With the 2017 school year in sight, and difficult decisions to be made about the allocation of sparse funds, Classic Melbourne introduces a new feature of our site: advocacy, particularly for fine music and our youngest listeners.
We can hardly believe that the old argument of music versus sport is still alive and well, whichever State you live in. The assumption is that sport benefits all children, whereas music has no comparable benefits, and is an indulgence. Leaving aside questions of which activity is more prone to scandal (such as performance-enhancing drugs, a wild personal lifestyle, scandals involving relationships and general behaviour), the arts have more to offer than simply being the “Goody two shoes” of the non-academic curriculum.
But perhaps we need to be more explicit about the value of the arts, especially music, for our children and our wider society. And it is not, as some government ministers have suggested, purely a search for excellence. Participation in the arts begins early and rightly so, and it must be acknowledged in the curricula across Australia.
In case you think this just special pleading here, let us start right now by publicising the views of, not just educators and musicologists, not just performers and audiences, but people from so many different fields that we can’t represent them all in one article. However, we can say that all commentators about the importance of musical activity agree that it should be the sooner the better! So we all – teachers and parents, doctors and health specialists, even business people and workers – need to commit to keeping music prominent in the curriculum from an early age.
Classic Melbourne hereby pledges to do this in our city and beyond, starting with an entirely unexpected source, a sponsored article by Amatil printed in this morning’s Melbourne Age. Quoting music therapist Amberley Bremner “Five reasons to be musical around toddlers” was well argued, suggesting that music provided a path to literacy and numeracy as well as social skills and a sense of well-being.
This year we’ll look to inform you about programs for all ages that encourage participation in music and will be a strong advocate for funding in schools and the wider community. One example is a program running as part of the Peninsula Festival, separately covered on these pages. In the words of the organisers…
“Thirty emerging and pre-professional talented musicians will spend a week at Toorak College in Mt Eliza learning from and performing with the world’s best during the Festival. Students will develop their skills with English Stage Director and vocal coach Sophie Daneman, Music Director Donald Nicolson, Festival Artistic Director Julia Fredersdorff, and renowned Danish harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen.
“Based on the model of the great European Summer Schools, the 2017 Peninsula Summer Music Festival Academy gives talented young musicians the opportunity to work intensely in a residential setting alongside some of the world’s leading Baroque musicians.
“After their intensive study week, Academy students will showcase their achievements as they perform Handel’s pastoral opera Acis & Galatea on 13-14 January on the lawn of St John the Evangelist in Flinders. “I am especially proud of the 2017 Festival Academy, which will perform Handel’s beloved pastoral opera, in a suitably ‘al fresco’ setting,” said Ms Fredersdorff.
“Despite the increasing number of students wishing to study historically informed performance practice in Australia, there are very few local training opportunities in the genre at the vocational level. For many years, Australian musicians wishing to specialise in this area have had to study overseas, often remaining in Europe to further their careers. Held annually, the Peninsula Summer Music Festival Academy addresses this issue by providing the opportunity for Australian emerging and pre-professional musicians to work with a mentor of international standing in a domestic setting.”
Finally, you may have seen the wonderful documentary Outback Choir, recently given a repeat screening on the ABC. As the broadcaster describes it:
“Outback Choir follows the heart-warming journey of a regional children’s choir, and its founder Michelle Leonard’s personal mission to bring a desolate musical landscape back to life. Chronicling their journey from audition to stage, the film reveals the trials and tribulations of running a children’s choir in the most isolated and disadvantaged region of NSW, where sport is king and music education is non-existent.
“Inspired by her own musical education Michelle Leonard has high expectations. She doesn’t want to teach these primary-aged children any old music. She wants to teach them contemporary, original, demanding music by Australia’s best, up-and-coming composers. She wants the children to sing in harmonies and perform with a professional orchestra, in front of hundreds of people. Is her belief in these children fanciful, or will they step up and soar?
“As the film follows Michelle and four children from different towns through epic auditions and music camps to the end of year concert, despite vastly different lives, hopes and dreams, one thing remains the same for all the children: to believe in themselves, they all need someone to believe in them. Set against a landscape of devastating beauty, Outback Choir is a moving portrait of the fragile world of possibility that is childhood, and reminds us why no child, anywhere, should grow up without music.”
As Leonard herself says to the children: “Life is full of possibility, you are capable. Go! Go! Take it! Take it! Take it! Take it!”