Hand-in-Hand with Dr Susan West

Music in Communities Awards case study

Dr Susan West manages the Hand- in-Hand Program, the community outreach program of the Music Education Program of the Australian National University (ANU). Susan has over twenty-five years experience as a performer, teacher, composer and arranger and music education academic, with qualifications from universities in Victoria, Hungary, New South Wales, the ACT and New York. Her work in developing pre-tertiary music programs and post-graduate teacher training is at the cutting edge of music education. Her philosophy centres on the idea that music-making is our birthright and that the role of music education is simply to support the natural wish for musical involvement - a philosophy that led her to establish the Hand-in-Hand program at the ANU in 1998.

Susan West explains the Hand in Hand program on ABC Radio National's Life Matters


The ANU's Hand- in- Hand program trains teachers from participating primary and secondary schools to educate their students about music, so that they can then take their music out into the community. This outreach program aims to engage people in community music making, not to entertain them, in an active musical dialogue where both parties benefit through pure enjoyment and continuous learning. The program emphasises the positive influence of children's music in the lives of others in the community and the positive impact this musical interaction has on participants. There is a particular focus on involving this shared music making with those with specific disabilities and those in care facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

How does the Hand- in- Hand Program actually work?

We run a basic course for trained teachers, which includes 32 hours of training in a group. We then follow that up with one-on-one in- school support, which is tailored to the individual. Everyone comes into the course with different skillsets and different attitudes to music education, so the one-on-one training enables us to tailor the training to the person.

To date, the teachers have been recruited for the course through word of mouth and some promotion through educational networks. We will be trying some public advertising soon to throw the net out wider to the teaching community.

Once the teacher completes the course, they become MEP-trained teachers and can use the certification as part of their professional development pathway. They can then teach their students in the music education process, and pass on the willingness and the skills for the children themselves to become trainers.

The process is very much a partnership - we believe that you learn as much from your students as they do from you, and that when they take their music out into the community, they are partners with the community. Whether the participants are elderly people in nursing homes or children with special needs, they always contribute and give back in an active way. It's never a passive process of students performing for other people - they engage with people through music, which acts as a communications bridge.

How did it start?

We realised that our face to face music education teaching just wasn't reaching enough people. So we started to train the trainer, and train the trainer who would then train the trainer. After we started that process, it just exploded and we have been able to reach out to far more people than we originally thought possible. Since the program started in 2000, we have trained over 300 teachers in the ACT, NSW and Victoria who have, in turn, taught over 12,000 children.

How have you been funded?

We're lucky in that we receive core funding from the ACT through the ANU, as part of the School of music's contribution to the local community.

We did want to complement this though, so we've started to apply for funding through other sources, mostly philanthropic. We thought we would start small - for grants under $20k - and then if we were successful we would use those successes to apply for larger chunks of funding - for between $20k and $50k. So far, we have been successful in 50 per cent of the grants we've applied for, so our strategy is working. We are growing and also using those successful grants to use as evidence for further grantsĀ.

How do you know the program is working?

To determine the impact, to evaluate the program and to evolve it as it grows, we've worked with the ANU's Education Unit to formalise an evaluation structure. Since the inception of the program in 2000, all participants have been surveyed, so we have an enormous amount of data on the program that is awaiting funding to be fully analysed. What we have done, though, is act upon feedback as it has come in, so that we could shape and refine the program according to what the teachers and the students said they wanted. So the program has constantly evolved as a result of the feedback.

From this feedback and from case studies that we have developed, we know the program has a marked ability to re-engage classroom teachers with music making. Indications are that it has a significant impact on - at-risk' children with behavioural and/or physical difficulties.

Preliminary research undertaken at the ANU medical school also indicates that the program has a strong impact on nursing home residents, a finding supported by many anecdotal reports from nursing and recreational staff at the venues. Through work at the ACT Jervis Bay School, the program is now showing its impact on the Indigenous community, through shared music making between staff and students.

Ultimately we want to know about the impact of the program on the student's feelings of empathy and understanding of the community members they are making music with. This will be the aim of the more in-depth analysis of the data when we can secure funding to undertake it.

Where to now for the Hand-in-Hand Program?

Ideally, we'd like the Hand-in-Hand program to be run through the education system. We want to get into every primary school to help overcome teachers' barriers to teaching music, and to offer specialist training to older children who've taken part in Hand-in-Hand so that they can then become trainers themselves.

We're already trialling this concept through the Theatre Outreach Project (TOP), where high school students are working with primary school children in theatre, using the outreach model.

We'd also like to offer Hand-in-Hand to the corporate sector as a stress reduction and team building program, and are in discussions with a large ACT corporation about this. The relationship between leadership and music is another fascinating area - music can help create a leadership-free environment which can be very useful for team dynamics in the workplace.