The passion for singing in the Diocesan Junior School goes beyond simple good fun.
“We live in a world where educational achievement, coupled with creativity and engagement with the community, are significant factors in success for young people. Music is creativity at its best. At Dio we believe education and participation in the arts is more than an extra to academic achievement; it is an essential component of a holistic education." - Junior School Deputy Principal, Suzanne Brewin
Junior School Performing Arts Coordinator, Mehernaz Pardiwalla, says, “I want to instil a life-long love of singing and music in my students. Singing like laughter, play, and exercise is fundamentally enriching.”
This passion for singing in the Diocesan Junior Music School goes beyond simple good fun. Studies of brain development in early education have consistently shown that child and adolescent brain development is dramatically enhanced by active learning in the Arts, most notably through music. It’s well documented that learning a musical instrument and choral singing leads to optimised educational achievement across the educational spectrum.
Research shows music is good for brain development, coordination, and confidence. There is also the buzz than comes from working hard and having the reward of a performance given well.
Mehernaz has been a teacher at Diocesan for ten years. She says during the last two years she’s been leading the junior music department she’s been overwhelmed with the amount of thank you letters from parents.
“I teach music but I also teach life skills: discipline, a can do attitude, and striving and working towards success. It’s these life lessons as well as the confidence booster than music can bring that parents respond to. You don’t have to be a talented musician to benefit enormously from learning music.”
This is why all the students in the junior school learn music twice a week. They follow the Orff pedagogy, which sees all students in year 3 and 4 learning the violin. “We start with making paper mache violins, then we work up to how to hold them, and the posture required. Then we graduate to real violins.”
At Year 5 students are given the opportunity to learn a brass instrument as well as a woodwind, and by then most students are either in the junior string orchestra, one of Dio’s two choirs, or in a concert band.
Overall, the Dio junior school is shining musically. In the Kids Sing, the major national junior choral competitions, Dio junior choir has achieved an unbroken record of Gold 5 years in a row.
“This is a remarkable achievement for the age and size of our choir – our students are punching above their weight.”
Students not only benefit from two music lessons a week in the Dio junior school, which is extremely well resourced – all musical instruments are provided - but they are set up to move confidently into the bigger and competitive senior school music environment.
“Dio has a very high standard of achievement overall for music, and with the solid foundation offered in the junior school, the girls go in ready to fulfil their potential.”
Transitioning to the senior school can be daunting, but musically at least the girls are well looked after with musical talent tracked by head of senior Performing Arts, Shelagh Thomson.
There is also a Musical Scholarship for incoming Year 7 students. Eleanor Christenson, a stellar violinist who has led the Dio junior school string orchestra for the last two years as well as being leader of chapel choir and who is also a talented pianist, won the scholarship for 2017.
Mehernaz is a high-achieving musician herself, with a talent for piano and a love of singing. When she was a secondary school student in Dubai she won a top Golf states competition. She went on to study at the Royal College of Music in Manchester, UK.
She says that coming from a background of constantly being on stage means she’s always conscious to teach her students the performative aspect of music.
“It’s vital, and sometimes overlooked, but I install in my students the whole thing. You must be able to play, but you also must be able to perform for an audience. The junior students are still young, yes, but I want them to be confident and undaunted on stage. This of course, is a life skill and confidence booster as well.”
There are some very talented students coming up through the junior school, and Mehernaz is proud to have fostered students and watched them blossom. “They come to me sometimes with no prior musical knowledge, and go on to do amazing things. And it’s not necessarily the big things - I get such pride from being part of students’ personal achievements.
“It’s the little things, like watching a student who was a timid and shy Year 3 blossoming into a Year 6 confidently playing the French horn, who once never dreamed of herself it was possible.”
While Mehernaz is a talented musician, she’s happy to have given up being centre stage, and instead is directing her considerable passion for music into helping the girls reach their potential.
“I love teaching and it’s pure joy to be passing on my passion. Watching the students bloom, that’s a far more satisfying thing than being on stage for me now.”
Her pride and passion in her students shines through, “I expect so much from them, and they always deliver.”
 The Orff Approach is a developmental approach that combines music, movement, drama, and speech into lessons that are similar to child's world of play. It was developed by the German composer Carl Orff (1895–1982) and Gunild Keetman during the 1920s.