“I’ve had a vision.” When Kathryn George says those words it means two things: It’s the start of something amazing for her students and she will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. The educator, who was awarded an Order of Australia Medal last month for her service to school music ensembles, arrived to teach music at Mackay North State High School in 1979. At the time “there were three broken xylophones and an out-of-tune piano”. In 1992 she founded the Mackay North State School Marching Band with 35 members. More than 25 years on, the band has 130 members and has performed at both the Sydney and Beijing Olympics. It is also the first Australian group to lead the afternoon parade at Disneyland Anaheim, where it has an open invitation to return whenever it likes. The band has the same open invitation from the Mayor of Shanghai after representing Australia at the Shanghai International Tourism Festival, where 8 million people lined the route and hundreds of millions watched on television. The vision to achieve this started out with a simple idea that a marching band “would extend the gifted and talented students, but also do wonders for their self-esteem”. When the band initially couldn’t find music suitable for young students, Mrs George decided it wasn’t going to stop her. “So I spent my holidays writing the medleys for the band to play,” she says. Those three broken xylophones are but a distant memory, with over $200,000 worth of musical equipment purchased over the years. But Mrs George’s greatest source of pride is her “surrogate children”. Many of her former students now perform around the world or have become music teachers themselves, inspired, just like Mrs George was, by their music teacher. Mrs George still talks fondly of Edna Enchelmaier, who taught her piano when she was growing up in Toowoomba. “I’m a true believer and a passionate believer in the power of music to make a difference in people’s lives,” Mrs George said. “Even if they’re not going to go into music professionally, I really believe the study of music greatly enhances the learning process,” she says. “I’ve taught numerous students over the years who have been struggling academically and once they’ve started learning an instrument or started learning music in the classroom, miraculously they become a lot better organised and their academic results just skyrocket.” “I’ve taught a number of students with special needs and just by listening to the music, the power of music seems to calm them, improve their moods and their whole attitude, so there are so many positive attributes connected with the study of music.” Mrs George said the OAM was an “affirmation of what teachers do as being valued and seen to be extremely important”.
I personally believe that teachers are the linchpins of our society because they shape the student’s life. I think also, often times teachers are students’ salvation.
“When the students come to school they know they’re in a safe place, and they know they’re with people who care about them and genuinely want the very best for them and will always challenge them to be the best version of themselves.” After being a teacher for 42 years, Mrs George is enjoying spending time with her grandchildren but is not content to rest on her laurels. “I’m still improving the band, you see – I never ever sit back and say I’ve achieved everything,” she said. “I’ve had another vision,” she says.