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Peter Garrett & Dr Anita Collins at Alberts’ Music Education: Right From The Start launch this week

“There is no need for any more reports, there is no need for advice to come up from the department, there is no need for things to go into the bench or review committee and come back empty-handed, those days are over,” Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett told a packed house of music education’s movers and shakers at the launch of Music Education: Right From The Start, a national initiative spearheaded by the famous Alberts music group through their Tony Foundation. Collectively the attendees, including Garrett proclaimed that without delay, the time is now to set in concrete processes that would ensure that every Australian primary school child should receive a quality and ongoing education in music.

Music advocacy groups, leaders, educators and musicians (including members of the Australian Music Association, publisher of Australian Musician magazine) came together in St. Kilda this week  to launch Alberts’ Music Education: Right From The Start initiative. Since 2012 the Tony Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the Alberts group has been improving lives through music, partnering with organisations who use music to improve life outcomes for marginalised youth, youth experiencing mental health challenges and Indigenous youth by offering grants, loans, advice and networks. The mission of the Music Education: Right From The Start initiative is to bring together key individuals and organisations from across the music and education industries with the shared goal of striving for quality, sequential and ongoing music education for all Australian primary school students.

At the launch, David Albert CEO of Alberts acknowledged country and suggested that this was a “gathering of the clans, a celebration of our love of music and our shared commitment to quailty music education”.  David is the cousin of Emily Albert, who has been a driving force of Music Education: Right From The Start since it was first discussed in 2019 and throughout the pandemic. Of course Alberts has played a vital role in the evolution of Australia’s media and popular culture, from the early days of music publishing through to the birth of commercial radio and television and the Australian pop and rock music industry. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit Alberts has supported artists from AC/DC to the Easybeats and Baz Luhrmann and has never been afraid to back technological and social change.

First Nations singer-songwriter and CEO of Songlines Robbie Bundall added to the acknowledgement of country and performed a beautiful song to welcome the audience to the day.

Dr Anita Collins, expert advisor to the initiative followed and explained that her role is to “help convey the research that underpins this call for change.” Dr Collins also eloquently outlined what some of the problems actually were. As an example of the current hurdles to a solid music education for kids, she told the story of two geographically close schools which offered very different music education experiences. At one primary school she visited, she heard that students had wonderful access to an ongoing quality music education for their entire 7 years, including the supply of instruments. However, at another primary school just a couple of kilometres down the road, the students were receiving a paltry 7 hours a year of music education and never came near a musical instrument. They might learn about music but don’t experience the making of music and all of the proven benefits that come with that. Dr Collins went on to explain that it’s not the fault of teachers, rather that their training and the investment in music for that school is insufficient.

To illustrate perfectly what can be achieved through quality music teaching, Zoe Barry, 2021 ARIA Music Teacher of the Year then presented first year students from Sacred Heart Primary School in Fitzroy, who beautifully performed two original compositions.

Zoe Barry, 2021 ARIA Music Teacher of the Year and first year students from Sacred Heart Primary School in Fitzroy perform at the launch

Representing the Federal Government, newly appointed Envoy to The Arts Susan Templeman, daughter of a “tone deaf” father but gifted musician mother, told of her experiences with music as a child before promising to do whatever she can, alongside Federal members Tony Bourke and Jason Clare, to bring the goals of Music Education: Right From The Start to reality.

Emily Albert took to the stage and pondered what might happen if big pharma patented a single drug with proven effects, including improvements to working memory, logic processing and literacy, the fostering of empathy, the establishment of more robust immune systems, advanced self-esteem, a reduction in depression and mental illness, enhancement of social cohesion and passion and cooperation. All of those points listed are only some of the benefits of a quality music education, which were found in research recently conducted by The Tony Foundation, led by Dr Anita Collins. Emily suggested that in the end there are only two measures of success from this collective effort to improve music education in primary schools; firstly, the number of primary school students who have access to a quality music eduction and secondly, the number of primary schools delivering music education, which means agreeing on quality benchmarks.

Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett, in town for one of the band’s final performances on their farewell tour came to the lectern with a unique view of the topic, not only being an internationally recognised musician but also as former Minister for both the Arts and Education portfolios.

“I am deeply, deeply worried that unless we address the deficits in providing young Australian students, wherever they live and whatever the means of their parents are, with a substantial grounding in an education of which music must be a fundamental part … then we are denying them the opportunity to live fulfilled lives and be productive citizens,” he said.

“There is a lot of expertise and a lot of people who want it to happen, so why isn’t it happening? There are two reason why it isn’t happening and both of them relate to the first reason … there’s not enough money and there’s not enough political will … there are no other reasons. What can help move those things along would probably be … a third leg of the stool. That would be engendering amongst the community a greater love and appreciation of music. I think that is the task of all of us.”

“I know I speak on behalf of my other colleagues in the band where we strongly believe that the well-being of country depends on all young Australians in primary school having access to and experiencing a real music education. We think that is incredibly important … bring on the collaborations, bring together the diverse but very focussed intelligences, researchers and commitments that you have but come across here to state and federal politicians, including Tony (Burke), including Jason (Clare) and saying there is no need for any more reports, there is no need for advice to come up from the department, there is no need for things to go into the bench or review committee and come back empty-handed, those days are over.”

You can support and follow the progress of Music Education: Right From The Start via and via their  Facebook page.

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