Music runs through Jan Sheehan's veins

TICKLING THE IVORIES: Jan Sheehan plays piano with husband Tony by her side.
TICKLING THE IVORIES: Jan Sheehan plays piano with husband Tony by her side.

Jan Sheehan has lived in Victor Harbor for 17 years and if she is playing, teaching or listening to music she is very content.

Along with her husband Tony, Jan is a valuable volunteer in the community, working at the Victor Harbor Visitor Information Centre for 15 years and formerly at the South Australian Whale Centre.

The pair love espousing the magic of Victor Harbor. Tony is a member of the Rotary Club of Victor Harbor and Jan is a member and past president of the Zonta Club of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

But it is music that Jan loves and after 56 years of being heavily involved, she believes it is time to have a rest, as she says goodbye to her final two music students.

“It has been a long journey and one I have loved,” Jan said. 

Jan studied at Adelaide Teachers’ College and the University of Adelaide. Her first teaching appointment was in 1958 with a class of 53 grade four boys at a Port Pirie primary school. She later worked at Risdon Park Primary School.

“For me teaching is a vocation, not just a job,” Jan said.

“My major influences in both music and personal development began with my parents Steve and Ena Reid.

Mum was my first piano teacher, and also well respected teacher in Adelaide for more than 50 years Dorothy McGregor, who became a member of the of the Music Teachers’ Association of SA.”

In 1961, Jan transferred to Adelaide for further piano studies at Elder Conservatorium under Clements Leske, prior to a transfer to Renmark from 1962 to 1978.

“You were not just a primary school teacher; you volunteered your time in netball coaching, umpiring, conducting school choirs successfully in Eisteddfod competitions and choral festivals and it also extended to adult choirs as singer and musical director and conductor,” Jan remembers.

Jan was also an integral part and continues to be, involved in church choirs and as an organist.

“Music involvement as a private teacher was a much needed request in country areas as was violin tuition, so I was able to prepare students for exams in piano theory for the Australian Music Examinations Board,” she said.

“In the mid 1970s four special interest music schools were established to provide music tuition for students up to year 12 level in brass, woodwind and percussion, so I applied for a position with The Music Branch to establish a ‘group teaching program’ in piano, for Riverland schools. 

“This support gave birth to the Riverland Schools Concert Band, which is still active today. 

“I was able to support this band in a practical way, as I had oboe as a second instrument with lessons with Rosemary Stinson and Peter Webb when in Adelaide and also as accompanist for Year 12 practical exams and often for audition purposes for students entering tertiary music courses.”

This continued until Tony and Jan moved to Victor Harbor in 1998, where Jan was able to do relief teaching in south coast schools and assist in the Goolwa Concert Band and South Coast Choral & Arts Choir. She also established the U3A South Coast Singers, which continued for nearly 10 years until an accompanist was not able to replace Milton Smith when he retired. 

“During this time I participated for many years in the Australian Choral Conducting, Education and Training  (ACCET) workshops choral conducting in Melbourne, networking with musical directors nationally and with international presenters and tutors,” Jan said.

“In the last two years the Granite Community Band - under the direction of Brenton Osborne - is opening  doors for musicians of all ages to rehearse and perform on their chosen instruments on a regular basis.

“Now that I am stepping back from formal teaching, my focus is on mentoring students and teachers who wish to set up in country areas so that music remains fun and accessible to all as a leisure or professional pursuit.”

Highlights for Jan were the annual piano recitals for parents at her home in the riverland, as this gave students performance experience in solo, duets and ensembles to develop confidence, discipline and self-reliance.

“A recital in the Chaffey Theatre in Renmark marked 25 years in 1992, while further recitals at our home in Victor Harbor continued to embrace guest artists, as well as presentations of Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) exam certificates to successful students,” Jan said. 

Jan has seen the changes to instruments over the years such as the use of acoustic pianos needing regular tuning to more digital instruments with weighted keys and less dependence on piano tuners in country areas.

Also, the use of computers for teaching material and online theory exams make hard copy exams “a thing of the past”. 

Jan’s final two students finished last year and like all her pupils over the past 56 years, she is proud of what they will achieve now and into the future.

“Daniel Czarnecki and Lilly Alexander finished in 2014 with Daniel now doing well with trumpet exams and playing in the Granite Community Band and the Victor Harbor City Band, while Lilly will move to year seven at St Peter’s Girls School in Adelaide where her music and dance opportunities will be part of her forthcoming International Baccalaureate program,” she said. 

“I could not have done what I have done without the support of all the parents and students who have entrusted me with teaching and being involved in music since 1958 and I must thank the media, in particular The Times and the Murray Pioneer in running articles, reviews and publicity to keep music in country areas alive.”

It is impossible to think Jan Sheehan owes thanks anywhere, as there is no doubt there is a legion of followers that are indebted to Jan for being there for them with her professional advice and passion for music.

It has rubbed off and will be relived for generations to come. Now Tony and Jan can continue their community volunteer work in their own quiet way, as both are jewels in the Victor Harbor crown.