says Cathy.
“While it can be noisy and busy, beautiful music can occur at anytime of the day in our family. There’s lots of fun and laughter when we all get together and play.”