If we had music in every school, especially preschool through to Grade Six, the face of the country would change – words from founder and director of the Australian Youth Orchestra, the late Richard Gill.
And, he was right.
Music in some of our schools is beginning to take a back seat, but if you watched the ABC’s Sunday night series, Don’t Stop the Music, then you would have noted that Perth’s Challis Primary School with an all-encompassing music program actually improved its NAPLAN results.
During my period as a teacher and principal, I was convinced that school life had to be more than reading and maths. Activities like sport, drama, music, and art give students a chance to excel at something, and soon they become good at everything. The reasons should be obvious - when children enjoy coming to school, when children have many avenues through which to show their talent, then the confidence generated in those children lifts all of their results.
So you might well imagine how proud I felt as I watched the Kooringal Public School Concert Band performing at Grandparents’ Day under the direction of Jenny Binovec from the Riverina Conservatorium of Music (RCM). This year the senior band is playing as well, if not better, than I have ever heard them play.
This band was started nearly 30 years ago during my time as principal at Kooringal, but its long-term survival can be attributed to the guidance and tutorials the conservatorium is able to offer.
Unlike the WA school in the ABC’s Don’t Stop the Music series that concluded last Sunday, NSW school bands receive no special funding, no special music staff allowance, and no Guy Sebastian and James Morrison to give the music program prestige. But in Wagga we do have the conservatorium.
Activities like sport, drama, music, and art give students a chance to excel at something, and soon they become good at everything.Keith Wheeler
The “con’s” tutors provide group tuition and individual lessons in 40 Riverina schools as well as conducting ensemble programs at several of these schools and after school at the “con” itself. And as you are probably aware, the conservatorium will soon be moving from its ancient home at Hely Avenue to the newly renovated former RTA building on the corner of Johnson and Simmons streets.
Director Hamish Tait proudly told me about the recent Combined Public Schools Band Day in mid November when bands from Kooringal, Sturt, South Wagga, Lake Albert and Tumut came together - a mass rehearsal with 140 students.
Three pieces were prepared, along with tutorials, before a concert was performed for parents and the wider community. Some of the conservatorium’s ensembles also participated
“The RCM has a range of ensembles, woodwind and brass, strings and vocal. Some of these groups are small with six to ten musicians and others like the Riverina Youth Orchestra and some choirs are much larger,” Mr Tait said.
“Kids want to perform because it is fun,” he said.
The director pointed out that the success of a school band was very much dependent on the commitment of the principal. Maybe, but I would add that having class teachers who will teach the recorder in the classroom is also crucial.
Starting a school band means a very long term commitment. Having class recorder lessons with junior classes prepares children to be potential band members. I have always been astounded by how quickly a competent young recorder player can transfer that skill to another instrument.
Writing in the SMH, director of The Music Trust, Richard Letts said, “A rigorous OECD survey found, in very brief summary, that: ‘Music lessons improve children’s academic performance and their IQ, and they improve phonological awareness and word decoding’ (related to reading skills).”
The ABC asked people to “get those old instruments out of the cupboard and donate them to the Salvos”, to be distributed to schools. The Salvation Army in itself has a long tradition of band music. But in the Wagga context, I think the Riverina Conservatorium would be the place for your donated instruments.
If you are interested in school music education, or simply want to see what a music program could do for your child or child’s school, go to https://iview.abc.net.au/show/dont-stop-the-music or contact the Riverina Conservatorium on 6925 3522.