They were our answer to the von Trapp family from The Sound of Music classic – seven children and their mother following their father with his work across the South Australian outback, collecting stones to make “roads” across sand dunes so he could get to the next station to sink a new dam.
And at night, they would sit around a camp fire and sing – there was nothing else to do.
These are among the fond childhood memories of Anne Todd (nee McMahon), of Middleton, whose incredible love for music and teaching modern and classical guitar has had magnificent impact on the lives of thousands of young and older people across the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Anne takes children for guitar lessons at schools across the region as well as 40 in her home studio. Her reward, she says, is watching her students of all ages enjoy the experience of discovering their ability.
Her commitment to others was reflected recently when Sam Miller, one of her students from Investigator College, passed his Grade 5 classical guitar exam with 90 per cent, which is a distinction. He was examined in Adelaide by the Australian Guild of Music.
Significantly, Anne has also been studying this year, a single study subject working towards her Diploma in Music through the Conservatorium at the University of Adelaide. “Music does not end,” she says of the need to continue learning to reach one’s full experience playing guitar.
Other students have also done extremely well leading to university and many other performing pathways, and no one would be more proud than her dad, Joe, who used to take his Hughes Family Singers around the state, often performing at charity events and making regular appearances on talent shows. Her sister, Mary-Lou, was only three when she first performed on television in the 70s.
Anne, who has been teaching the guitar for more than 30 years, is also a part-time schools’ services officer at Port Elliot Primary, helping children with special needs. “I really enjoy trying to make a difference in children’s lives,” she said. “I like to bring music into their life as much as possible because I think it is a great way of sometimes getting through to children.
“You can never quite tell when you start teaching somebody what talent they may have; it may be natural even if they have a learning difficulty. You are using a different part of their brain for music. If you find their ability the student can feel so good and perhaps do something that someone else may not. It is a pleasure to bring that out in people, but I am careful how much I do… learning has to be at their pace.
“With the students I teach through high school I try to use their music as a break from study; it does help you relax and learn so much more because of that. It can also be a great way to connect with others.
“It’s also about whatever level you want to learn music. I try to make sure students have the ability to read music. Some can blossom as they grow; for me too. Music is something that you can pick up and take to another level when you feel you are ready.
“It has taken hundreds of years to develop music, but the acoustic guitar, whether it is steel or nylon string, is just raw music, and it is then up to the performer to bring out the qualities of that instrument. Just tinkling away on that instrument has a very calming effect for those who play and listen; it brings out the best in most people.
“Everybody is on a journey for themselves, and they need to discover what they like.”
Despite tremendous success as a singer-songwriter, indeed widespread acknowledgement as a teacher, Anne feels she is still on her own journey through music. It has taken her to Sydney Summer Guitar Schools over the past six years, and in July to Guitar France in Bagnole de L’orne, a village in southern Normandy, for advanced players.
“It was a week of guitar playing ensemble and solo playing… lots of opportunities to perform,” Anne said. “It is really part of my pathway to perform more in a concert way.”
It followed what was probably the performance of her life, playing classic guitar and singing in a quaint, yet magnificent cathedral in Leicester, England. Sadly, her father died two years ago from mesothelioma, and she was asked by a family member, a global leader in research and awareness programs for this dreadful asbestos disease, to represent families of other victims.
Anne performed the song that she wrote for her dad, Remember Who You Are. It brought a new meaning to George Harrison’s classic Beatles’ hit While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
“Yes, it was emotional,” Anne said. “The guitar brings out everything in everyone.”