A fresh approach to music in Vanuatu

Pictures by Stephanie Lekal from Lava Photography

Student Pascal

BARBARA Idieder is on a musical mission to transform the lives of young Ni Vanuatu.

Barbara Idieder
Barbara Idieder

Queensland born Barbara trained at the Queensland Conservatorium, one of Australia’s leading music schools based in Brisbane, and the Hogeskool Voor Der Kunsten, in Arnhem in the Netherlands.

She is a professional clarinetist and has performed with fine orchestras in Australia, including as a soloist with the Queensland Youth Symphony and with a string quartet from the Sydney Chamber Orchestra.

As an educator Barbara has more than 25 years of private instrumental and classroom experience and has taught at a number of the best schools in Australia.

In 2004, she came to Vanuatu as part of the Australian Youth Ambassador program to teach music.

“I loved my first time in Vanuatu but went on to teach music in the Congo and Madagascar where I trained music teachers,” she said.

“That was most rewarding, but part of me was still in Vanuatu and I was keen to return.”


On her return to Port Vila Barbara was keen to trial the el Sistema orchestral project.

El Sistema is a social action music program that was founded in Venezuela in 1975 by Maestro José Antonio Abreu.

The program in Venezuela offers musical ensemble participation from an early age according to a set of clear principles, which focus on intensive and joyful music making as a vehicle for social development. El Sistema particularly looks to offer opportunities for the disadvantaged and is based in local centres, and is thus a manifestation of, and rooted in, each local community.

The backbone of El Sistema training is participation in classical orchestral ensembles. However, choral singing, folk music, jazz and special needs programs are all also featured.


Teaching sessions in Venezuela take place in the community centre three to four hours a day, six days a week. Students also get to take part in retreats and intensive workshops and participation is free for all students.

El Sistema Venezuela currently has dozens of orchestras and more 700,000 students, with plans to expand to one million.

“Obviously I planned to do this on a much smaller scale,’’ said Barbara.

Teaching at the Lycee Francais J.M.G. le Clezio, Barbara chose a group of 12 underachieving and disadvantaged Ni Vanuatu children aged nine to 10.

“At the time 2016, a French senator was visiting the school and I told her of my plans and she agreed to fund the initial part of the project,’’ she said.

“I was then able to buy eight violins, two violas and two cellos and Ensemble Nabanga was born.”


Barbara does a lot of fundraising to support the project and is partly funded by the Pacific Development Foundation, which is a local charity.

She said the change in the youngsters in the group is palpable.

“We practice for two hours a week and we are now seeing some positive results. Teachers have told me the students have improved academically generally and I have high hopes for them.’’

She said the ensemble has fostered self-confidence and led to prolonged periods of concentration for the students.

“Playing an instrument plays a role in reducing stress and also gives them a huge sense of pride and achievement,” she said.

In the afternoons, Barbara can be found teaching private classes at her Bellevue home for the Bright Minds School of Fine Arts. She provides classes in clarinet, flute, saxophone, piano, classical guitar, violin, viola and cello.

Her overall goal for both the ensemble and private students is to create a small army of music teachers whom will go and teach classical music across Vanuatu and the ensemble will serve the community in many ways.