What began as a grassroots initiative to help remember our war heroes on Anzac Day has attracted the support of professional and amateur musicians across the country – including Australia’s most famous jazz trumpeter, James Morrison.
Alastair Tomkins, who is performance manager at Sheldon College in Brisbane, came up with the idea of ‘Music for Mateship’ after the RSL asked people to mark Anzac Day with a minute’s silence on their driveways from 6am. Alastair loved the RSL’s suggestion as a way to pay our respects but thought something was missing. “The minute’s silence in an Anzac Day service is normally bookended by the Last Post and then Reveille – the wake-up trumpet call at the end,” he says.
After thinking he might get his trumpet out and play on Anzac Day morning, Alastair remembered all the brass teachers, students, orchestral players and others in his musical circle and hatched a plan. Not only did everyone he reached out with his Music for Mateship campaign want to be involved, Alastair discovered James Morrison wanted to help, too. “He’s since gone on to do his own little video clip and endorse the idea and encourage other Australian musicians that this is something we can do,” says Alastair.
Alastair says it’s also a blast to play at dawn alongside his nine-year-old son, Hugo, who only began learning the trumpet last November.
Alastair says he’s been blown away by the enthusiasm of current and former musicians to support his project. Many have reached out to him with their emotional stories, explaining why they want to help.
“One woman told me her mother sent her old trumpet she played as a teenager,” says Alastair. “It had been sitting in the cupboard and the woman hadn’t played it for 20 years. ‘I’m starting again now,’ she said. ‘I’ve cleaned and oiled it all up, and I’m going to play for my grandfather who’s 96 – a World War II vet who can’t leave his accommodation’.”
“Then there’s a couple of sisters who just started high school in Tasmania who are both brass players. They’ve put their hands up and said, ‘We’ll be playing at different parts of our fairly small town’.
Alastair says he’s heard of many people dusting off their old instruments and practising before their one-off Anzac Day performance. Some want to help by simply playing in their street; others want to play outside aged-care facilities or war veterans’ homes so residents forced to stay inside can have their own Anzac Day experience.
“War Widows Association Queensland contacted me, so I’m going to play at one of the venues that isn’t far from where I live – perhaps at morning-tea time,” says Alastair. “I just to want to make them feel connected – to give them some respect and to honour their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their husbands.”
He says those who will play outside a war veterans’ home or aged-care facility on Anzac Day will likely find it to be profoundly moving. “It’s a very short gig, but it might be the most powerful gig they play in terms of its effect on the audience – the 30, 40, 50 or 100 elderly residents who probably feel they are trapped or that people have forgotten about them,” says Alastair. “Some people there don’t have any family. Some don’t have anyone to come and visit them. Playing might be a way of just saying, ‘Hey, you’re not alone’.”
Alastair says he finds the experience of discovering so many people preparing to come together to help commemorate Anzac Day in this way incredibly heart-warming.
“It’s a profound feeling that an individual can have a positive influence,” he says. “I’m basically handing over my idea to hundreds or thousands of other people and saying, ‘I think this is going to work’ and having them nod their head and go, ‘Yeah, I think it’s going to work, too’. That makes me feel good.”
Alastair believes help is not just about doing things. It’s also about acknowledging someone requires assistance. “I’m asking you to lend me some of your experience, your guidance, your wisdom, your muscle, your status, your power,” he says. “Help is about lifting someone up.”
He hopes this project leaves a meaningful legacy and perhaps even helps reinvigorate our culture. “It’s saying, ‘We didn’t let Anzac Day die this year’. We didn’t drop the ball. We reimagined it. We took it from a series of big mass gatherings to a multitude of micro gatherings.
“Maybe it’s a way we can bring more younger people in to talk about Anzac Day and start a conversation with our own children. Maybe it’s like the famous quote, ‘As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same’.
“If indeed I’m shining my light, it’s not such a hard thing to do. If that helps other people step up and shine their light at this time, then I think that can only be a good thing.”