Your children are being discriminated against if they are not receiving a well-planned and properly taught music program at school. They are being denied educational opportunities and are being disadvantaged when compared with the small number of Australian children who do receive a good music education.
Some schools, state and private, have outstanding arts programs. The tragedy is that in spite of small pockets of excellence, the condition of one of those arts subjects, namely music, can range from shoddy to unacceptable.
It is a national disgrace and an embarrassment that large numbers of school-age children are not receiving any music education at all. It is also disgraceful that huge numbers are receiving substandard, watered-down versions of music. Playing Mozart sonatas while children do arithmetic or having them gyrate to the latest pop music does not constitute music education.
We teach music to children because it is good and because of its immeasurable capacity and potency to act on the heart, mind, spirit and soul of humanity. We teach music to children because in so doing we acknowledge that there is almost no civilisation on earth without music somewhere at the heart of its existence. We teach music because through it we can learn many skills associated with social inclusion
and social interaction. We teach children music because it is unique and has its own integrity as a subject or discipline.
The evidence of neuroscience overwhelmingly demonstrates that children studying music have a considerable educational advantage over those who don't. Because of the essentially aural nature of music, together with the requirements of intense listening and concentration, the child's brain responds powerfully to music education, enhancing all other learning.
Is it not, then, discrimination against children when they are not provided with properly trained music teachers offering a well-designed curriculum? Is it not further discrimination to deny children the opportunity for a full and complete education which includes music?
I have read most creative arts curriculums in this country, and it seems that many of the people who dream up this nonsense would appear to be non-practitioners of anything genuinely educational or artistic. But they do have a facility in edu-speak: I believe the expression is ''bullshit baffles brains''. In the most recent regressive developments, schools of thought have emerged that suggest all the arts are related and function the same way. The visual arts, dance and drama all have their unique qualities and their own integrities, all of which must be preserved rather than be rolled into one mindless, meaningless subject.
A serious music education starts in preschool and continues to the end of schooling. Serious music education has singing as its basis, which includes singing songs representative of all musical styles and periods. From that, basic skills in learning to read and write music are taught. A serious music education includes composition of music: the reason we teach music is so that children can make their own. This means that children should listen to a vast range of music and musical styles so they can understand how music works.
At some stage the teaching of instruments follows and is relatively painless because the child can already read, write and understand musical notation; the instrumental teacher can do his or her job properly. Social inclusion, communal behaviours, co-operation, ensemble skills, teamwork and sharing creative ideas all become part of a serious music education, contributing to a child's development in a powerful way.
It is greatly to the credit of the Commonwealth and Territory education ministers who, at the request of the Arts Minister, Peter Garrett, have agreed to include arts subjects in the new national curriculum. This demonstrates enlightened thinking. The Rudd/Gillard policy of social inclusion in education and the policy of serious educational reform could be enacted powerfully if good music education were available to every child. Governments should not rest until every child has access to a fully trained, highly qualified music teacher. Universities need to take a long, hard look at the way they teach teachers, especially music teachers. Would you train a surgeon on 11 hours of classes? In some institutions, that is what a trainee primary teacher receives. What passes for the tertiary training of music teachers is inadequate. Indeed, the question of universities and music needs serious examination. Perhaps it is time to return to the days of conservatorium education of musicians if we are to be serious about training teachers and performers.
"Music is a more potent instrument than any other in education," said Plato in response to a question asked 2300 years ago. In Australia, some children are still being denied an opportunity to have a complete education.
Richard Gill is the musical director for the Victorian Opera. He was national adviser to Musica Viva in Schools for five years. He is the artistic director of the Sydney Symphony's education program and has taught from preschool to postgraduate level and lectured on music education.