Growing up in a non-musical family, he started violin lessons at 12 prompted by a chance meeting with a French violinist who volunteered lessons at his school.
He is now a renowned Australian conductor and ABC radio presenter.
Some would say that musical intelligence is hereditary, but in Graham Abbott’s case it has been cultivated through the nurture of educators, coupled with his own initiative to study music history.
So what does this mean for music education? Teachers have a chance to identify talent in students, and nurture it.
While these chances may seem trivial to the educator, to the novice they can be life changing. Such is the case with Abbott.
In a presentation to the Association of Heads of Music in Non-Government Schools (AHOMINGS), Abbott paid tribute to the mentors who encouraged his artistry, ultimately leading him to pursue a successful music career.
Naturally, music educators wanted advice from an accomplished musician and former teacher.
During question time, Abbott acknowledged the challenge of teaching from an extensive canon while still being relevant to living culture.
He advised that teachers should find music that is suitable for their students, and also fits their own definition of good music.
The modern music teacher is sufficiently challenged by balancing subject knowledge, multi-instrumental ability, and technology, whilst keeping up with the latest music news to engage students.
Despite this, it is incumbent upon educators to expose students to music that they would not normally access themselves.
Abbott recommended teaching students about Beethoven and Monteverdi, citing their multi-generational influences in music history.
Without invalidating students’ present connections, teachers should grant access to resources that the students know nothing about.
One of Abbott’s tips for engaging music students was to focus on specific music elements such as rhythm and cadences, and have students explore the result of changes in time signature, tempo, and chords.
Abbott once used music by Seal and Annie Lennox, whom many students would not know, to highlight these elements.
To the present generation of students, The Beatles may as well be synonymous with classical music.
By means of digital platforms, students follow their favourite artists, usually pop or rock musicians. Abbott’s opinion is that there has not been any artistic development in rock music for decades.
He is slightly dubious of the term “music industry” because of its one-size-fits-all connotation.
“Good performance of rock music is defined by how well one imitates a recording, or how well someone sounds like someone else,” he said.
“Rock music is fine, as long as it is not everything,” he added.
An educator can make a difference in a student’s life, however, students can also teach the teacher.
“Sometimes kids will say things and I think [to myself], I never thought of that”, Abbott said.
He spoke of the importance of encouraging students’ confidence, particularly of those who don’t fit in. With a sense of fondness, he reflected on how his own teachers inspired him, a self-confessed misfit, to pick up the baton and direct other musicians.