There is never a dull moment for the manager of the Sweethearts band, Sandy Thompson. Not a musician herself, Sandy oversees “all other things” – supporting the band and director, administration of the Sweethearts Foundation, supporting the board and looking after the girls while on gigs and on tour. “Just call me Mother Duck,” she says with a laugh. She works alongside Michael Fitzgerald, the main contact and musical director for the Sweethearts.
Sandy has been working in the education department for 35 years, initially teaching home economics at Matthew Flinders Girls’ before becoming Assistant Principal. Sweethearts was established early in 1989 when Ross Lipson, a science teacher, decided to gather like-minded students and teachers to share their love of music. Sandy became captivated by the project in 1996, and over the years the Sweethearts grew to an internationally recognised performing band. Although based at Matthew Flinders, the program is run by a not for profit organisation, the Sweethearts Foundation, formed in 2000.
The band is made up of young women from Years 5 to 12 who audition annually. The program accepts applicants from many state and private schools across the region and includes a junior band. It’s a fabulous opportunity for young female artists to obtain experience in the music industry. “The girls start out timid and shy,” Sandy says, “but by the time they finish with the band, they’re confident young women.”
An international sensation, the Sweethearts have performed shows all over the globe. In 2014 the band played in Memphis at B. B. Kings, and at Summer Fest, the biggest music festival in the world. Their recent return from festivals in Italy, France and Switzerland marks the conclusion of the Sweethearts’ seventh international tour. Every year brings something different, and with the band being supported by dedicated volunteers and the students’ families, it’s inspiring to see how far they have come.
“With the right environment, it’s amazing what these girls can achieve,” Sandy says. Sweethearts started as a cover band, and now facilitates the students to produce their own song writing and original works. The students complete a Certificate IV in Music through the VET and Sweethearts program, learning the practical side of the music industry and working real gigs. From the opportunities provided by Sweethearts, many successful Geelong artists have emerged, including Georgia van Etten and Alice Ivy. “Sweethearts gives them the space to really be themselves,” Sandy says.
2018 marks the completion of the 30th year of the Sweethearts program, and Sandy teases a special celebration of the landmark event. The Sweet Fest(ival) will be held in Geelong and features performances from past and present Sweethearts, coming back to pay tribute to the program’s anniversary. The celebration follows the Queenscliff Music Festival, which the Sweethearts have been closely involved with for many years. There have been many special memories, fun times and friendships formed within the Sweethearts, but I’m told that “what happens on the road, stays on the road”.
Over 30 years, Sweethearts has transformed from a cover band at Matthew Flinders to a globally celebrated neo-soul regional music group giving young girls the opportunity to express their talents. Celebrate the decades of hard work at the Sweet Fest(ival) later this year. The Sweethearts perform at the Worker’s Club in Geelong every third Thursday night at 8:30pm. Swing on over and feel the music with the Sweethearts!
Story: Stephanie Downing. Photo: Patrick Callow Photography