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Musica Viva donor Dr Suzanne Packer AM on healing through music

Category: News & Views: Stories to Inspire

Long-time Musica Viva subscriber, donor – and 2019 Senior Australian of the Year – Dr Suzanne Packer AM is unequivocal. Music and music education should be available to every child. As a paediatrician who has worked for many years with disadvantaged children, she came to recognise the special place that music can play in helping children to heal. But the genesis of this passion for promoting the power of music started at an early age.

One of Sue’s earliest musical memories is of her mother comforting her young sister during an asthma attack by rocking her and singing Irving Berlin’s ‘I’ll Be Loving You Always’ until eventually her sister recovered. In this pre-television and pre-effective asthma treatment era, her mother’s piano-playing and singing were sources of security and reassurance during what was a modest upbringing. As Sue puts it: “music was there as part of life”.

Although she attended orchestral concerts as a young adult, music took a back seat in the early years of Sue’s illustrious and still ongoing career, which has seen her champion her personal philosophy that we need to consider “what we do WITH children, not FOR children”.

It took an invitation from close friends to attend the Huntington Music Festival for Sue’s love of chamber music to blossom. However, this flowering wasn’t without its challenges. Sue recounts: “I found the first year I went [to the festival] really very hard because I had never been steeped in so much music [however] working in child abuse is hard and traumatic, and going to Huntington was the most total break I had achieved.”

Hear Sue talk about her career and work to advocate for the rights of children.

Fast forward to 10 years ago, following the sudden death of husband and a European gardens tour, Sue decided, in spirit of adventurous experimentation, to turn her own garden over to children to foster their curiosity in much the same way that the vineyards of Mudgee had fostered hers.

Sue’s garden has evolved into veritable wonderland of opportunities for play and includes several robust musical instruments just waiting for children to explore and play. The garden hosts regular class excursions from the Early Learning Centre down the end of her street. This work, coupled with her annual donations to both the Smith Family and Musica Viva In Schools, has Sue convinced about what music equals to her today, reflecting: “More than anything my work has been with some of the most unfortunate children in Australia. Children who have been abused and neglected, who have had extremely disrupted lives, and if you’re looking for something that offers some continuity and reassurance, most children can be helped with music. This is a wonderful opportunity to explore ways of helping kids who don’t have music in their lives to realise that it can be a delight in their life and something they can develop.”

In relation to her financial support Sue realises that “big bits of money are the dream…, but every little bit helps. And if each one of us is doing a little bit, all these little bits are more helpful than waiting for the dream of a lot of money.”

If you wish to know more about Musica Viva In Schools and would like to support our efforts, please contact Lachlan Snow, Philanthropy Manager: [email protected] or 02 8394 6636.

Learn more about our #MusicEquals campaign and how you can get involved.