Written by Stanley Hong

Julie Murray

This winter, Julie Murray is the resident host for our weekly Playdate at the Library sessions. We interviewed Julie about her work from Sounds Like This, and how music can change the way young brains grow.

Let’s start off with an introduction. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m a flute player, and played in an orchestra and band through primary and high school. The opportunities afforded to me were minimal and I didn’t have these incredible musicians as my models for music education.

It wasn’t until I was at The Melba Conservatorium of Music (now the Melba Opera Trust) that I realised that I wasn’t the norm in that environment. I was one of just a couple of students who were public school educated, with most of the students studying with me from private school and with a different life experience from what I had.

Studying pedagogy, we had to take on students and learn to teach. I wasn’t really interested in teaching much until I started, and watching the spark in someone who gets it – from someone who isn’t able to do it at the start, but then be able to make music – is exciting. But I was failing the aural component of the course because I wasn’t hearing what I was supposed to. I had an incredible lecturer, named Ian Harrison, who said that I needed 100 hours more training than the other kids in the class.

So, for about 10 hours a week, I was sitting on the floor of his loungeroom as he kept on saying, ‘no, that’s wrong, try again’. I learnt about audiation and the way that our ears process aural information and a system of putting that information together so that it made sense. I didn’t know that such a thing had existed and something that could be taught. Ian was astounded that I didn’t have any of this musical experience at all from early childhood.

When did you realise that the play-based learning approach was right for you?

Fast forward a few years, and I’m teaching instrumental music and am a parent of a child who isn’t neurotypical. I started to learn more about music and the brain. For me to be able to advocate for my son, I had to learn about typical behaviours that I would be expecting. I had been working with students for about a decade at that point, and he wasn’t behaving like other children.

It turned out my son had autism. In learning about him, I then went back to learn about neurodevelopment and early learning for children. One of the best things for neurodevelopment is musical play in very young children. Children who have these experiences are better placed than their peers who don’t have the same experiences. Especially children who are socio-economically disadvantaged or who’ve experienced family trauma. These children often can rise above their peers if they have music play or making experiences. It’s very powerful and I’m a big advocate for play-based learning.

I came out of it from a music-making perspective because I love teaching but didn’t fall in love with the early development part until I had my son who changed my world and made me think about how people grow.

What can people expect from a Playdate at the Library session?

It’s about giving children tools to connect in the moment. It’s never a performance for the children to be ‘on’ or behave in a way that they aren’t comfortable with. I don’t want a child to do XYZ. It’s about giving their grown-up more resources to use music to connect and build upon their beautiful bond, to nurture that relationship and have the child feel safe.

It’s also to show the child that making music is human and nothing to feel shame about. If we go back thousands of years, it’s something that we didn’t have to teach because it was innate but it’s certainly not the case now.

You must have seen a lot of personal growth in children over the years of doing Sounds Like This. Is there a common trajectory of development that you see with certain kids who may be a bit shy at the start, but come out of their shells after participating in your classes?

Yes! It has been incredible. I’ve had children that were literally hiding behind a parent but now burst into a room in song. I’ve also had children that were selectively mute sing beautifully, improvise and take the lead on things. There are also children who have had less social awareness than expected, but have learnt to work with their peers in a happy, playful way.

They’re beautiful musical outcomes, but really, it’s about watching how the children are interacting with each other or with me. Are they taking the lead? Or stepping back and practicing beautiful active listening? Are they working together and allowing space for someone else? There’s a lot of respectful play-learning and relationship building. It’s gorgeous. I love it.

What about the response of the parents or a child’s adult to the sessions?

I’m assuring families that whatever the child is doing is fine and just let the child be. With that, parents might think that ‘my child has to do XYZ’ and they direct them. But, if we follow the child instead, they’ll show us how they want to play.

That’s really freeing. You have to give up some control for the kids to be able to do that. If everyone is safe in my learning space, they’re free to do whatever they want.

The other thing that parents have told me is that they couldn’t sing, or didn’t know any songs. So, it’s about increasing their repertoire and building up their confidence, and to let them know that with their voice, they have everything that they need.

Thanks, Julie!

You can find out more about Julie’s work at Sounds Like This.

Watch previous Playdate sessions here, and book a spot to join us Wednesdays at 10.30am in June to enjoy some musical learning with Julie.

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