Yamaha Music Education Celebrates 50 Years Today

To celebrate 50 years of Yamaha Music Education we have a letter from Ros Mcmillan who was YME’s very first teacher and taught the first lesson which was at 2:15pm on April 15, 1970. The picture above is of the class prior to the lesson.

Message from Ros:

It seems amazing that 50 years have passed since the very first Yamaha music class was held on 15 April 1970. Apart from anything else, it means that the children in Class 1 are all now 54 years old with the possibility that some of them are grandparents!

The Yamaha Music Foundation was initiated by Alan Rose, the Managing Director of Rose Music. The company was given the sole distribution rights to Yamaha products in Australia on the understanding that the educational arm of the company (the YMF) was established. It would have been a brave decision by Alan to set up music schools and I was approached to lead this initiative.

Firstly, I was sent to the USA. to be trained as a Yamaha teacher at the American headquarters in Downey, Los Angeles. There, with 15 other music teachers from around the country, we spent a week being taught the principles of the Yamaha Junior Music Course. When I returned to Melbourne, a search began for premises and I remember driving round the eastern suburbs with Alan looking at houses for rent. I was also told to find someone who could act as an administrator and rang Cheryl Small, a visual artist whom I knew was unemployed. Cheryl began the next day!

After visiting several rental properties we found a Victorian house at 15 Railway Parade, Camberwell that was rather dilapidated and desperately in need of a coat of paint. Cheryl's artistic abilities then came to the fore. The house was painted white, outside and in, and the front door was painted bright red. Cheryl was a friend of the late Kevin O'Neill, who ran a florist shop in South Yarra that has been described as the 'store that all Melbourne embraced'. Kevin made us stunning pots that contained a variety of artificial fruit and flowers in the popular colours of the 1970s - brilliant greens, reds and gold - that decorated the main passage and office desks. The whole building, with its honey gold carpeted rooms, was a stunning sight and perfect for a revolutionary music program.

The first class was held at 2.15pm, early in the afternoon because the children were only four years old and were still in kindergarten. They had been recruited through demonstrations that I gave in the homes of their parents, mostly personal contacts from my previous teaching position. Three classes were established in the first two weeks, after which the enrolments took off.

It was then necessary to find teachers and I trained three colleagues in the Yamaha system, Kenna George, the late Nehama Patkin and Maureen Mahon (then Ryan). A year later a school was established in Mount Waverly by Suttons Music with Betty Greenbaum as the head teacher. New schools were established in Caulfield, where Nehama became head teacher, and Templestowe with Paddy Broberg as head teacher. Enrolments grew fast, amongst them some of Australia's most eminent musicians today including the pianist Caroline Almonte and head of composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Professor Stuart Greenbaum.

The early days were exciting and great fun. The Yamaha Music Courses became THE place for young children to learn music along with their parents - mostly mothers during the week and fathers on Saturdays. Many brothers and sisters attended as well. However, they were there because the artistic Cheryl provided coloured pens and paper and the resultant drawings were pinned to a huge board in the office. Two famous Yamaha 'daddies' were Fred Williams and John Olsen, both of whom noted the creativity that abounded on the walls of Cheryl's office.

Those early days were memorable - exciting and fun.