Alarm Over SA Music Education Is Exaggerated: ASO

Educator Paul Rissmann with ASO. Image Credit: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Graham Strahle
| June 6, 2018

A news story published by the independent online Adelaide news source InDaily has painted an alarming picture of music education in South Australia. It comes just days after the State Government announced a Music Education Strategy to improve the delivery of public education across SA’s public schools.

The InDaily story by Stephanie Richards quotes leading figures from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Australian Society for Music Education, University of Adelaide and the SA Department for Education, and describes the State as facing a “crisis” in its adequacy, staffing and resourcing of music education in public schools.

“There are differing views about where the blame lies, but the key players in the field spoken to by InDaily all agreed that school music education needed greater investment,” says Richards.

The five key players Richards quotes are the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME)’s national president Antony Hubmayer, its SA branch council member Christine Narroway, SA’s Department for Education executive director of strategic policy and external relations Karen Weston, the University of Adelaide’s executive dean of the faculty of arts Professor Jennie Shaw, and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s managing director Vincent Ciccarello.

The issues they identify are insufficient specialist music teachers in primary state schools, an erosion of staffing levels in the State’s Instrumental Music program, and a reduction in the hours given to music specialisation in teacher training degrees at South Australian universities.

“In a lot of teacher training courses now, the experience of the arts is a multifaceted one between four of the performing arts – dance, drama, music and media, Hubmayer is quoted as saying. “That gets allocated out of a four-year course something like 16 weeks. When you divide that up between the arts it’s not a very big experience.”

However, it appears the InDaily story may not be entirely correct in saying SA school music education is in ‘crisis’.

Since 2014, Ciccarello has convened a Music Education Roundtable that has sought to develop a coordinated strategy for building up music education by bringing together the ASO, ASME, Elder Conservatorium (University of Adelaide), and Department for Education.

A working party is presently advancing that strategy by conducting research on identifiable needs and best practice.

“We need to do some actual research in this area,” says Ciccarello. “We had no mapping to show who are the beneficiaries in music education and who is being denied it. Mapping would allow us to see who is getting it and who is missing out. Research would also enable us to study best practices in order to develop the best model to go forwards.”

Ciccarello says he was alerted to possible shortcomings in the State’s delivery of school music education by a decline he has seen in the number of SA musicians filling positions at the ASO.

“I am hard-pressed to name any of our players who was recruited from South Australia in the last five to ten years. Given we conduct blind auditions from behind a screen, it suggests to me that we are not getting the necessary flow of musicians from the [Elder] Conservatorium. It seems to me there is not the pipeline of students coming from there who are sufficiently keen to develop a career.”

Nevertheless, he says that to characterise school music education in SA as facing a “crisis” it is an exaggeration, and this overlooks “the many positives that exist”. Amongst these positives, he suggests, are the ASO’s own well developed annual Learning Program for students from preschool age to tertiary level.

ASME was contacted for comment.

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