You can cry your heart out

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Rhonda Dredge

As the city emerges from the world’s longest lockdown, it’s a miracle that there are still songwriters with a trace of optimism and students keen to learn the art of putting thoughts and feelings to music.

“People say things. I’m attracted to the words,” said Andrew McSweeney, who runs a music school in the back lanes of North Melbourne.

When Andrew was in Murwillumbah to the north between lockdowns the words were hopeful.

He recorded a song with his daughter in the kitchen of their house Life is Beautiful and uploaded it on YouTube. It was a romantic moment capturing the magic of the place.

But after rushing back to Melbourne when the borders closed and witnessing some desperate behavior on the road, he was more attuned to a silent protest.

“I’m going to wait under the shade of a tree and watch the passing parade go by. I think half the world has gone mad. I don’t know what half.”

Andrew is not alone in bearing scars from the pandemic and is encouraging other songwriters to find the words to describe them.

The School of Living Music in Little Baillie St never closed during the pandemic, teaching students over Zoom, right from the beginning in March 2020.

“It’s interactive,” Andrew said of online teaching, which has some advantages. “Kids are practicing more. Sight-reading has improved.”

But he said there were some challenges with the sound, particularly bass. “It didn’t like the bottom-end frequency.”

The school dropped a third of its students but they are now seeing a return. At 4pm after their school day finishes, students are once again rocking up to the door for their lessons.

Living Music is not exactly the School of Rock and Andrew doesn’t have Jack Black’s shock of hair but students can get together in bands, as well as learn instruments.

There are recording studios, voice booths, a wall of guitars to choose from, lessons in violin, guitar, piano, drums, saxophone, singing and hip hop plus a wealth of teaching experience.

Life is not all sweet and light, even if tuneful voices give that impression. Andrew also runs retreats for men and recorded an EP based on the experience called Hiding in Plain Sight.

It will take some time for the sorrows of the pandemic to work their way out into the music culture. In the meantime, Andrew keeps on writing.

“I can’t stop writing songs,” he said. “I’m letting go of needing to have a vehicle or purpose.”

The songs arise out of everyday life, express the moment plus reach out to those in trouble.

“When I was away, my daughter came to stay at our house. She needed some space. It’s a place to let go. Go there. There’s no one there. You can cry your heart out.” •

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