Teacher CJ sings himself an ARIA nomination

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Christopher “CJ” Shaw… “[If I win] I would be humbled, I would be moved, [and] it would mean the world to the school, who have been so supportive.” Photo: Nathan Schmidt.
WHEN Christopher “CJ” Shaw swapped folk songs for primary school music teaching, he never thought it’d secure him a nomination for an ARIA. 

The 38-year-old of Hackett is the first Canberran to be nominated for an ARIA Music Teacher Award and is up against two NSW teachers and one QLD teacher.

Voting closes on November 18, and while CJ’s students are his number one fans, telling him, “I vote for you all the time, [or] I saw you on television”, he says it would mean the world if outside of the school gates, Canberra could jump online and vote. 

CJ, who had no idea he’d been put forward for the award, has been nominated for the work he does educating students through music at Palmerston District Primary School.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, CJ always had a love for music so when he left school he worked as a folk musician telling stories through music while touring along rural towns from Sydney to Melbourne. 

“I’ve always loved music but [when I was about 11] I started writing songs on the piano, and then in Year 6 I learned guitar and in high school I learned more guitar, and got right into ‘90s Australian bands,” he says. 

“That prompted songwriting, and a few broken hearts on the way prompted more song writing, and then I got straight into music outside [of school] and toured into my 20s.”

Touring as CJ Shaw and the Blow Ins, saw CJ and his guitarist mate “Maddog” (Dave Perram) catching the XPT train line between Melbourne and Sydney on a year-long tour.  

“It was an amazing experience,” says CJ, who started a career as a classroom teacher about nine years ago, inspired by all the other teachers in his family. 

He taught for six years in Sydney, East Timor and Canberra, and it quickly became clear to him that music was an effective tool in terms of allowing kids to access the curriculum through song. 

“Suddenly it was through songs that they were remembering their times tables, they were remembering narrative arc or inventions or scientist names or why gravity works or the expansion of gas,” he says. 

“It was a real mish-mash of key learning areas and music.”

From there, CJ completed a graduate certificate in composition at ANU, which he says locked in the formal side of things musically.

“From that moment on, I presented myself as a straight music teacher,” he says.

As the head of music at Palmerston District Primary School, and with it being a Defence school, CJ was asked to write a song for the students for Anzac Day. 

So, CJ wrote “Anzac Biscuits”, which is part of the reason he was nominated for the ARIA. 

“‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a great story because through the song we’ve been able to teach history,” he says. 

When the song was released earlier in the year, it received support from the Australian War Memorial, which saw the video get 23,000 views in its first week. 

The nomination has been incredible and it’s been great for the school, says CJ, but a highlight for him, being a massive Cold Chisel fan, was having his music idol Jimmy Barnes be his ambassador and announce the nomination over Zoom. 

“The kids loved it but you could tell it was the adults who really loved it,” he says.  

As for the grand prize, CJ says he’d be humbled to be awarded the overall winner come the no-audience, television-broadcasted award ceremony on November 25.

“I would be humbled, I would be moved, [and] it would mean the world to the school, who have been so supportive,” he says. 

As for CJ’s almost three-year-old daughter, she’s not too fussed about all the media attention dad’s been getting, including when she saw CJ talking on the television from footage filmed in their home recently, but she was pretty excited to see her doll on the news! 

Votes via aria.com.au/vote

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

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