We have a vision for Australia, where its children are empowered to believe in themselves, their dreams achievable, their imaginations fired, living in communities transformed and inspired by their achievements.
How do we intend to do this? We will do this through the power of music.
Music is a basic building block of humanity. It is something that intrinsically reaches into us and affects us at a very primal and often at a very private level. Our basic premise is that music, and its performance removes the differences between us – even music we have never heard, nor played before, and even music from another culture. When we participate – all playing or singing the same tune, we are drawn inexorably together. Witness a football crowd all singing the club theme song: all together as one – connected and equal at the moment of doing so; the same in a church congregation.
It is this ‘connection’ we seek to create in 60 children together, as one. At the moment they sing or play together, they automatically connect with each other and they are no longer isolates; no longer alone. Because we teach them together as one, they are generally at the same level as each other. They start as children with little or no knowledge of music and then journey together in its discovery and mastery through to adulthood. It’s a tremendous feeling for children: a belonging. And they will do pretty much anything to keep experiencing it; to keep that feeling of belonging, meaning and purpose. They even put effort into each other, teaching things on, to those who may not have mastered the knowledge.
Social Cohesion and Community
This is social cohesion and it happens not only to the children. Because this is very much a performance based process – with many concerts during the year, the parents and families of the children come along to these concerts and events, and instantly this creates a social belonging within the gathered community as well. This can be extended into the wider community, particularly as the children become very good at what they do and perform more widely.
Community building is everything in this process; to build and create this musical community, and extending the process into the wider community; this is the entire propose of our programs. It’s is a process of leverage; through the children, to their families and then into the community itself – using music as the catalyst for this.
What do we expect from this? We expect to see a process of emergence. Emergence is a process whereby the sum of the output or outcome is greater than simply the sum of the inputs or parts: other things happen and arise from this, including community-based subsidiary activity, friendships between cultures and different family groups, opportunities for organisation and collaboration between the communities and the wider community and the business community; between one community to another and between the community and sympathetic organisations – musical, social, charitable and educational benefits; and in the proliferation of hope.
Because the inputs are about positive values (children learning and growing through focused, supportive, encouraging, team-work and skill development), the output is likewise highly positive with musical happy children and then the community too, begins to take on these positive attributes. The more energy you pour into these children and their communities the more you will get back – in a social ‘fusion’ energy.
Measurable behavioural outcomes for the children include improvements in schoolwork, social attitude, self-respect, self-esteem, and discipline. In addition the children learn skills which a very transferable ongoing, such as: teamwork, problem solving, communication, time management, negotiation, and biomechanical co-ordination. All of these apply directly to academic performance, and then ongoing into the work environment.
Measurable neurological outcomes include increased linguistic proficiency, more emotional connection and empathy, enhanced manual dexterity, improved concentration and focus, increased sociability, better executive brain function, and the lowering of stress and anxiety in the participants.
Evidence for Vision Outcomes
There are certainly many hundreds if not thousands of examples where this process has been deployed in one fashion or another around the world. These are backed up with many studies, and considerable research on the processes and outcomes. It works.
We have studied the multifarious El Sistema-influenced and based programs, including the Venezuelan program and have taken the best of all that there is, endeavouring to create a superior program – one that addresses issues as well as successes experienced to create a purpose-built social enterprise, fit for purpose – socially, educationally and artistically.
We are also intending to incorporate values and processes from other proven music programs and structures and will deploy teachers trained in Orff Schulwerk, and other early music teaching programs of value, along with large ensemble teaching as in El Sistema.
Vision of Excellence
Most important of all, we have a vision of excellence – excellence in teaching, excellence in music, excellence in learning and an excellence in governance and administration – nothing less will suffice. Anything else would be to let the children and the communities down.
The process of excellence is very important in the music education sense especially as it is this that brings out the true worth of the programs. Much is expected of both the teaching artists and the children and young people. However all of this is through encouragement and the promotion of doing one’s best, difficult fun and the discovery of the beauty in music and its performance. Fearlessness is strongly supported, through tackling the difficult, and the extensive use of performance – it’s about ‘safe risk-taking’ so that the child can see the effects of trial and error, and learning though failing. This mimics the same process in computer games where to fail is the path to learning and success.
Social Action through music!
Following on from the successful piloting of Australia's first El Sistema-based social action music education program for children living in disadvantaged communities - via Sistema Australia - we have created the Symphony For Life Foundation.