Bachelor of Creative Arts (Music), 1993
She was the glamorous opera singer. He was the dirty jazz boy. Together, they made beautiful music.
But when UOW alumna Tina Harris discusses her early career, she gives no hint of the great success she and husband Mark Harris would have as a band. A big, live band. Lah-Lah’s Big Live Band in fact.
“I studied at [the University of] Wollongong for three years, I did a Bachelor of Creative Arts, then auditioned for the opera school at the Conservatorium of Music,” she says. “I met my hubby Mark at the Con, he was a dirty Jazz boy and I was the glamorous opera singer, or that’s what I thought.”
Tina went on to study a Masters in Performance before joining Opera Australia and singing with the company for several years.
“I had the brilliant idea that we should pack up everything and move to Paris,” she says. “We stayed in Paris for seven months: me studying and auditioning and Mark playing at night in jazz clubs. We both drank too much red wine and ate way too much cheese but had a wonderful time.
“Having always had a love affair with Japan, we applied for jobs with NOVA, the big English teaching company in Tokyo and off we went.
“During this time, I worked a lot with pre-schoolers teaching English and a music class on the weekends. We came home to have our first daughter Lily after being in Japan for almost two years. When lily was about two years old, I was keen to start working again but didn’t want to go back to the opera company.
“A friend suggested I teach early childhood music so I went off and retrained and opened my first class. The class soon become a school and the school, became four schools. At the end of each term Mark would come in with his double bass and we’d put on a little show for the families. It was the families who said: `You guys are great, you should do a show’.
“So off we went, hired a venue, recorded a CD and put on the first Lah-Lah show.”
Since that first show, Lah-Lah’s Big Live Band has become a huge hit with pre-schoolers. The band’s television show, Lah-Lah’s Adventures, is now broadcast in Australia, the UK and Canada, and soon, kids in the US will be able to sing and dance along too.
The television show introduces children to music, using live action and animated scenery. The stories follow the adventures of Lah-Lah (Tina Harris) and her bandmates Buzz the Bandleader (Mark Harris) with Lola his dancing double bass, Mister Saxophone, Squeezy Sneesy and Tom Tom.
Tina lists her career highlights as playing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2016, doing five sold-out shows in the Melbourne Recital Centre, seeing Lah Lah’s television debut and travelling to Walpiri Country in the Northern Territory with World Vision.
But she says her most important role is teaching children to love music.
“Especially live music. On stage we have some of Australia’s best musicians in the field of world music, jazz music and classical,” she says. “Seeing music played live on stage with this amount of energy is amazing. But best of all after every show we come into the audience with all the musical instruments and invite the kids to touch and play the musical instruments.”
She speaks passionately about music education for all children.
“Music education is the most important thing,” she says. “We’ve just signed a very exciting partnership with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF). We discussed the need for easily understandable music resources for our infants and lower primary schools.
“One of the main issues in NSW and other states is that music is bundled in with `arts’ and often taught by a non-specialist teacher. This means music is seen as difficult subject to teach and there is little to no allotted time. It’s of no fault of the teachers, imagine being asked to teach chemistry if you’d never studied chemistry.
“The government needs to allow specialist training in subjects like music. The crazy thing is, research shows us how incredibly beneficial music is to our kids and not only helps them be better students in other subjects but makes them better people.”
As part of their work with the ACTF, educational elements from the Lah-Lah’s Adventures TV series will be combined with lesson plans and linked to the school syllabus in each state.
“We are incredibly excited about this and working with the ACTF, who have a clear vision and understanding of what is needed for our teachers and our kids,” Tina says. “If there was a miracle pill to make kids smarter, there would be a rush at the supermarket. Music makes kids happier, better students and better communicators and, yes, even better at sport. You don’t need a miracle pill.”
- Lah-Lah’s Big Live Band is touring Australia, starting with a show at University Hall, University of Wollongong on Saturday, 16 September. For more details visit: www.lah-lah.com/live-shows/