By Nick Clothier
Creative Waikato, Creative Education Specialist
Even though every Creative in Schools project is different, three things are always part of a successful one; an enthusiastic and results-focused teacher; a creative with skill, talent and a rapport with young people; and a number of motivated and inspired learners. Mercury Bay Area School’s (MBAS) Creative in Schools programme possesses all of these qualities and more.
MBAS is situated on the outskirts of the Whitianga CBD and is the largest area school in the country, with a roll of over 1,000 students. They cater to the full range of pre-tertiary learners, with students from new entrants to year 13.
Recently, I caught up with ‘The Daves,’ the powerhouse duo behind MBAS’s Creatives in Schools programme – Dave Mulholland (Dave M) being the Head of Music at MBAS, and Dave Rhodes (Dave R), who is the spearhead of the programme.
The programme, developed by ‘The Daves,’ focuses on students bringing embryonic ideas into the studio, where Dave R will record a rough demo for the kids to take away to hone and develop in their own time. Dave R will assist them in the development of their ideas until they eventually create a polished, radio-ready song, which is included on an album.
Talking to Dave M, I was struck by just how passionate he is about the musical life of his school and his enthusiasm about the Creatives in Schools Programme. He operates the music department with an open-door, trust-based philosophy which sees the students utilising facilities in their own time, as well as during their assigned classes.
He is a proponent of student-led learning and this approach is working – if the amount of kids in his music room at lunch time is anything to go by. He sees the Creatives in Schools Programme as a many-benefited undertaking. Perhaps shown most clearly by the fact that they have extended the school’s involvement for a second year – and this year, they have adjusted the kaupapa slightly, based on student feedback. They are concentrating on songwriting with Dave R providing the majority of the production.
Dave M sees the programme as providing positive wellbeing, vocational and educational outcomes. Working on their own music sees the students delve into their self-expressive capabilities and provides opportunities to engage with whānau, friends and their environment. While there are opportunities for the students to gain all-important credits for NCEA from their work on the album, using slightly adjusted achievement standards from TKI, this is only part of the impact that the Creatives in Schools Programme brings to the students.
Dave R is there to teach the students practical skills – from how to tune instruments to the actual act of music production. Whatever the students want to learn, he’s there to help them. He troubleshoots the entire process from conception to completion.
Dave R is a past student of MBAS and a freelance music producer in Whitianga. Across his 25 year career, he has worked with a wide range of artists, including Blindspott, Devilskin, The Warratahs, and many others. He produced Blindspott’s first few singles and received an Engineer of the Year award for his work on their first album.
As an interesting side note, Dave R gained his passion for music from watching his father, Alan, a founding member of the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, perform. There is so much richness in this story – but perhaps a story for another time.
Dave R finds the experience of mentoring the students incredibly rewarding despite initial misgivings. He was concerned about how he would be building a rapport with the kids (unfounded as it turns out – his easy manner and listening ear has built strong connections with the participants). He is thriving on finding ways for the students to find their voices through music.
When asked what the work is like he responds, “I don’t know what work is”. He is obviously in his element – and the students sense that.
‘The Daves’ had an existing relationship in the Whitianga music community. Dave M saw the Creatives in Schools programme as an opportunity to, “support community Creatives” in a financial way while bringing golden opportunities to the students. One of the main benefits of having Dave R helping the kids is that they are interacting with someone who has, inspiringly, carved a career in the music industry. This opens vistas for the students to imagine themselves emulating his success.
I had the privilege to watch Dave R work with the kids in the studio – first up a group of three young men. I watched while Dave R recorded guitar, bass and vocal parts for the group. It was guitar driven, full of feeling and ready for them to tell their story to the world, and this programme gives them an avenue to tell those stories with the support of a professional.
Next in was Francie Lidgard – a confident and poised young person with a deep maturity, both in her bearing and in her music. I could imagine her being the Minister of Culture and Heritage in one of the cooler Scandinavian countries, Finland maybe. But as soon as she started singing, I decided that politics would be a huge waste of her talent.
Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she sang through five self-composed songs. One of which she had a dream about the previous night and wrote hours before flawlessly performing it for Dave R to produce.
Speaking with her afterward, she expressed gratitude for the opportunity that the Creatives in Schools Programme brought her. Her song ‘You’re the One Who’s Doing That’ featured on South Highway last year and this year she is honing the skills that she developed during that process of writing and producing.
“It’s great to have someone listen to your ideas and cooperate in making them better.”
For Francie, it’s exciting to have someone convince her that she is a ‘worthy artist’ and that there is a real possibility of creating a career for herself in the music industry.
“It’s kind of like a positive spiral effect. The support makes you able to keep pushing yourself upwards”.
Listen out for Francie. I predict that you will be hearing from her soon.
MBAS is hitting all of the right notes (sorry – couldn’t resist) through the Creatives in Schools Programme. The students are engaged in learning that is ‘real world’ and focused on self-expression and wellbeing – all while stacking up NCEA credits. MBAS music department is augmenting its already brilliant programme with experiences that are building on sound pedagogical theory and honouring the emotional inner worlds of their Ākonga. All while utilising a ‘Community Creative’ who can share their wisdom and professional experience while receiving appropriate financial recognition for their skills.
That is the beauty of Creatives in Schools. The myriad of benefits. It was a privilege to visit Mercury Bay Area School and see the amazing impacts that the programme can bring to bear when it’s initiated by dedicated and passionate professionals.
You can find South Highway – last year’s finished product here
Is this an opportunity that is calling to you as a creative and/or as a school? Good news!
Applications are open June 16th 2023 for projects running in 2024. Check out all the details here.