The fu­ture of classical mu­sic is in young hands. Elis­a­beth Wyn­hausen re­ports from the Na­tional Mu­sic Camp

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

MU­SIC pours out of al­most ev­ery room. An orches­tra is re­hears­ing Prokofiev’s thump­ing Sym­phony No. 5 in an au­di­to­rium tucked be­tween the class­rooms. A few doors down a lone clar­inet­tist is go­ing over his part in Bela Bar­tok’s The Mirac­u­lous Man­darin . A brass ensem­ble play­ing Han­del’s Mu­sic for the Royal Fire­works is be­ing recorded in a makeshift record­ing room around the cor­ner. The plan­gent sound of vi­o­lins drifts from a room on the other side of the court­yard.

Fol­low­ing au­di­tions months ago, 239 of the na­tion’s top young mu­si­cians have made it to the 60th an­nual Na­tional Mu­sic Camp, held in the pic­turesque, ivy- cov­ered sur­round­ings of Can­berra Gram­mar School.

There is a teenage cel­list with streaked hair whom ev­ery­one knows as ‘‘ Dave from Dar­win’’ — 19- year- old ac­coun­tancy stu­dent David Parry — and a teenage bas­soon­ist from Ade­laide, 16- year- old Jack Schiller, one of the youngest mu­si­cians to make it into the Aus­tralian Youth Orches­tra, which opened its 2008 sea­son in Melbourne with a free con­cert at the Myer Mu­sic Bowl last month.

More than 70 per cent of peo­ple play­ing in orches­tras in Aus­tralia came through the AYO, says Colin Cor­nish, the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. The AYO, which be­gan life in 1948 as the first Na­tional Mu­sic Camp, is reg­u­larly hailed as one of the best youth orches­tras in the world, de­spite the an­nual turnover.

Th­ese days the AYO runs a se­ries of train­ing pro­grams, in­clud­ing the fort­night- long camp for 14 to 24- year- olds, which is held in a dif­fer­ent cap­i­tal each sum­mer.

‘‘ I can’t think of a bet­ter way to in­tro­duce them to the joy and the pas­sion of mu­sic,’’ says harp player Mar­shall McGuire, the camp’s mu­sic di­rec­tor, who was re­cently ap­pointed ex­ec­u­tive man­ager of artis­tic plan­ning with the West Aus­tralia Sym­phony Orches­tra.

Stu­dents join one of the camp’s two orches­tras or the cham­ber orches­tra for the du­ra­tion and are thrown into the thick of it, with 12- hour days of re­hearsals, work­shops and tu­to­ri­als, be­fore they give or­ches­tral con­certs open to the pub­lic and broad­cast on ABC Clas­sic FM. As they’re only handed the mu­sic when they get to camp, giv­ing them a few days at most to fa­mil­iarise them­selves with the score of such grown- up works as the Prokofiev or Dvo­rak’s Serenade for Strings in E Ma­jor, the ex­pe­ri­ence repli­cates the pres­sures of life as a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian.

Last year Melbourne Univer­sity stu­dent Peter Clark, 19, a vi­o­lin­ist, toured Europe with the AYO. Now he’s at mu­sic camp with his 17- yearold brother William, a vi­ola player. They are the chil­dren of con­cert pi­anist Karen Clark, and the brothers were mem­bers of the Tas­manic string quar­tet while at pri­mary school in Ho­bart, which makes them vet­eran per­form­ers. But mu­sic camp pre­sented Peter Clark with an­other chal­lenge. Two days be­fore it started, he was asked to fill in as con­cert­mas­ter in a per­for­mance be­ing broad­cast live on ABC Clas­sic FM.

‘‘ It was daunt­ing at first, but it’s all part of it,’’ he says, stretch­ing his shoul­ders as he talks, loos­en­ing up af­ter the long hours of re­hearsals, an­other fore­taste of his fu­ture pro­fes­sion.

‘‘ Mu­sic camp is the turn­ing point for many young mu­si­cians,’’ says Mary Val­len­tine, chair- wo­man of the AYO board and a for­mer man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Syd­ney Sym­phony Orches­tra. ‘‘ They make a de­ci­sion about whether or not to be­come a pro­fes­sional.’’

