Music Makes a Way

30 November 2018

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For 12 year old Armadale girl Anastacia Dawes life was a catastrophe. Much of her childhood had been spent managing diabetes, epilepsy, ADD and Tourette Syndrome. To top it off her mum was fighting cancer. She dreamed about studying singing at the WA Academy of Performing Arts but even getting to school was a challenge. It was hard  for Anastacia to talk about it, so instead she wrote a song.

“I’m livin’ a catastrophe, and life is gettin’ harder/I live it tough, everyday, it’s getting hard to see the other side…”

It is now 12 months later and Anastacia will be performing Catastrophe on Saturday night with the Perth Symphony Orchestra. It is a dream come true for the student from Challis Primary School and a direct result of the transformation that has taken place in the school since since the principal decided to introduce a music program.

Anastacia’s story came to light in the landmark ABC television documentary Don’t Stop the Music which screened in November. When conductor of the Perth Symphony Orchestra Jessica Gethin watched the documentary she was captivated by Anastacia’s singing.

Jessica Gethin meets Anastacia Dawes. Photo Belinda Sherry.

“Not only does she have an amazing voice and talent but the journey she’s had and the way she was able to translate that into music – she is a natural at it.”

At one particular moment in the documentary the Challis school choir visited WAAPA to hear Eneskis vocal ensemble perform. The camera caught the expression on Anastacia’s face when the ensemble started singing.

“There was this look wonderment on her face,” Gethin said. “I could see the experience was giving her hope and opportunity for her future. And it made me think we need to support her. It was an opportunity for all of us to see where things start and how important it is to nurture those beginnings so that people like Anastacia don’t fall through the cracks.”

Within two weeks the song had been arranged for orchestra by WAAPA students Corey Murphy and Callum O’Reilly and on Wednesday night Anastacia rehearsed the song with orchestra for the first time. Joining them on stage was Challis music teacher Simon Blanchard accompanying on guitar.

“I’ve gotta live my life to the full, and not be afraid to speak aloud” she sang from the stage. “I’m a girl ready to be me, it’s who I’m made to be.”

““It felt amazing,” Anastacia said afterwards. “I’ve loved singing since before I can remember and I am so lucky to have this opportunity.”

Anastacia Dawes with arrangers Corey Murphy and Callum O’Reilly, music teacher Simon Blanchard and Micheál McCarthy with Jessica Gethin rehearsing in the background. Photo Rosalind Appleby

In fact it was pure coincidence that Anastacia’s talent was discovered. Blanchard had been receiving coaching from WAAPA lecturer Micheál McCarthy who happened to overhear Anastacia singing. McCarthy organised an audition for her at a specialist music school.

“It was pure luck that I happened to hear her outside the music room that day,” McCarthy said. “If I hadn’t heard her that day she wouldn’t have featured in the documentary and she wouldn’t have got into Kelmscott Senior High School. I didn’t realise until I transcribed the song last week that the words were ‘Luck will arrive one day, maybe today’s the lucky day’.”

Anastacia Dawes. Photo Belinda Sherry

Anastacia’s mother Kelly Dawes  watched the rehearsal and said it was beyond her wildest dreams for her daughter.

“Anastacia’s confidence has gone up, she is more positive and relaxed and inspired. The impact on Challis Primary has been amazing. There are so many students from the school going into specialist music programs next year. Music should be in all the schools.”

Anastacia agrees. “Having music at school meant I was able to improve and singing in the choir meant I had to learn to work as a group. And when I sing in front of people it makes me calmer. Plus I met Micheál (McCarthy) and Guy Sebastian.”

Has her luck arrived?

“That moment has come. Mum hasn’t been in hospital for a long time. At school I have the best teachers and good friends. It is fun.”

Anastacia Dawes will perform Catastrophe with the Perth Symphony Orchestra Kwinana at the Tianqi Lithium Symphony Spectacular, on December 1. Don’t Stop the Music is an ABC documentary by Artemis Media available on iView.

Pictured top: Anastacia Dawes rehearses with the Perth Symphony Orchestra.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She was co-managing editor and founding board member of Seesaw Magazine 2018 – 2023, is author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine (UK). She loves park percussion instruments.

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