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Toowoomba muso Josh Arnold strikes a chord with Catholic schools

Josh Arnold

Education focus: Josh Arnold and the choir from All Saints’ Parish Primary School, Albany Creek.

JOSH Arnold grew up on the Darling Downs learning about farming and music and attending a small Catholic school in Tara.

It was fertile ground for a singer-songwriter inspired by the wide open spaces and endless skies, and who has just released a song titled Catholic Schools in Queensland.

The song is a celebration of the work and achievements of Queensland’s 300 Catholic schools, and Mr Arnold has recorded it with the backing of a choir from All Saints’ Parish Primary School, Albany Creek.

“When I was asked to write the song I was just so passionate and enthusiastic and I worked really hard on this song and recording,” he said. 

“And I feel that the meaning of the chorus in the song is about life. School is life. 

“It’s about preparing kids for life. And through faith and learning together and then from school the hope is that they come out better people as well as educated … better human beings that can reach out to the world in a really positive way.” 

Arnold is a Golden Guitar winner at the National Country Music Awards, an accomplished musician and prolific songwriter, who draws his inspiration from the people he meets and the many places he has travelled. 

He has just returned from the Northern Territory writing songs and producing videos with young Aborigines in the remote central Australian community of Ampilatwatja.

His face lights up as he talks about the experience of working with remote indigenous kids.

It’s clear he is happiest in the bush and collaborating with youngsters on a creative songwriting path.

Mr Arnold began his schooling at St Joseph’s School, Tara, and completed it at St Mary’s College, Toowoomba.

His father taught him to play guitar – both acoustic and electric – and he had a wide variety of influences.

“I was listening to everything from Guns N’ Roses, to Bob Dylan and Garth Brooks. And I took all of those influences and ran with them,” he said.

“I think it is always important to keep an open mind and I don’t stick in one musical genre.”

Soon after school, Josh worked as a jackaroo on the Northern Territory cattle station, Avon Downs, and it was there that his songwriting talent sprang to life.

“It gave me a big wealth of songs and life experience. It got me on the road to writing music,” he said.

“I realised it is not easy to write without life experience. You’ve got to live and you’ve got to experience things to write music.”

In 2002, Josh won a Golden Guitar for an Aussie version of Thank God I’m a Country Boy, recorded with Lee Kernaghan.  

A big career in country music beckoned and Josh went on to release three albums through ABC Music with songs featured on the TV shows Home and Away, Neighbours and Ghost Whisperer.

His songs received airplay on radio stations across Australia and he performed on Channel 7’s Sunrise program.

There was also a hectic touring schedule and the volatility of the music industry took its toll.

Seven years ago Josh made a career change. 

He settled back into his home town of Toowoomba, with his wife and three children, and he took a job as a teacher’s aide.

It wasn’t long before he was bringing his guitar into the classroom and using his musical talents to write songs with the kids.

“The first song I wrote was ‘Talking about the kangaroo’ with some Year 2s , just as an English class project,” Mr Arnold said.

“But it grew and grew and I’d write school songs. 

“I’ve written 60 school songs now and I’ve been to over 100 schools (so) that became a really big deal for me.”

Mr Arnold said the school songs became “like treasures” to the children he worked with.

“It’s something they plan to keep forever,” he said.

“Sitting in the classroom with these kids I was trying to explain to them that this is a big job. 

“If your grandkids go to this school they could be singing the song that we write today. 

“So I took that really seriously. And then sometimes those songs would become town anthems as well, because there is only one school in that town.”

Mr Arnold has written nine town anthems.

 “That’s an even bigger deal because you’ve got the whole community invested in it, and people who love their town to death,” he said.

He said one of the most popular town songs he had written was for Thargomindah, in south-west Queensland, a community of 200 people. 

“The response on social media was just huge. People just love that town and people who have had anything to do with that town love that song,” he said.

While creating projects for schools, Mr Arnold started a production company Small Town Culture, to shoot music videos to accompany the school songs.

 “So the kids help write the songs. But then they are the stars singing it. And it is their faces in front of the camera, and showing their way of life as well,” he said.

“I am so much happier working with kids than working in the music business.”

Under the banner of his production company, Mr Arnold now designs and produces projects for schools, communities and various organisations throughout regional Australia.

Catholic school authorities in each of the five Queensland dioceses, together with the Queensland Catholic Education Commission, engaged Mr Arnold to create the song Catholic Schools in Queensland.

It will form a central part of Catholic Education Week festivities during July 2016, with Mr Arnold introducing the song to students from Catholic schools around the state.

“The song reflects the ethos and values of Catholic schools, which provide a faith-based education, lifelong learning and a strong emphasis on student learning outcomes and pastoral care to almost 147,000 students in Queensland currently,” Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry said.

“Much more than that, it is celebration of the positive contribution Catholic education has made to the lives of the thousands of Queenslanders who have attended Catholic schools over the years.”

It just might be a song that this generation’s grandkids will be singing.

By Mark Bowling

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