Many of the pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians work­ing as tu­tors are prin­ci­pal play­ers in orches­tras. That means the present gen­er­a­tion of or­ches­tral per­form­ers, ensem­ble group mem­bers and soloists is pass­ing on its knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to the next gen­er­a­tion, which in turn will also pass it on.

‘‘ Here are ( nearly) 240 in­cred­i­bly tal­ented kids work­ing with in­cred­i­bly tal­ented tu­tors at a re­ally high level,’’ says Richard Gill, mu­sic di­rec­tor of the Vic­to­rian Opera and one of three con­duc­tors at the camp. But Gill, a first- rate teacher, be­lieves that they have sur­vived a sys­tem that is fail­ing most Aus­tralian school­child­ren. ‘‘ Mu­sic is a spe­cial­ist sub­ject, but chil­dren right around Aus­tralia do not have ac­cess to spe­cial­ist mu­sic teach­ers,’’ he says.

Some years ago the Na­tional Re­view of School Mu­sic Ed­u­ca­tion by the Cen­tre for Learn­ing, Change and De­vel­op­ment at Mur­doch Univer­sity in West­ern Aus­tralia reached a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion: ‘‘ Mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion in Aus­tralian schools is at a crit­i­cal point where prompt ac­tion is needed to right the in­equal­i­ties in school mu­sic.’’ The 2005 re­port quoted find­ings from sev­eral hun­dred schools across the na­tion. ‘‘ A sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity’’ of schools did not pro­vide any mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion. In many other schools, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, ‘‘ mu­sic is taught by a range of teach­ers, some with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tions in mu­sic or ed­u­ca­tion’’.

Though the fed­eral gov­ern­ment made some money avail­able for de­vel­op­ing a mu­sic cur­ricu­lum, noth­ing was done about teacher ed­u­ca­tion. ‘‘ Now state com­mit­tees are start­ing to pre­pare sub­mis­sions for the new fed­eral Gov­ern­ment,’’ Gill says. He knows what he’d do about it. ‘‘ You start in kinder­garten with singing. So chil­dren can sing to­gether, in tune.

‘‘ From their singing they learn to read and write no­ta­tion. And they learn a great reper­toire of songs. At the age of five and six, they’re learn­ing to count, to read, to en­code, to de­code,’’ he says. ‘‘ There will never come a time in their lives again when the brain will be so ready to as­sim­i­late that in­for­ma­tion.’’

Gill, 66, an en­gag­ing man with a shock of white hair, is soon in front of his young orches­tra again, con­duct­ing an­other re­hearsal of Beethoven’s mag­nif­i­cent Eg­mont over­ture. Sud­denly he freezes, look­ing more than ever like one of Ger­ard Hoff­nung’s car­toon mae­stros.

‘‘ I can tell you cat­e­gor­i­cally that is ab­so­lutely how it doesn’t go,’’ he says dra­mat­i­cally. Some have failed to read what mu­si­cians call the dy­nam­ics and are play­ing too softly.

There are shocked looks at Gill, who rapidly as­sures them: ‘‘ It has noth­ing to do with me — it’s on the page.’’

When he steps from the tiny podium, Gill again sug­gests that the stu­dents at mu­sic camp can be counted among the lucky few. He prefers to think it’s ‘‘ very good teach­ing that turned th­ese or­di­nary kids into ex­tra­or­di­nary kids. Why shouldn’t ev­ery child have that op­por­tu­nity: not to make them the best flute player in Aus­tralia, but to give them the chance?’’

In many other coun­tries mu­sic is sys­tem­at­i­cally taught to all chil­dren, not merely the most gifted, he says.

In fact, the model of mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion now be­ing copied in more than 20 coun­tries did not

orig­i­nate in the north­ern hemi­sphere’s cap­i­tals of cul­ture but in Venezuela, where chil­dren from ev­ery back­ground at­tend free mu­sic classes in a gov­ern­ment- funded pro­gram that also pro­vides them with in­stru­ments.

Known as El Sis­tema, the Na­tional Net­work of Child and Youth Orches­tras of Venezuela was dreamed up in 1975 by a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter who also hap­pened to be a mu­si­cian. He thought classical mu­sic would of­fer many slum chil­dren a way out of poverty and crime, and he proved to be right.

