Surround sound: Music collaboration promotes holistic success

Issue: Volume 98, Number 14

Posted: 19 August 2019
Reference #: 1H9x4J

For nearly 25 years, promising young musicians in Canterbury have been offered training and support from primary school to university through a unique programme that has seen many go on to become professional musicians.

Canterbury’s Specialist Music Programme (SMP) was the vision of Canterbury music educators in the 1990s and has been a ‘remarkable collaboration’ between Westburn School, Burnside High School and the University of Canterbury, says Dr Patrick Shepherd, senior lecturer at Canterbury University’s College of Education, Health and Human Development.

Patrick is president of the SMP and has been involved almost from the outset.

“The original vision was that promising young musicians would be part of a programme which would maximise their potential, with many different performing opportunities to develop their musicianship. It’s more than making them practise hard and become really good violinists or pianists, it’s a holistic view of education – and music is one of the best ways I know of giving people a really balanced view of the world,” he says.

The programme has begun at Westburn School, where children from Years 5–8 audition. For a half-day each week, they meet to study music topics, attend rehearsals and have music lessons. They have to make up class work in their own time.

Music as a discipline

Carolyn Pritchard retired as Westburn School’s SMP teacher in 2018 after more than 20 years’ involvement with the programme. She says that from the beginning, SMP was like an ‘umbrella’ for the school’s music programme, which includes regular singing, classroom music, an extension programme, an orchestra, choirs, chamber ensembles and a jazz band.

“The programme was designed to pull these children together with the skills they have, enhance them and to teach them how to use them in a group situation,” Carolyn explains.

Music as a discipline also helps children in other curriculum areas, she says.

“It helps children with problem solving, self-management and confidence. I have had parents come to me and say ‘I can see that my child has improved not only in music, but all round in confidence and ability to communicate with people’.”

Victoria Panckhurst, Westburn’s new SMP teacher, was formerly HOD Music at secondary schools and says she is always thinking about the best ways to deliver music education. About 250 pupils at Westburn (more than half the school roll) are involved in extracurricular music.

Children in the SMP learn at least one instrument and have to join school music groups. Twice a year they perform in appraisal concerts.

“These students are off the charts with the amount of work and investment they put into music,” says Victoria.

Nurturing talent

Westburn School principal Susan Jennison arrived at the school in 2017 after 30 years in teaching. She says she has never known a school to have so much music going on at all levels. Children perform at every school assembly.

“The culture here is that it’s cool to be good at something and to try really hard and pursue excellence,” says Susan.

By the time SMP children from Westburn School reach Burnside High School, they have a good understanding of the demands and content of the programme. Like all Burnside students, they have to audition for the programme.

Opportunities lead to achievement

Chris Petch is the director of SMP at Burnside. He says his role is to give students opportunities so they can achieve at the highest level of music-making. And they do. Burnside High School is over-represented in national music groups and has had many successes in competitions in chamber music, choral music, orchestral music and jazz.

“Our department is staffed by highly specialist teachers who are able to teach within their specialist areas. This is reflected in our NCEA results each year, which are always consistently above national figures for similar decile schools,” he says.

Seventy per cent of SMP school leavers in 2018 went on to study music at tertiary level, from where they hope to carve careers as performers, teachers, and composers. Those who followed different career paths have maintained their passion and involvement in music.

Proud legacy

The University of Canterbury provides guidance and support for the programme. Patrick is proud that the programme has endured for more than 20 years and produced capable young people who achieve in all walks of life and have a passion for music. He credits the teaching staff, parents, volunteer mentors and helpers for the success of the programme.

“In education, there’s a huge focus on maths and literacy, but music helps with a lot of other skills. These kids have an aptitude, but then it’s hard work and application and that’s where many of the benefits of a music education come in.”

International success stories

  • Salina Fisher (violin) – award-winning composer based in New York. Works premiered by the NZSO.
  • Benjamin Morrison – first violinist, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Internationally recognised chamber musician.
  • Hamish Smith – scholarship to Manhattan School of Music in New York, studying bass.
  • Han Sol Jeong, Muse Ye (piano) – scholarships to YST Conservatory in Singapore.
  • Lixin Zhang – winner of Wallace Piano Competition. His first CD ‘Play’ was number one in the NZ classical music chart.
  • Tony Chen-Lin – international concert pianist, soloist with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra at the reopening of the Christchurch Town Hall.
  • Todd Gibson-Cornish – Royal College of Music, London scholarship, principal bassoonist, Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
  • Michael Bell (jazz) – musical arranger, producer, established Orange Studios.

What the students say

Michael, Year 6

Q. What instruments do you play?

A. I’ve just started the trombone. I’ve been playing the piano since I was about four, I’m grade five now. I’ve always got a distinction or a high distinction.

Q. What have you learned by being in SMP?

A. All the very detailed bits in music. I used to just play really loudly. Now I look at all the articulation and the dynamics and phrasing.

Q. How has being a musician helped you in life?

A. When I’m bored and being lazy I have it to focus on! I like maths too.

Aadarsh Roy, Year 6

Q. Do you like practising?

A. It gets fun when you’re used to it. I’m getting ready to play for my Grandma’s birthday. It’s a big milestone – she is going to be 80.

Q. What have you learned through your involvement in SMP?

A. We learn from each other. Also we learn how to gain confidence in ourselves through all the concerts. It’s really good being in a group because you get to know people. Friendships are important.

Q. What would you like to do as a job when you grow up?

A. I might teach music on the side, but I think I would like to be an engineer.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:07 AM, 19 August 2019

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