Learn music at home with Pat Brearly, Artistic Director of the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium

I was the child who wanted to play every instrument under the sun. My longsuffering parents agreed to let me try the piano, violin, flute, trumpet, drums and even the harp. I approached each new endeavour with excitement, optimism and grand visions of my inevitable success… which usually lasted two or three months, give or take. I really wish I had stuck with just one of those instruments instead of giving up when I wasn’t reaping immediate rewards. Perhaps if I’d known the immeasurable benefits, I would have pressed on.   

One man who most certainly did not give up is the Artistic Director of the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium, Pat Brearley. Pat was raised in the southern highlands of New South Wales and has fond memories of learning to play the violin and piano at a young age. He says his parents could see how beneficial a musical education was.

Learning music has always provided me with a critical and constructive thinking and learning process,” Pat explains.

“Learning music has always provided me with a critical and constructive thinking and learning process,” Pat explains. “I didn’t always love that process, but I really enjoyed the opportunities, especially the social side of it once I joined ensembles.”

The benefits of music education

Neuroscientists have discovered that playing a musical instrument is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout. Research shows it engages practically every area of the brain at once. There’s a wealth of scientific evidence that links childhood music education to the development of speaking and reading skills, concentration and even empathy. Plus, it helps adults retain brain function into older age. Pat reminds me that learning music is also lots of fun. 

“It’s certainly challenging at times but overcoming those learning challenges and playing music has to be one of the most rewarding moments as a student,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how old you might be, there’s always something to learn and it’s never too late to start.”

Ukelele enthusiasts embracing the Uko Ono community through their passion for music. Photo by Elize Strydom
Ukelele enthusiasts embracing the Uko Ono community through their passion for music. Photo by Elize Strydom

Music has dominated Pat’s life and taken him all over the world. After high school, he left the tiny town of Wingello and moved to Hobart where he gained a Bachelor of Music. He won the Manchester Fellowship with the Auckland Philharmonia and worked in New Zealand. Pat successfully auditioned for the National Academy of Music and performed orchestral and chamber music across Australia and Europe.

So how did he find himself in Coffs Harbour?

“This is a question I get asked a lot!” he laughs. “I’ve had some incredible experiences in both my student and professional life, but I’ve always found myself gravitating to the regional areas of Australia.”

Pat enjoys exploring the Victorian high country and going on multi-day hikes to ‘reset’. When going through a rough patch in 2016, his mind returned to the happy memories of these experiences in nature.

“I decided it was time for a change, so I looked for some opportunities as a musician outside the big cities…enter Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium!”

Pat says he couldn’t be happier in his role as Artistic Director. He relishes the opportunity to provide music education for all ages while still being able to perform regularly for the greater Coffs coast community.

Learn music with the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium
One of the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium’s students. Photo supplied by Pat Brearley

A new way to learn music

Due to the spread of COVID-19 and the importance of social distancing, the Coffs Con recently made the difficult decision to cancel its entire ensemble program and move all single study lessons online. Pat says one of the best parts of his job is hearing the buzz of students coming together to create music, so he’s finding the current situation disheartening. But existing students are receiving their lessons online and Pat says they’ve taken to the new delivery model with enthusiasm.

“We’ve set up our studios with audio and visual equipment to enable these lessons and it’s comforting to know it’s being well received,” he explains. “I’m also in the process of organising an online concert series, so be sure to keep an eye on our website and social media pages for information about that!”

Now is the perfect time

If you’ve ever considered learning an instrument or want to pick up the one you left on the shelf when you were 12, now appears to be the perfect time. The Coffs Con is offering online one-on-one lessons for new students of all ages. Teaching is tailored to each student’s musical experience level as well as their learning style. Why not make the most of your downtime at home by giving your brain a workout and gaining a pleasurable lifelong skill at the same time?    

For more information about the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium and online lesson delivery, visit the website or call 6652 1592. Additionally, you can follow the Coffs Con on Instagram and Facebook.

Read our story about the humble instrument bringing joy to hundreds of North Coast music lovers.