Like many impending empty-nesters, Janelle Dougherty wasn’t sure what she would do with herself once her last child had left home. Today, 2 years later, with over 150 students, her music business has been shortlisted for Best New Business and she has been elected to the NZ / Australia board of Kindermusik. Whoever said music can’t turn your life, and those of others, around?
> Looking at career options can be a very daunting and intimidating task for women when their children leave home. How did you approach it?
I had been – slightly anxiously – looking for something to ‘fill my empty nest’. So when my father rang me after reading an article in his local paper about Kindermusik, I decided to look into it. I’ve always loved children and music, and from my first phone call to the Kindermusik head office, I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and take a risk.
The hardest part was the online course, as it had been a long time since I’d studied. There were regular online sessions with other trainees and a mentor, and as I had never been in a chat room in my life, I certainly found it intense! My final hurdle, singing over the phone to my assessor, was probably one of the scariest things I’ve done. But teaching Kindermusik has ended up being the perfect career choice for me. It’s a really well researched program whose emphasis is on reaching children all over the world through the gift of music, by making it fun.
> How has your business evolved since those first early days?
In the beginning, I hired halls, worked out of preschools and spent a lot of time in my car. I had some classes with only two children in them, but I never gave up. In 2009 I took the ultimate leap of faith after another insightful conversation with my dad and opened my studio in Tuncurry’s main street. It gave me the base I needed, but it has also allowed me to try a few other things.
After teaching the piano for so many years, I was beginning to feel like we were turning children off music with the ‘scales and theory’ method. So, inspired by the Kindermusik ethos, I devised my own small group of keyboard classes, where the children learn to read music, play keyboard but also develop their ears, pitch and rhythm … and most importantly, have fun. These have proven very successful – it’s like a team sport in a musical environment!
Last term I also had the opportunity to start a children’s choir. This time I was motivated by my mother, who has dementia and is in an aged care facility in Griffith. One of her happiest times is when the children go and sing to the residents, so I wanted to try to get a group together to hopefully bring some joy to someone else’s mum. I don’t audition children for it – I believe everyone should be given the opportunity to sing in a group, if they want to. We just did our first performance in December – I was so proud!
> What sorts of things do you see develop in the children through the music?
It’s proven that children who are exposed to good quality music programs from the beginning do better at school. I’ve seen first hand how children develop skills like sharing, listening, respect, self control … Music switches on the brain like nothing else. I’ve seen teenagers who use their music to help them through difficult times – and without music, what would they use? Music is good for the soul!
When you hear a particular piece of music, it can bring out particular emotions, and children are the same. Teaching music has given me so many memorable moments, and I think one of the most special things is seeing parents interacting with their children in the younger classes. I believe that kids don’t need ‘stuff’ – they need time, and they need you! I think my parents would say that ‘quiet time’, where they just have a cuddle with their child to some music, is their favourite part – and why not teach our children that sometimes it’s OK to do nothing? We live in a crazily paced world in which our children grow up way too fast, and you never get this special time back.
> Have you been surprised at how much you personally have got out of the music classes, as well as the children?
Apart from marrying my fantastic husband and having my own three beautiful children, opening my studio has been the best thing I’ve ever done. Sadly, I lost my dad last year, and it was my business that kept me going. My musical families have become a part of my life, and I’m in a truly wonderful place.
Sometimes I feel a little guilty that I have such a great job. The daily joy I receive in so many ways is personally very rewarding. The littlies give lots of kisses and cuddles, the older ones write lots of notes, and the mums and dads are all very committed, fabulous parents.
> Are you ever too old or too young to learn music?
No, never! If my own mum hadn’t given me the gift of music, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My mum, suffering from dementia, is greatly comforted by music. My youngest student is 8 weeks, and my oldest is 18-years-old. Music – there’s nothing better, at any age!
> Interview by Rebecca Casson.