IT’S difficult to tire of the company of Catholic musical all-rounder Andrew Chinn.
It’s also difficult to not find children grinning from ear to ear or adults toe-tapping in his effervescent presence.
Amid the beaming faces and tapping toes there’s an inherent understanding Andrew is living and breathing his God-given destiny.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” Andrew admitted while setting up for a performance in a Victorian school last week.
“Teachers come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much; the children had a great time; we are so grateful’ and my response is always the same, I say, ‘It was me enjoying every moment and it’s me who finds inspiration in them’.”
The father of four, one of whom has died, and grandfather of almost eight, from Bowral, NSW, draws on almost two decades of teaching and leadership in Catholic schools to create and deliver unique “concert-like” experiences where people of all ages are prayerfully engaged with each other and their God.
“In all my years of teaching I never really left my guitar behind,” he said.
“(The guitar) was my constant companion in prayer, music and liturgy … although my best preparation came in teaching Prep.
“When you’ve taught five-year-olds, you can do anything, you’re are a performer.
“That was wonderful training for what I do now.”
The change in direction was spurred by the tragic loss of daughter Belinda to cancer in 2000.
“Belinda was a brilliant singer and we spent many years singing together in parishes in south-west Sydney,” Andrew said.
“In losing her I realised what a gift life is and that we shouldn’t waste our gifts or opportunities.”
“Waste gifts or opportunities” Andrew hasn’t, covering tens of thousands of kilometres and acquiring “plenty of frequent-flyer points”, he joked, once the dream of taking his faith-driven music to schools under the “Butterfly Music” brand, named in Belinda’s memory, was realised.
“In March 2001 I stepped out of my own school for the first time to lead another school, Our Lady Help of Christians in Rosemeadow, in their Holy Week remembrance,” he said.
“That was school number one.
“Over the years I’ve visited schools all over Australia from the big cities to small country schools in places like Hay, Barcaldine, Goomalling, Roxby Downs, Daly Creek, Derby, Kununurra, Balranald, Rosebery and Adelong.
“I’ve visited the northern-most Catholic school in New Zealand in Kaitaia and St Therese’s in Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.
“(And) I’ve sung at St Joseph’s in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
With frequent-flyer miles acquired to America and Canada, on March 10, Andrew spent his time and talent with the community of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Kew, just east of the city of Melbourne, his 1000th school among almost 2000 visits overall.
“I couldn’t have picked a better place to be (than Sacred Heart school),” he said, busily preparing for another engaging experience the following day at St Anthony’s, Glen Huntly, a little further south-east.
“Sacred Heart is a new school so it was their first experience of me … (and) it was really fabulous.”
Themes within nine CDs, five DVDs and several books are relevant to the Mass, the saints and significant celebrations on the liturgical calendar, the sacraments of the Church, with an over-arching focus on hope, healing and harmony.
Many schools along the way have also been a part of Andrew’s recordings while some have engaged his talents for school songs and liturgies.
“These Hands”, his first CD, was recorded in 2000 with the students of St Joseph’s Primary School, Moorebank, in south-west Sydney.
Andrew smiled from ear to ear himself when he recalled he’s “been to some schools eight or nine times”.
“They’re the ones I really remember,” he said.
“They are the places I have a long association with and hold a special place in my heart.”
Some school staff members “became within a handful of the very best friends” he and wife Bernadette have been blessed with.
Naturally, Andrew credits Bernadette, his “rock”, who “suffers” his “long absences”, with all his work and the motivation to continue.
She often travels with him or joins him “on the road” and their youngest, Eleanor, now a weekly boarder in Year 9 and also with significant musical talents, has also always been involved.
Highlights on the musical journey, he said, included being part of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in recent years as well as musical co-ordination of the 25th anniversary Mass for the Hamilton diocese in New Zealand.
With his calendar barely unoccupied until year’s end, neither is it difficult to pinpoint where Andrew finds his energy, the rapport with students “feeding” the joy of the concert experience for all.
“I still love the job after all these years,” he said.
“Yes, I do get physically tired but I just look at the kids and I am spiritually uplifted.”
Last week Andrew visited two new Catholic schools in Queensland and later this year, again tours the Kimberley and “more remote schools” in Western Australia for the first time.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, he was “moved to tears” when first glimpsing the newly-elected pontiff.
“When he came out (to the awaiting crowd) and what he said, I was crying,” Andrew said.
“When Pope Francis said, ‘Pray for me’ I thought, ‘Wow’. I found him so hope filled.”
Andrew invited free downloads of his Jubilee Year of Mercy song, “We are God’s Hands” via his website www.butterflymusic.com.au
“The Year of Mercy is all about something we are and something we do,” he said.
“And it lines up with my songwriting with songs like, ‘These Hands’.
“If we are Christians, we have to do it.”