2019 Grant winner Rachel Scott

By Kim Boniface AOGU October 18, 2023

Rachel Scott (1990) was one of three winners of the AOGU’s inaugural 110th Anniversary Grant. She has wasted no time in using the funds to spread the joy of music to rural Australian school children in conjunction with the Australian Children’s Music Foundation (ACMF). We caught up with Rachel to learn more about this fantastic initiative.

Rachel, you obviously have a passion for all things music and sound, was this also the case while you were at Abbotsleigh?

Yes! I was so lucky to be at Abbotsleigh where there was a fabulous music team. I remember being very inspired by this group of teachers. They taught with such dedication and passion. They taught me to listen, to question, to understand and to communicate. I played cello and flute (badly, I admit), I sang and I was involved in all sorts of groups at the school. I constantly thank the universe for those teachers – they were hugely influential in making me the musician I am today.

You spent some of Term 1 at a very dry and dusty Hillston Central School, 7½ hours west from Wahroonga. How do you choose the schools to visit?

I don’t choose the schools. The charity I work for, the ACMF, choose them.

A teacher from Hillston Central heard the ACMF’s founder (the great children’s entertainer and PlaySchool host Don Spencer OAM) talking on the ABC radio program ‘Macca All Over’ over a decade ago, in the last drought. They were talking about giving kids music that don’t get it – and especially kids in difficult circumstances. So this teacher rang up, and asked Don to send some teachers out – put his money where his mouth was, so to speak. So, off I went.

My first visit was very dry (just like this one, actually). I got out of the car (I fly to Griffith, and then drive for about 120kms) on my way to the school and stepped into this dry, dry heat onto red, red dusty ground in totally inappropriate shoes, and wondered ‘Where on earth am I? What have I got myself into?’ After a decade of visiting four times a year, I feel very much at home there. And, I now have dusty red boots that I live in when I’m both in Sydney and in Hillston – a little part of the country!

We really appreciated the thank you notes from the Hillston Year 1 students! What sort of difference does it make, bringing music to these children?

Aren’t they lovely? The ‘Rachel visits’ at school are such a huge part of each term.

I see the difference music makes to children every time I walk into a teaching space (it could be a school hall, or a library, or a shearing shed, or under a tree. I’ve found myself teaching in all those places – a world away from an Abbotsleigh classroom!). I see kids achieve something they didn’t think they could do. They take themselves out of their comfort zones – and succeed. So they do it again and again in music lessons, in the classroom, in their life. So, I’m not just teaching music. I’m teaching all the other stuff music gives you – motor skills, language skills, better memory retention, advance brain development. I’m teaching team work. But, most of all, I’m teaching self-belief and resilience; I help kids to walk taller.

And how did winning the AOGU 110th Anniversary Grant help?

It costs a lot of money to run these programs which are not covered by the Department of Education. This grant money went to pay for my 2019 Term 1 visit.

This program is really wonderful, because it’s not just about the three days of ‘musical madness’ when I’m there. All the teachers are presented with a term’s worth of lessons and backing tracks so that they can keep music lessons going. The choir teachers are given material for the choir. I really just start the ball rolling down the hill. Everyone gets caught up in it so it is not just the individual children who benefit but there is an ongoing benefit to the whole community. So, thank you to the AOGU for helping me change a community – especially one that really needs it at the moment.

It must be challenging trying to get everyone involved, from kindy kids through senior students and all sorts of personalities. How do you achieve that?

I laugh a lot. I wear bright clothes. My hair is a mess. And after years of doing this I can pretty much guess who in the class needs encouragement, who needs love, who needs strength – and I just scoop everyone up with me and run. Most of the time it works.

My music lessons are really active as well – lots of hitting of things. And who wouldn’t want to wallop a drum? Music in a part of us all – I just need to find the right way to open the door for each personality I see…

And how do you ensure that the benefits of the program last long after your visit?

The teachers all have their lessons for their classes in coloured folders– and I know that they all keep up with it. I answer any questions or problems that they might have. I have wonderful support from the Instructional Leader at the school who checks on things when I’m not there. And, I think the teachers see the magic of music when I’m there. So of course they teach it! The music program runs like a well-oiled machine these days.

What else have you got planned for 2019?

At Hillston Central School or for me? The whole school will have a big end-of-year concert. The school choir will visit the local nursing home and hospital to sing the songs we’ve worked on and share them with the older members of the community. I’ll go back to Hillston in terms 2, 3 and 4.

For myself, when I’m not teaching, I run a concert series called ‘Bach in the Dark’, so I’m practising, rehearsing or performing. I love the marriage of teaching and performing – although it’s hard to ‘put me in a box’ as a musician, it works very well for me. Teaching kids reminds me of the joy of music. Practising the cello reminds me very much to be in the moment. I feel like it’s me speaking truthfully – listening, questioning, experimenting. And performing, for me, is another way of sharing music. I feel very lucky having both things in my life equally, as a musician.

Finally, if any of our Old Girls would like to get more involved with spreading the joy of music, what would you suggest?

It costs a huge amount of money to run music programs like the one at Hillston Central School. Without being over dramatic, I believe, with every fibre of my being, that it is life changing. We could do with any kind of help – in fact, all the help we can get. You can read more about ACMF here.


We thank Rachel and the ACMF for giving us this opportunity to be part of this wonderful program and wish them all the best in continuing to inspire through the power of music.