Premier Dan and the Two Man Play Doh Band
Our son Jack met Dan Andrews when the Premier and local MP Kat Theophanous visited his primary school. They talked rock n roll and Jack went in for a hug.
‘If any student wants to meet Premier Andrews, they should come up the front now,’ says Principal Jo Wheeler.
There’s a jubliant mood amongst the students and staff at Westgarth Primary School. After several years of unsuccsessful lobbying and portable classrooms spawning across play spaces as enrolment numbers soared, our local school was a big winner in the recent state budget with $12.97 million allocated to a new classroom building and competition grade gym.
‘I want to meet Dan',’ Jack says to his friend Frankie LeGassick. ‘We should meet Dan!’
Frankie is also keen to meet Premier Dan. She’s a beautiful kid, and almost from day one of prep, has done more to include Jack in the social life of the school than any other student. In earlier newsletter pieces I’ve talked about Jack’s sensory issues when it comes to footy sirens. Well this photo tells the story of Frankie’s qualities as a kid. She didn’t just invite Jack to the AFLW. She acted as siren muffler as well!
‘Hello Daniel!’ Jack shouts as Frankie pushes him to the front, and he finishes with an upward inflection that makes it both more and less formal than the occasion demands.
Jack won’t be at Westgarth Primary when the build is completed, but he is a fan of the Premier. The only bad word I’ve ever heard Jack utter against him is when Premier Andrews lifted lockdowns. ‘No! You tell Dan to do more lockdowns! I’m not going to school! I’m staying home with you and watching my iPad! You tell Dan! No lifting lockdowns! More lockdowns!’
Jack actually likes school —most of the time — and he’s particularly happy this afternoon. There’s a bit of a carnival atmosphere. The pandemic and daily televisions briefings have created a celebrity buzz around the Premier that spills over even into the primary school demographic. I think back to when I was Jack’s age and wonder if we’d have been whooping it up if Lindsay Thompon came to visit.
When it’s their turn for the meet and greet, Jack enters ‘interviewer’ mode.
‘Where do you work, Dan?’
The Premier explains that he works at Parliament House and that his office is there too.
Jack hones in. ‘But where is the actual location of your work?’
‘It’s at the top of the Melbourne CBD, next to the Treasury Gardens.’
‘My Gran works at the Treasury,’ Jack says.
This is true. Jack gran, Caroline Molesworth, works every Wednesday as the Fundraising Manager at Old Treasury. The Premier explains just how close Parliament House is to Jack’s gran’s work.
Jack marches on. ‘Do you have any brothers?’
‘No, I haven’t got any brothers but I have got a younger sister called Cynthia.’
It’s a point of pride, but also a little sadness for us that Jack is so comfortable talking to adults. By upper primary level, able-bodied kids move quickly, and in a mainstream school there are complicated games and social dynamics at play. Children with disabilities, and particularly children in wheelchairs, are often tethered to carers, aides, teachers. They get used to adult company. If they can talk, (and we’ve been so lucky on this front), they get good at it. The Frankies of the world are golden. I remember a parent-teacher interview with a lovely teacher named Kenji in the middle of Jack’s prep year. ‘Whatever other challenges Jack is dealing with,’ Kenji said, ‘He’s the only student who begins each week by asking me how my weekend was.’
But now Jack has finally handed over the conch. The Premier asks him what his favourite subject is.
‘Maths,’ Jack replies, without missing a beat. It’s an answer that would surprise anyone who has had anything to do with Jack’s schooling.
Principal Jo Wheeler knows where Jack’s true interests lie. ‘You really love music, don’t you, Jack?’ she suggests. ‘Why don’t you tell the Premier what you’re doing in music.’
Jack is obsessed by music, he listens to hundreds of ‘full shows’ from dozens of different artists every week, and despite poor eyesight, his audiographic memory is astonishing. He can tell from the pitch of an opening cheer whether Springsteen is playing in Boston or Philadelphia. He has incredible recall for lyrics, and reasonable singing pitch. His therapists always marvel at his ability to find a beat, despite spasticity in hands and arms. At various times, recently, his favourite artists have been Springsteen, Regurgitator, ACDC, Custard, Pokey LeFarge, Rage Against the Machine, Little Richard and Tenacious D. To give an example of his musical knowledge, the song ‘The Weight’ popped up on a playlist recently and Jack told his mum that it was by The Band.
Which band, Jack? Do you know the name?’
‘The Band! With Levon Helm. Who does singing and drums.’
Westgarth’s music teacher, Simon Lewis, stopped me in the playground the other day to tell me how impressive Jack is. ‘I’ve been in bands with adults who don’t hand over a solo as well as Jack!’ Simon is pretty amazing himself. He spotted Jack’s interest and talent when it came to music. He saw that physical limitations meant Jack struggles to coordinate fingers across keys or strings. So he sourced a Playtronica TouchMe digital device that turns the human body into a keyboard.
The TouchMe is a MIDI controller. The idea is to pre-program musical progressions, and then retrieve those notes by making skin contact with organic matter (the touch closes an electrical circuit). The sound tone then changes according to touch area and intensity.
In this video he made with Jack, Simon programmed a blues progression. The organic matter is Play Doh.
Jack has named their band The Two Man Play Doh Band. They have sights set on the opening to ‘Smoke on the Water’ by the end of the year.
That’s how Jack’s chat with the Premier wraps up. He tells Premier Dan about the Two Man Play Doh Band. The Premier listens, down on haunches, possibly following, possibly not, depending upon his knowledge of musical instruments fashioned from food. What he does learn is that the state education system has a great teacher in Simon Lewis.
When it’s time to say goodbye, Jack goes in for the hug. He likes Dan. Dan gave him quite a few lockdowns in which to watch endless rock videos. I like Dan too. Those lockdowns were hard, but they saved at least fifty thousand lives, and protected vulnerable people like our son, until they could be vaccinated.
After it’s over, Jo Wheeler sends us the photos. I thank her for including Jack in the special visit. She replies immediately:
It wasn’t us! He invited himself to the party! It was Jack who approached Dan and asked to talk to him rather than the other way round. He showed great initiative which made me feel so proud. He asked great questions, and Dan was really interested to hear how musical Jack is and what Simon has been doing with him. Jack gave him a hug … It was a beautiful interaction.
The Two Man Play Doh Band are available for bookings. Contact management.
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I interviewed Acting Director of Infectious Diseases at the Austin Health, Associate Professor Patrick Charles for my COVID Roulette podcast. He put the number at more than 60,000 lives saved by lockdowns in 2020-21.