APATA – The Australian Performing Arts Teachers Association

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APATA Member Spotlight: Nazareth Catholic College

Posted by Team APATA & Jessica Joyce | Mar 23, 2023

Shining a spotlight on APATA Member: Nazareth Catholic Community, South Australia

We caught up with Nazareth’s R – 12 Director of Music, Jessica Joyce to chat about the school’s Arts programs, how the faculty works to create performance opportunities and building a place where everyone finds their tribe, teachers included!

Hi Jessica, tell us about the Nazareth Catholic Community.

Nazareth’s College is a young R-12 community, which has slowly developed its Arts program, particularly over the last 10 years. We now have programs in all Arts forms, with our nationally high-achieving aerobics teams, music ensembles and vocal groups. We’re starting to build a culture where Parents are selecting Nazareth as a school for their children in order to be involved in these programs, however, it has taken significant time and work from a dedicated team of staff.

What kind of programs do you offer from primary through to grade 12?

As Director of Music, I firmly believe that musical education is for every child. I have been inspired by the work of Dr Anita Collins, and her research on music and the impact on child development. This has formed a strong foundation for the development of our comprehensive music program which spans from R-12.

This is made up of a year three and four string program, year five specialist brass and woodwind program where all students learn an instrument free of charge, and significant curriculum and co-curricular opportunities at both campuses. The commencement of the band program 10 years ago has enabled us to build our big band and jazz program at the high school. We also hold a year six production every year. We now have three big bands at the high school, three concert bands spanning from 40-70 students, 8 choral ensembles, string ensembles, 12 rock bands and much more! The ensembles specialise in a variety of styles including classical, jazz, contemporary and popular music. We have a particularly strong jazz program with students annually competing in the National Generations in Jazz festival.

We have a strong belief that your best teachers should be able to teach any year level, and for this reason, I work one day a week at our Findon (Primary) Campus to ensure that this program is also fostered and well-resourced, in addition to building relationships with younger students in preparation for their transition to high school.

There are several very large musical and arts performances annually at the College with the Cabaret event being the largest involving over 700 students. Our primary campus has participated in Wakakirri several times and been very successful under the direction of Daniela Zagari. Of late, our students continue to take part in the ABODA band festival, Catholic Schools Music Festival, amongst a myriad of other events and in-house performances. We value the need for students to engaging in something tangible to work towards. Covid challenged us, so we’ve had to be creative about coming up with alternative solutions to concerts and events, however we have managed to maintain our numbers, and even experience growth. Last year during COVID times, we completed a Riverland tour with Christian Brothers College. It was great to bring music to those communities impacted by flooding and creatively work together with another Catholic school to bring joy to other communities through Music.

Nazareth also have two staff members who share the role R-12 Performing Arts coordinator, and it is their responsibility to structure the Dance/Drama co-curricular and curricular programs. In 2023, this will also involve a Secondary Musical, Grease, which is the first Musical our school has produced.

Some specialist and unique groups to Nazareth include our Inclusive Ed choir which I coordinate for students who perhaps are unable to engage with the mainstream choir and may have significant learning needs. We’ve collaborated with a local special education school, Our Lady of La Vang, and we work together on live concerts and the families absolutely love it.

Last year we commenced a new curriculum offering, a Certificate III in Music catering towards students who may not be academically and theoretically advanced but love the practical and performance aspect of Music. It is run by Collarts from Melbourne and has been a fantastic way of engaging more students in the curriculum, enabling inclusivity for all.

Another unique element of the Nazareth Music program is the offering of Music Technology as an elective subject from Yrs 8-12. This caters to students who want to compose, record, and learn how to make music on a computer as opposed to playing an instrument. Every year the Music department complete a lengthy review progress and continue to develop more options, engaging with new technologies in a modern approach to Musical education.

Speaking of audiences you have a performance evening coming up on the 28th of March for grades 7 to 12.

Yes, this is our Stage 2 Performance Assessment evening which occurs each term. The main purpose is for the Year 12s to complete a summative SACE curriculum assessment. The performance is videoed and with a live audience, where students can experience a professional performance setting including lighting, sound, and a live backing band utilising professional company, staff members, and the students. It’s quite a high calibre performance evening. We could just do it in the classroom, but I think the real experience of performing live is much more valid and again encourages the Year twelves to work even harder because their families are there. It has resulted in some outstanding year 12 Music results, with one of our students receiving a Merit for Stage 2 Music last year.

Let’s hear a little bit about you Jessica, how did you get started in the performing arts and what has been your journey?

I’m Adelaide born and bred. I went to a little school called Temple Christian College, Mile End, and interestingly, one of the reasons I wanted to become a music teacher was because the music department I experienced at school was quite small and lacked a lot of opportunities. My goal was to become a music teacher and ensure the students I teach were able to experience these opportunities.

