Sep 29, 2017

'Making the Grade'.

Hands up if you remember this logo from your childhood?

It's only just now that I've realized that the circular half of the logo is a stylized image of Australia in white with a black background and the 5 lined musical staff running through it (all the states bar Tasmania from my reckoning).  In all my years of sitting AMEB exams, I genuinely thought that it was, in fact, a friendly black dinosaur with his neck arched towards some music.  At least I got the music bit, I suppose.
The reason I went back down memory lane was because of a BBC News Radio documentary I heard the other night.  It's called 'Making the Grade' and I've linked to where you can hear it here.

Briefly, 'Making the Grade' explores the role of the British system of standardized music examination in Commonwealth nations both now and in the early days of the British Empire.   Trinity College London and the Associated Boards of the Royal Schools of Music currently assess about a million music students around the world.  

In the good old days, chief examiners were themselves both accomplished musicians and composers as well as explorers. They would travel the world for nine months of the year visiting Commonwealth nations to examine students and nurture musical talent wherever they found it.  Schedules often changed at the last minute, transport was unreliable and there could be barely any students to assess when the destination was finally reached but those original members of the board and college persevered and the British system of examination remains the benchmark of musicianship in many nations of the world.  

The Australian counterpart of the ABRSM is the AMEB and I have all sorts of memories of my exams.  Having a half day off from school to attend the exam, the cottage in a leafy part of Perth where the exams were held and the special lunch that mum would buy me to eat on the way back to school.  I'm not terribly musical, the practice was torturous at times and I haven't touched a piano in decades but I do appreciate a bit of classical music from time to time.

Aside from the historical context of standardized music examination within the Commonwealth, 'Making the Grade' also explored the cultural context which I found fascinating.  In South East Asian countries, learning the piano and other classical instruments was and perhaps still is considered the height of good breeding and conferred status on participating families.  Music of the western world symbolized a seemingly more sophisticated culture and lifestyle that could be aspired to and reached through hard work and discipline.  

One candidate recalls sitting her exams in Malaysia in front of British examiners and finding that while she was technically very competent, she lacked the 'all-round package' when it came to presenting herself and conversing with her examiners.  Having not seen the world beyond Malaysia, her frame of reference in a cultural sense was far removed from both her examiners and the countries from which her music programme originated.  These were issues I never really considered having been brought up in the Australian education system.

Another interesting issue raised in the podcast was in relation to the way Western music has altered the music ecosystem in many Asian countries.  With so many Western-educated parents playing their children classical Western music, educators have found that the musical ears of these children have changed to be more attuned to the Western musical pitch and keys than those of their native culture.  This has implications for the future of ethnic musical culture if the young are unable to continue playing the instruments of the generations before them.

Are you musically inclined?  Are you a music teacher?  Thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I am not musically inclined and never had piano lessons as we were too poor.
    It's a pity that you never touched the piano for years.
    Will you get junior ssg to play music?


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