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Point of View 

Pre-eminent Australian conductor, music educator and current Music Director of Victorian Opera and Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony's Education Program, Richard Gill
asks the following question...

Richard Gill

January 2012

The Question:

Why is the importance of music not recognised in the Australian Education Curriculum?

Response by Richard Gill share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

It is now a matter of well-established scientific fact that involving children in a properly structured music program has a profound impact on the overall well-being of a child physically, intellectually and emotionally. The earlier in the life of a child the involvement with music starts the better. If this music program involves an association with movement, such as elementary dance, the benefits to the child increase exponentially. Apart from the intrinsic worth of music and dance the extrinsic benefits are manifold; increased attention spans; heightened powers of concentration; increased capacity to listen and memorise and as a result of all this heightened capacities to think and act creatively.
There is compelling empirical evidence which states that when parents of very young children engage in activities such as singing with their children, playing and dancing with their children, reciting nursery rhymes accompanied by rhythmic activities, inventing nonsense syllables and other such activities, that the emotional bond formed between parent and child as a result of these activities has a powerful impact on the development of the child's brain, the child's sense of security and the child's sense of self-worth.

Australia is about to have a national curriculum, so:

  1. why are music and dance not mandatory in every state in Australia?
  2. why are we still satisfied in this country to give our children a half-baked education?
  3. why are we so blind and so deaf to the results achieved in education in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, for example?
  4. why do we still accept the fact that a music lesson which consists of children listening to the current hit songs of the day is an acceptable form of music education?
  5. would a study of page three of any tabloid newspaper in this country pass as a lesson in literature?
  6. would sitting in front of a television watching cricket pass as physical education for the viewer?

It is clear to me that on the eve of the delivery of a national curriculum Australia education is concerned with standardised testing and a very strong emphasis on literacy and numeracy at the expense of those subjects such as music and dance which can contribute powerfully to a child's capacity to be read, write and count and think creatively.
I am not opposed to testing but I am opposed to dumbing-down content at the child's expense. There are dozens of articles available to be read about the dangers of standardised testing and it is not my intention to go into his in detail other than to let parents know, if indeed they don't know already, that the results of standardised tests tell you nothing about what your child really knows. I am not opposed to testing - a good teacher tests children in every lesson. What I am opposed to is a reduction in teaching time of subjects such as music and dance, in favour of an increase in time devoted to the practising of questions found in standardised tests.
To return to the issue of music and children then, it would seem apparent to me that those who are responsible for curriculum design need to be informed by parents of the efficacy of music education and the power such education has on all those things which are vital to the survival of a child. At Victorian Opera, although we are not an educational institution, we have the capacity within our program to enrich the lives of children through our education program. We see this as an obligatory part of our work. This is not an add-on or a tokenistic attempt to tick a box in order to satisfy funding authorities.
This year, 2012, we are presenting our first pantomime, Cinderella at Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne. The pantomime dates back to the ancient Greeks where it was indeed a play performed entirely in mime and has survived to this very day. Our pantomime consists of all the excesses of such theatre with opportunities for children and adults to call out, to sing along and to join in with the orchestra on stage. Pantomime is often a child's first experience of theatre. It was mine and I remember it to this day. The modern opera company needs to address itself to the entire community and a pantomime does just this. Based on a well-known fairy story, it uses song and dance, accompanied by special theatrical effects. It plays upon the imagination - it evokes, suggests, implies and excites. It stimulates creative juices in children and, I hope, plants in them the seeds for further activities they might undertake.
Similarly our Youth Opera program will present the medieval miracle play, The Play of Daniel. This provides an opportunity for children to take part in the presentation of an opera and learn about all those skills required in the rehearsing and ultimate performance of an opera.
Musically, Australia, still lives in the dark ages in spite of all the wonderful things that happen in this country. With the emergence of an Australian curriculum there is an opportunity to address this depressing circumstance.
We must make sure that every child in every school throughout Australia has access to a thoroughly trained music teacher and until that happens we must accept the fact that Australian children are being left behind and are educationally disadvantaged. Is something you would like to say about your child? You can do something about this and write or send an email to Peter Garrett, Federal Minister for Education. He's a musician!

Richard Gill
Music Director
Victorian Opera

2012 Richard Gill

Have Your Say
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to post your comments.

As a professional performer for over 30 years now, the father of a seven year old, and having been married to a behavioural scientist I passionately agree with this view. I am astounded that Peter Garret has not already taken it upon himself to rally the required support to make structured music programs compulsory in schools - particularly in the light of the assistance music has apparently provided for his intellectual capacity and his "career". I have not the time to write to Peter Garret personally, but I do hope that my comments along with other's and this, Richard Gill's article, will add to the weight of an issue he cannot ignore.

Posted by Richie Robinson on Friday 6 January 2012

Thanks Richard for your thoughtful and well written article. I was fortunate to have music and art thrust upon me by my very wise parents, who clearly saw a hole in the system - and just because they love music and the arts. Some beautiful positive examples of your comments are expressed by Sir Ken Robinson here: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
and here:http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html

Posted by Bill Risby on Friday 6 January 2012

Couldn't agree more on every count. This needs timely action and is worthy of putting forward to a group like GetUp.

Posted by David Seidel on Friday 6 January 2012
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