At Kooweerup Secondary College music is given a high priority. Apart from the obvious pleasure it brings, music is important to a child’s development because it can improve concentration, co-ordination and self discipline. It enhances creativity and is a great socialiser.
The college instrumental music program offers free tuition in all the symphonic wind and percussion instruments. Students have a lesson once a week during class time – on a rotating timetable so that they do not miss the same class each week. Students need to own their own instruments as this ensures a more definite commitment.
There are two symphonic bands, a stage band, a saxophone ensemble and a flute ensemble
The bands are often asked to perform at various community functions and also participate in music festivals and state and national band competitions. For the last four years the Band has marched in the Anzac Day parade in the city. Individual students are also encouraged to perform at festivals, competitions and eisteddfods
Students are prepared for theory and practical exams through to Year 12. Participation in the instrumental music program is recorded as an additional subject at the College and students are provided with a report. They may also choose to sit for AMEB exams and progress through to VCE music.
The Age – VCE music students: with a song in their hearts and the discipline for high scores
Date : June 14, 2015
Few students take music subjects in VCE but those that do have choices ranging from singing to bagpipes. So how are their talents and performance assessed?
Key to learning: Koo Wee Rup Secondary College’s Director of Music Claudia Barker works with her student Emma Wallace who hopes to be an opera singer. Photo: Anne Crawford
Last year, Koo Wee Rup Secondary College’s Director of Music Claudia Barker drove her student Emma Wallace to the Melbourne school where the VCE Music Investigation exam was being held. The year 11 student had to present a 25-minute performance to illustrate her area of “investigation”: “techniques used to convey different emotions in classical art songs”.
One of the half a dozen songs she sang for her examiners was Brahms’ romantic Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht – a version of which tinkles out of the mobiles hanging over babies’ cots. On the way home the pair stopped at Frankston Hospital, where Emma’s father had just undergone a serious operation.
“We went up to the ward and she sang it for her father,” says Barker, who has been teaching music at the school since 1976 after starting there in 1965 and whose music classes take place in the school’s Claudia Barker Performing Arts Centre, built in 2002.
“At first most people thought it was a radio playing. Then everyone just stopped and listened. It was so beautiful – there wasn’t a dry eye in the ward.”
“Studying music isn’t always just about the exam,” says the teacher, who has a master’s of education in music and can cite endless research into the beneficial effects of music study, such as the fact that music students score 19 per cent higher in English, and 17 per cent higher in maths.
“Kids who learn music have to be organised and self-disciplined. We are so data-driven in schools. NAPLAN tests don’t tell us if a student is committed or trustworthy. Music study does.”
Yet, for all those benefits, all three music subjects remain minority VCE studies, with 1734 out of last year’s 49,000 VCE students enrolling in Music Performance, fewer than studied French. Only 303 did Music Investigation and 150 opted for Music Style and Composition.
Why? Because, as Claudia Barker says, “music is not a soft option.”
“I reckon it’s twice as much work (as an academic subject) if they are really committed,” she says “because they have to do one to two hours’ practice on their instrument every day.
Practise on your instrument, says Barker, is the key to conquering nerves in performance, as is intensive performance practice. Her students are also urged to appear in as many as possible of the 40-odd events the school takes part in, from appearances at local shows such as Koo Wee Rup’s annual “Music On The Grass” to visits to nursing homes.
“The better prepared you are the better you’ll handle a stressful situation,” says one VCE assessor, who, according to Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority rules, must remain anonymous. “Practice, practice and more practice and rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal – with your accompanist, with the backing track, in a similar space to the performance examination venue, to familiar audiences, and to unfamiliar audiences.”
But VCE music performance students have other stresses, such as a nightmarish-sounding 90-minute theory exam that runs to a CD soundtrack. With limited time available to answer each question, it comprises 20 per cent of a student’s final mark, with the performance and school-based assessments making up the other 50 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. In one section, six series of two notes will be played and students will have to pick the “interval” or number of notes between upper and lower. In another, a melody will be played and students will have to transcribe it.
This year Barker has four music performance students, including Emma Wallace, now in year 12 and, with her heart set on a career in opera. The 17-year old, who first sang Puccini’s famous aria O mio babbino caro at 12, at an end of year concert, is one of a minority of students who have chosen “classical voice” as her instruments. In the era of TV shows such as The Voice, “contemporary popular” voice has become the most popular choice for solo music performance, done by 21 per cent of students and second only to “group performance”, chosen by 29 per cent.
Today Barker’s class is a review of yesterday’s SAC (school-assessed coursework test) which involved “sight singing” (singing from sheet music hitherto unseen) as well as “interval” and chord tests. Brows furrow as Barker, seated at the piano, plays two notes. “A fifth,” says one student (meaning that one note is four notes above the other.) Barker looks pained. “Right … now why couldn’t you get that yesterday?”
Emma’s classmate student Harry Lewis-Fitzgerald, won’t have to sit this test. The year 11 student, who’d love to work as a musician later on or do “anything in the arts or music”, is studying Music Investigation. His area of study is “a demonstration of guitar performance and techniques that distinguish selected artists from the ‘Art Rock’ period of the late 1960s and the 1970s”. It’s a music style that “hooked” him at the age of four when his father played him Electric Warrior by glam rockers T-Rex.
Showy and theatrical, art rock is characterised, the student explains, by witty lyrics, experimental song structures, “speech-level” singing, use of European languages and synthesiser and experimental guitar effects. For his exam, he will perform six works, including Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting For The Man and write a brief “focus statement” on the different techniques used, such as slide and legato playing. He will also have to use them to compose and perform his own piece in this style.
As a “Unit 3 and 4” subject, Music Investigation is more demanding than his other subjects.
“But it’s easier because I am doing something I love, something I know.”