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The rise of "Rock School"

Almost everyone has a favourite teacher: someone whose knowledge and influence has been life changing. For almost every student who has graduated with a qualification in music from TAFE Queensland’s music programs in Brisbane, that teacher is Mary Carden.

Almost everyone has a favourite teacher: someone whose knowledge and influence has been life changing. For almost every student who has graduated with a qualification in music from TAFE Queensland’s music programs in Brisbane, that teacher is Mary Carden.

Dubbed the “Rock Queen” and the educational team leader of the South Bank campus “Rock School”, Mary has been equipping her students with all the skills they need for careers full of standing ovations, and sometimes even sharing the stage with them.

Before joining the TAFE Queensland team in 1995, Mary was gracing many of Brisbane’s best theatre stages as well as performing in both cover and original bands. She also tried her hand at being a high school teacher, but it was an ad in the local paper for a casual teaching position at TAFE that opened the curtains on a career that has now spanned nearly 30 years.

“Coming to TAFE was amazing. I loved that we could jam together. I was young so I’ve grown up with a lot of the students – we are really a big family,” Mary said.

When Mary first joined the TAFE team, she was teaching out of a small, rented building near the current South Bank campus.

“The course was only three years old. It was very new and fresh. There was nothing like it at the universities at the time – we were the king of the pile when it came to music education,” Mary recalls.

“We wanted a world-class facility so we designed this amazing thing. We had rehearsal rooms equipped with PAs, drum kits, guitar amps, and fabulous recording studios – no one was more surprised than me when it actually got approved.

“We moved into the South Bank campus in 2008, and the facility is standing the test of time.”

As anyone in the performing arts industry will agree, industry connections and demonstrated experience is extremely valuable, especially for those starting out, so Mary stepped out of the classroom in search of stages across Brisbane for her students to perform at.

And when their own purpose-built facility was built at South Bank, set about building an impressive program of events to showcase the finest talents that “Rock School” had to offer.

“I used to go to the venues in the Valley and say ‘Hi, I’m a teacher from TAFE, can I book a gig for my students?” and then try to negotiate a door deal. This lead to us running student events such as Emerge, Gig Week and the Rockschool Challenge”, Mary said.

Recently Mary completed a Master of Music Studies and these days, is spending less time in front of the classroom but continuing to contribute to the future of the music industry by writing the curriculum for the new training package. She is also writing songs and continuing solo performances around Brisbane.

“I haven’t minded the challenge of curriculum writing: being able to align our training with the needs of Queensland’s performing arts industry, designing new programs in areas of emerging need and industry transformation, while ensuring traditional trades’ educational practices are contemporary - – it has been a fresh change,” Mary said.

“But of course I still have my hand in the classroom. I’m still hovering around, a bit like a mother hen.”

For 140 years, TAFE Queensland has been transforming people’s lives through vocational education and training, and for Mary being part of the journey for almost three decades has been rewarding and memorable.

“I am so proud to have been part of the music program in Brisbane almost since the beginning. Bands from Brisbane used to struggle to be taken seriously but not anymore,” she said.

“Anyone who has been TAFE-trained is part of a network – a bit like a family. Our graduates are working all over the world, and I am so proud that I have been part of that.”

TAFE Queensland is proud to be the largest and most experienced vocational education and training provider in the state

With 140 years' of quality training experience, TAFE Queensland is trusted to continue to support Queensland people, industries, employers and communities long into the future.