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
asks the following question...
Why is the importance of music not recognised in the Australian
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
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:
- why are music and dance not mandatory in every state in
- why are we still satisfied in this country to give our children
a half-baked education?
- why are we so blind and so deaf to the results achieved in
education in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, for example?
- 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?
- would a study of page three of any tabloid newspaper in this
country pass as a lesson in literature?
- 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
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
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
Peter Garrett, Federal Minister for Education. He's a musician!
© 2012 Richard Gill
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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:
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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