Vale Richard Gill, and the Need to Continue His Legacy

Richard Gill Image Credit: Sam Grimmer via Limelight Magazine
Graham Strahle
| November 7, 2018

Richard Gill leaves behind a legacy of achievements and inspiration that needs to be continued through the work of those who believed in his cause.

The renowned conductor and music education advocate, who sadly passed away on 28 October, made a uniquely powerful contribution to Australia’s musical landscape. Whole slabs of musical life in this country would be missing were it not for his contribution. Victorian Opera and the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra, for example, owe their existence to him: he was founder and inaugural artistic director of the former, and co-founder, artistic director and principal conductor of the latter.

Then there were his formative roles as head of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s education program, and at Australian Youth Orchestra’s National Music Teacher Mentoring Program which he designed and directed. Besides are numerous orchestras and choirs around the country that benefited from his inspiration and expertise.

Between all these achievements, and across a career that spanned more than five decades, Gill has touched many thousands of musicians, singers, and audiences. And that legacy is set to continue with the newly established Muswellbrook Richard Gill National Music Academy, due to open in 2020. It implements his vision that music should be a vital part of every child’s life. As he eloquently explained in a TEDx talk in 2011, he maintained that every child, no matter where they live or what their circumstances happen to be, has the right to a proper music education, and this depends on there being a qualified music teacher in every school in the land.

That TEDx talk is worth watching again for the wonderfully emphatic, acerbic and humorous way Gill could engage with the public. Another of his phenomenal talks was ‘The Power of Music’ at Happiness and Its Causes in Sydney in 2016 – also worth repeated viewing.

As one example among many, Gill made a singular contribution to The School Music Action Group (sMAG), an organisation that has been lobbying hard for professionally trained teachers to be introduced into all Victorian schools. He took a leadership role in instigating action that led to putting a series of recommendations to the Victorian Government.

Gill’s work and ideas have been taken up over the years with fervour by a growing chorus of other music educationists around the country. His passionate words have helped turn around a decades-long culture of disinterest that had left music education in a state of parlous neglect in Australia’s school system. There are been other crusaders, but Gill stands as a champion among champions.

Let’s hope the momentum continues.

Gill is remembered with particular affection by the community of music professionals, industry representatives and advocates who make up Music Australia.

Rhonda Davidson Irwin, Music Australia’s CEO, commented:

“For many years Music Australia has always had a strong and warm relationship with Richard Gill, and we are eternally grateful for his contribution to music throughout the country.

His conducting expertise and passion for music education will continue for generations to come as he leaves a lifelong legacy. His enormous impact has and will continue to inspire other music educators to take up the baton for music education.

Last week, as Music: Count Us In 2018 was live streamed on November 1st, music teachers could feel Richard Gill’s presence as 700,000 children sang together, from all parts of Australia to celebrate the importance of music education.

All of us at Music Australia salute Richard Gill and mourn his passing. We will continue his journey and message to nurture music in the hearts of all – in particular our younger generation – and to celebrate and continue his vision, passion and energy.”

A tribute concert by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra entitled Richard Gill: Celebration of a Life will be held at the Sydney Opera House on 17 Nov, 11:30 am. Also participating will be Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Chamber Choir and the Conservatorium High School Chamber Choir. Admission is free, but prior ticket booking is required. Details here.

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