Interactive technology is taking music teaching in schools to new and wider horizons, reports Sean Mooney.
Music education is being delivered in many Sydney schools at an unprecedented level of technological sophistication.
Software developed by specialist music educators for use on interactive whiteboards has been designed to complement teacher training, live performance and other resources provided by Musica Viva In Schools (MVIS), the education arm of Musica Viva, a not-for-profit organisation with a focus on ensemble music.
The Interactive Resources for the Digital Classroom program is also being made available to more remote, disadvantaged and special-needs classrooms across NSW through the MVIS Equal Music Program. Both these initiatives have also been introduced in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, with a national rollout planned by 2014.
Musica Viva spokesperson Jacky Andrews says the software is available as part of the MVIS Live Performance Plus music-education program. PC and Mac compatible, it runs on interactive whiteboard systems or computers with data projectors, and is installed via secure website download. Once installed, it doesn't require an internet connection for use.
"It's designed by experienced music teachers so that primary and specialist music teachers can incorporate their lessons into class activities, group work or self-paced learning tasks," says Andrews. One of the main aims is to help teachers prepare their classes for live performances by MVIS's touring ensembles. Students can sing, move and play along with a specific ensemble's instruments and repertoire, which are introduced in the software.
Caroline Cady, who teaches music at Frenchs Forest Public School, says the MVIS program's focus differs from that of a specialist music teacher. "In my program I'm teaching the children to read music, sing, play recorder, play guitar and compose on their band instruments," she says. "Musica Viva gives them a great performance opportunity and teaches them about music from other cultures, other styles of music and different types of scales they don't hear when they're in a band. It's really valuable in helping them understand the cultural differences in music."
She says the software is particularly useful for teachers without a strong musical background, as it easily shows how to copy rhythm patterns and so forth on the board.
Musica Viva's South Australian education manager Emily Kelly says the organisation's Equal Music Program lets the software reach more schools across the country. Although new to NSW, Equal Music's origins can be traced back to 2008 in SA. "We had volunteers in our office making calls to schools to see if they were interested in having our performance-based program, and they were coming across a lot of schools saying they'd love to but couldn't afford it," says Kelly. "Their students' economic backgrounds meant they wouldn't be able to ask for the money from parents, so a volunteer suggested she would pay for one particular school because it broke her heart that they couldn't be a part of it."
This first step proved successful, and more donors soon put up their hands, allowing MVIS to expand Equal Music to three SA schools in 2009, then nine the following year. More than 2600 students at 12 SA schools were assisted by the program in 2011. "As it grew we kept feeding this information back to our other State offices," says Kelly. "Then we started shaping guidelines about what kinds of schools might be interested, and now it has expanded into a national program, so we're very happy about it." Kelly explains that while education departments nationally subsidise MVIS services, the Equal Music Philanthropic Program is an "additional, subsidised, targeted program that has specific donor money attached to it". "The schools do have to fit the criteria of being disadvantaged," she says. "There are a number of different identifiers, not least of which is the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) on the My School website – and we look at the school's story, why they are having trouble bringing music into the school, and what their aim is in introducing music to the school."
Macarthur Girls High School music teacher Jane Haydon says Equal Music has already helped the school. "Musica Viva called me out of the blue and said they'd been speaking to a donor and that he or she had very kindly offered to give our school two days of the composer in the classroom," she says. "Without the donor we would not have had these experiences for the girls, so it's been a fantastic time for them." Haydon believes music education has many benefits for children. "Music has a really positive effect on a lot of students," she says.
"I see positive things happen through music all the time. It's great for building self-esteem because they are creating something. It also involves life skills like team work and communication."
Lakemba Public School teacher Deborah Lang says her students respond particularly well to the technological elements of the MVIS programs. "The children seem to enjoy the idea of technology and hands-on activities together," she says. "Most of the students haven't had much musical background or any formal training in music, so they've come from not being engaged in music to being really engaged by these activities." Lang also finds the digital resources helpful in the classroom. "I'm comfortable with technology, so it's helping me to teach music, which I would normally probably try to avoid," she says. "The interactive whiteboard focuses the students, and not being a music teacher, it definitely helps me teach music, and I'm actually enjoying it."
For more information about Musica Viva in Schools, visit www.musicaviva.com.au/education/mvis.
This article was first published in the April 2012 edition of Sydney's Child.