In Their Words: Classroom Music Teacher, Mr Michael McGrath

Classroom Music Teacher, Band Director and Brass Teacher, Mr Michael McGrath, discusses his passion for composing and the joy of making music.

It’s a wonderful thing to walk into the classroom and make music. For me, music brings everything together—it is intellectual and physical—and I’ve been fond of music from a very young age.

For almost five years now, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Curriculum Music at Girls Grammar, and for the past two years I have also worked in the Instrumental Music Department.

People often say the Music Program at Girls Grammar is exceptional due to the number of co-offerings available to students. Outside of the classroom, Girls Grammar has 32 ensembles, maintains a unique partnership with Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and hosts numerous performances and competitions for girls to challenge themselves and develop their musical and creative skills. In the classroom, girls have the opportunity to develop their creative skills and participate in collaborative composing projects.

For me though, the exceptional quality of music offerings at the School is due to the breadth of skills and depth of experience of the music staff. There are very few schools in Australia where students have an opportunity to engage with staff who are highly skilled across such a broad range of musical specialisations.

After school, I studied Trombone at the Queensland Conservatorium and at the end of my first year, I enrolled to complete a dual degree in Music and Education at The University of Queensland (UQ), while concurrently studying at the Conservatorium.

During my time at UQ, I developed a love for chorale music and for the past six years, I have taken private singing lessons. I recently completed my Certificate of Performance and I hope to complete my Associate Diploma of Performance in the near future. It’s important for me to keep enhancing my skills as a teacher, but I also find honing my skills stimulating and rewarding.

Learning and seeing things in a new light is important as a teacher—it brings a level of refinement to what you do, and allows you to be more spontaneous. I can draw on these skills to answer questions and instinctively interact and converse with students in class.

Under the guidance of Director of Creative Arts, Mr Andrew Pennay, I’ve also developed my composing skills and in turn, been able to share this knowledge with the girls. To be able to demystify a common perception that composing is a talent you either have or you don’t is liberating. It empowers girls to develop creativity and self-expression as they would other skills.

Students can develop their composing skills through the School’s Curriculum Music Program, which culminates in performances of their works at the Year 11 Film Music Evening and the Year 12 Music Production.

The School’s Composing program also includes song-writing, an area in which a large number of girls show significant interest. This too is developed through the music curriculum, with Year 8 girls crafting their own song using a backing track, through to senior projects in the later years that are more divergent.

I really enjoy the creative aspect of teaching composition. Being able to think critically to draw on various experiences and then mould them into a final product is quite personal and it’s one of the most rewarding things about being a teacher and musician.

While I think deeply about my lessons, ultimately, I want every class to be a joyful musical experience for each girl. As a music teacher, this is at the heart of what I do—we can study intricacies of music all day, but it is the jubilant making of music that brings learning to life.

A highlight of my career was when Year 12 2017 performed their original score for the David Attenborough documentary Earth. Seeing the girls bring their unified compositions to life in a live performance with professional ensemble Topology, was quite a powerful moment.

Aside from music, I am quite active. Last year, I participated in the Noosa Triathlon and the Paris Marathon. The marathon was quite daunting because I had never ran that far before, but unlike professional sporting the purpose of the event wasn’t about winning. And much like music, even though it’s an individual effort, to run with so many others gave me a sense of being part of something greater and I love that feeling.

There is something very special about a whole group of people being in the one place at the one time deciding to do something together. And for me that’s what Girls Grammar is about. We all have a common goal, and are unified in our commitment to helping students to develop into well-rounded, capable and confident young women.