ACT News

Matthew Mitcham dives in to perform with Canberra schools in Music: Count Us In

Being sporty and musical may be an unusual mix, but striking a balance between two differing pursuits could be the secret to happiness, if Olympian and ukulele player Matthew Mitcham is anything to go by.

Mitcham and musician John Foreman sang with 850 enthusiastic school students at the Great Hall in Parliament House on Thursday.

In tune with children: Olympian Matthew Mitcham  joined North Ainslie Primary Students at the <i>Music: Count Us In</i> ...
In tune with children: Olympian Matthew Mitcham joined North Ainslie Primary Students at the Music: Count Us In event. Photo: Rohan Thomson

But thanks to a live stream of the eighth annual Music: Count Us In event they weren't the only ones.

Across Australia more than 500,000 students from more than 2100 schools were singing along to Paint You a Song – written by five high-school students including Emily Claxon from Eden High Marine School who sang along with the Canberra contingent. 

Striking a chord: Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham takes part in <i>Music: Count Us In</i>.
Striking a chord: Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham takes part in Music: Count Us InPhoto: Rohan Thomson

The day's message was simple: music is a vital part of education.

Although well-known as a gold-medal winning diver, Mitcham has also carved out a career on the cabaret circuit.

"I can safely say when I picked up the ukulele and started singing four years ago that it was so therapeutic and had such a profound effect on my self-esteem and on my mental health," he said.

"I just think it's one of those things you can have for the rest of your life."

Mitcham's love of music made it easy for him to get involved in the Music: Count Us In for the first time.

"I think it's an amazing opportunity to provide music education for every child in Australia," he said.

"[Music] is one of those things you can use as a very healthy escape mechanism when things get too tough.

"Even just the profound joy I get out of sitting in the car in traffic in Sydney and harmonising to songs on the radio."

In primary school Mitcham had a stint in the school choir but ended up focusing on sport.

"I think a lot of young boys miss out on getting into music just because of peer pressure," he said. 

"I put all my eggs in one basket with sport and I ended up feeling a bit stuck because I felt like I'd given everything else away, I felt like I didn't have any other options."

He retired from diving at 18, but says he returned to the sport after striking a life balance.

Foreman said unlike many students he was lucky to have a great music education at all the public schools he attended.

"Part of the reason behind Music: Count Us In is to raise the status of music in schools and to remind people of the value of music making," he said.

He said singing in a choir brought camaraderie, self-discipline and happiness for students.

Emily said working with the Cat Empire's Harry James Angus to help co-write the event's song was one of the best experiences of her life.

"It makes me so happy and enlightened that they [the students] enjoy it and I could be a part of it," she said.

She said music brought her confidence, enjoyment and helped her connect with other musiclovers.