Philip Feinstein shares his passion with music to refugees

The music man: Philip Feinstein with some donated guitars for Villawood.

The music man: Philip Feinstein with some donated guitars for Villawood.

Philip Feinstein sold the biggest upright piano he had ever seen 20 years ago.

So when he was sourcing musical instruments for the Villawood Detention Centre to start Music For Refugees in 2009 he was skeptical when a lady said this when donating an upright piano:  “You have never seen a bigger upright piano in your life.”

Turns out they were both right.  The piano was the same one the 69-year-old donated.

“It had come full circle,” he said.

“I remember going to the music room in Villawood and it was empty. No instruments. I thought to myself that has to change.”

Some of the musical instruments bound for Nauru and Manus Island.

Some of the musical instruments bound for Nauru and Manus Island.

Change it has. Thanks to Music For Refugees all five sections at Villawood have pianos.

Music rooms have now been set up throughout the centre and there are many instruments available for the refugees to play including pianos, guitars, violins and recorders.

All the instruments are donated and some are given to individual refugees to keep when they are released.

At the centre of it all is volunteer music teacher Philip Feinstein.

He teaches music and organise jam sessions for the adults on a fortnightly rotational basis with guitar teacher Adriaan Mees.

Previously he had worked with the children at Villawood organising mini orchestras, teaching them songs (although they were able to teach him the second verse of Advance Australia Fair) and bringing in puppets to boost their self esteem.

Apart from teaching the detainees about the “wonderful stress reliever” of playing music that’s his other passion: boosting self-esteem.

“I give them a sheet called Who am I? and it has all these positive statements on it like I am great, powerful and beautiful. When they feel they have achieved they tick the box and the more sentences that are ticked, their self-esteem goes up,” he said. “If you have high self-esteem you can achieve anything. If you have low self-esteem, it is a big problem.”  

Feinstein continues to achieve with the Music For Refugees.

He has set up drop-off points across Australia so the benefits of music can reach detention centres across Australia.

He even spent an “amazing” week organising jam sessions at Christmas Island.

His latest project has been collecting and sending musical instruments off-shore to both Nauru and Manus Island. 

The Who Am I sheet to improve self esteem.

The Who Am I sheet to improve self esteem.

This week he will send 14 adult acoustic and electric guitars, two child acoustic guitars, a ukulele, three large keyboards, clarinets, flutes, and various drum kits and bongos overseas.

He will also send soccer jumpers and balls as they have just started a league for refugees on Manus Island. 

So why is music so important for refugees and asylum seekers? 

“Apart from relieving stress, it gives them something to do. And the other thing is the sound they make when a Sri Lankan and Nigerian jam together and combine their rhythms is beautiful,” said Philip, who teaches the refugees to play by ear instead of reading music.

“It also provides a source of entertainment for the other people in the centre which is important.

“I don’t get involved with the politics; I am just there to help the individual person and If I can do my little bit to help them while they are suffering and to put a smile on their face I have done my job.”

How you can help the project

Do you have any new or second-hand musical instruments that you no longer require? 

Villawood Immigration Detention Centre requires acoustic guitars (nylon strings only) and small percussion instruments. Guitars must be in cases if possible.

Drop-off points have been organised throughout Australia where small instruments can be delivered. These drop-off point organisations have made a commitment to deliver them to the detention centre or refugee support centre closest to them.

Please note that only small instruments in working order (guitars, violins, percussion and recorders) should be dropped off. 

For a full list of drop off points visit