In addition, my mum was a teacher and I’d always studied an instrument. I’m one of four girls and we all started on piano. I continued with piano moved on to flute, saxophone and other instruments later down the track. But I wanted to do something with that and not let go of the enormous number of hours that had made me the musician I was at the conclusion of year 12. I thought I’d just combine the music and teaching. I also love working with kids, so I became a music teacher. I wanted to help provide opportunities and let others experience what I had experienced with music. It changed me and let me express myself. I would always go to the piano in moments of stress and still do today.  I wanted others to experience that and manage and express emotions through creating music and other arts as well. In addition, I wanted to provide a safe environment where students could find their safe place. I was always a bit of a shy student, but I found a home and a place in the music department, and I think that’s the case for a lot of Arts students. They might not be shy necessarily, but they find a home and a place here, where they’re safe and they’re encouraged to pursue these amazing skills and talents that they have.

Who were your mentors and teachers growing up? 

My mum was my inspiration in terms of the teaching side of things, but also, she stopped working when she had all of us. So, she became our teacher essentially. She was excellent at that. My first piano teacher, Angela Fox I had for years until Year 11. My next teacher, Diana Weeks, was a university lecturer when I was in year eleven, and she was the epitome of tough love. Initially I wanted to quit, but she really helped me grow into a much more musical Pianist. It was what I needed for my musical journey to continue, and we ended up good friends. Diana helped me build resilience, which I believe is a wonderful skill that the Music and Arts discipline teaches. The audition space is a tough world where anyone can easily fall into the comparison trap. You’ve got to be quite mentally strong and be willing to put yourself out there. You might not be successful all the time. For a perfectionist like me that was something that I wasn’t good at. Moving to a new teacher helped me build resilience and confidence, and I now see the same skills being developed in the students I am currently working with.

In addition, I have been blessed with some incredible mentors’ post university. One of them, Michael Degenhart, was the first person to give me a job. Michael still remains a good friend of mine today and has developed a thriving Music department at Westminster College. Here I was able to witness a world-class program operating and this was vital in enabling me to model my future programs and seek advice when needed. David Longden is another of my mentors, who is an extremely generous man and runs his own Instrumental hire business. He provided Nazareth free Instrumental hire for half a year to get our program underway. He also still to this day will often come in to our College and take extra rehearsals, all voluntary, as he believes so strongly in the power of Musical education. As mentioned before, I feel extremely blessed to have found myself in a position where I have been able to work with such highly skilled and passionate musicians and educators, and without them, I am positive that Nazareth would not have the program it does today.

In one of my first teaching positions, I was the only music teacher, building a program from nothing. Many years later, now at Nazareth, we have a lovely team of people that I get to work with, we’re really blessed. But I do know what it’s like to be on the other end. As just one person trying to do everything for all year levels and all ages. This is why I strongly value being involved in associations such as this and always continuing to learn. We expect students to learn, so we should be learning too. That’s why at Nazareth we aim to keep up with technology and where society is headed and provide the most outstanding and relevant programs we can for our students.

Sounds like you’re in a good space.

Definitely. I think student voice is a big part of the program. Listening to the students and learning what they are engaging with, and what they want to know. In addition, listening to the staff is vital. The team is a fundamental aspect of how we operate here at Nazareth. As a team, we have equal say in what goes on, and I really value that, and I think that’s helped us create a strong environment at Nazareth. We’re all here for the same purpose, to grow these faculties, to support staff, and to advocate.

What do you love about what you do?

I love making music together with staff and students. The joy that you see on students’ (and audience members’) faces when you make music, it just transcends, and nothing can compare with that. In addition, supporting students in those formative years to find their place within the department empowers me to want to continue, even on those hard days.

I also love the challenges. As Arts people we’re very creative. We like overcoming, finding solutions, and creatively designing and coming up with shows and concepts. I love the freedom of not just writing and doing a test. It’s a fun and different day-to-day life. You never know what’s going to happen. I think we’re very blessed to be doing what we do.

What are some top tips that you would give to those contemplating a career in the Arts or teaching?


  1. Firstly, I’d say do it because it’s fantastic.
  2. I would say surround yourself with good mentors who can support you along the journey. I’m very lucky to have a couple of very good mentors, not necessarily associated within the school, but very experienced music educators who have worked for many years in the industry, they have been an incredible support to me.
  3. Use your resources and connectyourself with associations and mentors that can help you because, no one knows everything.
  4. Be willing to do lots of work and always continue learning. You’ve got to be willing to put in the time, especially while you’re young.
  5. Also, advocacy. I think advocacy is probably the biggest challenge for the Performing Arts in general, not just with students, but with everyone. We’re always educating. We’re educating the parents. We’re educating the school leadership, even educating government. It’s a big thing and a big part of what we do as Arts Departments.

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