Now there are 200 orches­tras across the coun­try. Venezue­lans re­vere their young classical mu­si­cians as if they were foot­ball he­roes or rock stars. ‘‘ Con­duc­tors like Si­mon Rat­tle and Clau­dio Ab­bado are queu­ing up to con­duct th­ese kids,’’ says ABC ra­dio pre­sen­ter Christo­pher Lawrence. El Sis­tema’s most fa­mous grad­u­ate is the sought- af­ter con­duc­tor Gus­tavo Du­damel, 27, who has been named as the next mu­sic di­rec­tor of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic.

In Aus­tralia, in con­trast, chil­dren can study mu­sic with­out ever com­ing into con­tact with an in­stru­ment or hav­ing to sing any­thing’’, Gill says. The Mur­doch Univer­sity re­view found that

only a small pro­por­tion of schools have des­ig­nated in­stru­men­tal or vo­cal pro­grams’’.

There are en­light­ened teach­ers and schools that are do­ing bet­ter; and then there are mu­si­cians such as hus­band and wife Kees Bo­ersma and Kirsty McCa­hon, who are at mu­sic camp to tu­tor dou­ble bass play­ers.

Bo­ersma is prin­ci­pal bass with the Syd­ney Sym­phony Orches­tra; McCa­hon is prin­ci­pal bass with the Aus­tralian Bran­den­burg Orches­tra. Their two sons at­tend Le­ich­hardt Pub­lic School, where Bo­ersma and McCa­hon set up a string group in 2005.

As the pri­mary school in Syd­ney’s in­ner- west al­ready had a ter­rific band pro­gram for Year 3 stu­dents, McCa­hon and Bo­ersma cre­ated a pro­gram they called Wel­come to the won­der­ful world of mu­sic’’ for stu­dents in kinder­garten and in years 1 and 2. We’ve for­tu­nately got a prin­ci­pal at Le­ich­hardt who ac­tively en­cour­aged it,’’ McCa­hon says.

Of the 260 chil­dren in the school, 50 of the lit­tlies turn up to play vi­o­lin or cello. ‘‘ We fundraised for the in­stru­ments,’’ she says.

McCa­hon and her hus­band also at­tended state schools, and ‘‘ we wanted to show you do not have to go to an ex­pen­sive private school to play an in­stru­ment’’. They spend at least 10 hours a week each vol­un­teer­ing at the school.

Sure, we could be spend­ing the 10 hours earn­ing more bucks, but as far as I’m con­cerned . . . the 10 hours I put in at the school are much more im­por­tant for my fam­ily and my so­ci­ety,’’ says McCa­hon, a raven- haired beauty who’s fiery on the sub­ject of mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion.

Hav­ing chil­dren learn­ing mu­sic gets all other parts of their brains go­ing. We know that. We have the stud­ies that show it. We can’t af­ford not to ed­u­cate them in mu­sic.’’

For­tu­nately, promis­ing young mu­si­cians keep emerg­ing against the odds.

The brass ensem­ble at Na­tional Mu­sic Camp in­cludes pe­tite, dark- eyed Deepa Goonetilleke, 22, a French horn player who suc­cess­fully au­di­tioned for the Aus­tralian Youth Orches­tra this year.

Born and raised in Queens­land, Goonetilleke, who has just grad­u­ated from the con­ser­va­to­rium with first- class hon­ours in mu­sic, is from a Sri Lankan fam­ily. Be­ing a mu­si­cian is not a tra­di­tional ca­reer for a Sri Lankan girl,’’ she says. Her par­ents are pro­fes­sion­als. They were ex­pect­ing me to do medicine.’’ In­stead she is au­di­tion­ing for con­ser­va­to­ri­ums in Ger­many, where she hopes to fur­ther her stud­ies.

But be­ing at mu­sic camp means she has al­ready met many of her fu­ture col­leagues.

‘‘ By the end of camp you have this great net­work of peo­ple that will prob­a­bly last you a life­time,’’ she says.

Pic­tures: Gary Ra­m­age

Fine­tun­ing: Clock­wise from main pic­ture, Richard Gill con­ducts one of the orches­tras at the Na­tional Mu­sic Camp in Can­berra; mu­sic di­rec­tor Mar­shall McGuire; Gill; mu­si­cal brothers William ( left) and Peter Clark

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