Home » Richard Gill: The Value of Music Education at TEDxSydney (Full Transcript)

Richard Gill: The Value of Music Education at TEDxSydney (Full Transcript)

Richard Gill

Richard Gill – TRANSCRIPT

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve asked if the lights could be lifted for this session, and David Glover agreed. And the reason, thank you very much, is I like to see the whites of your eyes. And I like to see you as my class. I hope you’ve all made the connection that music is an incredibly important part of what has been happening today.

We started with a didjeribone, an improvisation on this extraordinary instrument. We then saw a film that had been put together showing how TEDx was set up, and music, actually, made that film work. Without music, that film would have been a very different film. We then saw the rabbit, that had music; – a tragic end for the rabbit, but nonetheless, music – and then we have had “Synergy”, whose piece, their percussion piece, was an improvised piece. I spoke to Bree afterwards and I said, “That’s clearly improvised,” and she said, “Yes, we work on a particular pattern. We take that pattern, and every time we perform that piece, we do it differently.”

Then, we had a string quartet, which included amplified sounds with improvisation. Structures upon which other structures had been imposed. This is the creative process. This is the process which starts with an idea which comes from the imagination, the musical imagination. And when the musical imagination is ignited in a group circumstance, we have the most extraordinary power to change lives with music, and to involve people in music. And it should start with very, very, very young children not teenagers. Not that — you can’t start– I’ve taught teenagers who had their first experience with music as teenagers.

But my view is that all of that improvisation, all of that creativity you saw on the stage today, is the right of every child, no matter where and no matter what the circumstance. Every child, I believe, should have access to properly taught music in the hands of a properly taught teacher. And it can start in the simplest way. Music is an oral art. And when I talk about music, I define it as “sound, organized in some way, passing through time.” With children, we begin with imitation, the most powerful way of teaching.

And if you don’t mind becoming three-year-olds just for a minute – I promise you, a minute – I will make my point. I’m going to clap a pattern, I want you to clap it back. (Audience clapping) You’re clearly not three. Here’s another one. (Audience claps) What you notice is you accelerate, you get louder, and you don’t actually do the pattern properly which means you are educable, you can be taught.

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When you do that with children, what you’re doing is you’re engaging them in their first oral experience. They need to listen. And as a result of the listening, they repeat, and it requires focus. When this happens, and we take a very simple nursery rhyme, and we say, with children, we go, (singing) “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” We do this little pattern, I frequently say to the little children, very young children, “Who can do a different pattern?” Child one puts a hand up and goes (singing same pattern) “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall …” I said, “Thank you very much.” Who can do a different pattern?” (singing same pattern) “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall …”

And then, the next child will say, “When will this be over?” All teaching is an act of faith. And with children, the idea that repetition and putting it in the circumstance of offering ideas is vital. Music is important for the following reasons: it is abstract, it doesn’t mean anything outside itself. When we play a sound, you can interpret that sound as you wish. I’m going to go to the TEDx Steinway. And it is a Steinway. I’ve sampled [David’s] Steinway. I’m going to play some sounds. (playing piano) Those sounds are abstract. They mean nothing other than themselves.

If I then say, “I’m going to play a composition, and it’s called something. I want you to imagine what this composition might be called.” (Playing a short tune) Does anyone have an idea what that composition might be called? Probably “Highly forgettable”. But, in each person, that sort of music, any music, will evoke a different response. Music does not describe. Music does not narrate. Music does not tell stories. Music evokes. Music suggests, music implies, and music opens up the mind of a child in an extraordinary way. And I want to give you some ideas on that – back to the Steinway.

These three pieces deal with night. (playing “Claire de Lune” by Debussy) “Claire de Lune” of Debussy. (playing “A Little Night Music” by Mozart) “A Little Night Music” of Mozart. (playing “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven) “Moonlight Sonata” of Beethoven. They have nothing to do with night whatsoever. The title is simply a way in. But this abstraction about music is what offers a child the chance to move into a really special world of thinking. And we get children, therefore, to try to understand that the most important thing about music is to make your own music. Children must make their own music. It is not they shouldn’t reproduce music, but they must make their own, and they make it best through singing. That every child, given normal circumstances, has the capacity to sing; you, all, have the capacity to sing. Shall we test that? Yes, we shall.

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I will give you a little phrase and I’d like you to sing it back. La-la-la-la-la, la-la, la, la.

(Audience) La-la-la-la-la, la-la, la, la.

Richard Gill: La, la-la, la-la, la-la.

(Audience) La, la-la, la-la, la-la.

Richard Gill: Pitch better than rhythm for you lot. Very good. Now what about if I give you a little pattern here, like, foot, hand, foot, hand. Just try that, foot, hand, and then, sing this back, la-la, la-la, la, la, la.

(Audience) La-la, la-la, la, la, la.

Richard Gill: La, la-la, la-la, la-la.

(Audience) La, la-la, la-la, la-la.

Richard Gill: Now sing the whole thing from the beginning. Go.

(Audience) La-la, la-la, la, la, la. La, la-la, la-la, la-la.

Richard Gill: Exactly. When in doubt – improvise, right? Through singing is how we engage every child. Through singing is how we teach children to be literate, to read and write. Through singing is how we teach children to analyze. I was working with a group of first grade girls, and we were doing a song about “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake”. And I had the pitch on the board. Not that they could read the pitch, but I believe they should confront the example. And throughout the lesson, we did a number of activities.

And at one stage, I said to them, “Let’s look at the song on the board. What do you notice?” And one of them said, “It goes up, and it goes down.” This little bright one by the theater divide said, “Well, there are crotchets and minims in that song.” And everyone else in the class went, “Oh, boy.” So at the end of the lesson, I like to make a summary, “What have we done?” It’s very important for me to find out what we have done. So all of them are sitting on the floor, and I said to them, “What did we do today?” “Nothing.” That’s a very common response, “Nothing.”

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We just jumped, and we clapped, and we sang. And they went– and I finally got out what they did. This one put her hand up and said, “Well, we learned about crotchets and minims, but I had to teach us.” Most interesting was watching the other kids go, “Yeah, that’s true.”

So the next day, another song is on the board, and all these lessons are being videoed, they’re being taped. Another song on the board, we’re observing the notation. And at the end of the lesson, I bring them all together, and I said, “What do you notice about the notation today? The pattern. It goes up, it goes down, it does this?” And she was sitting right there, and she looked up at me, and she said, “I haven’t got a clue.” Which was tolerated by the rest of the class. That concept. They probably agreed. With music, you open up the mind of a child in a very special way, different from drama, different from dance, and different from visual arts. There was a movement which said all the arts work the same way, when we went through the touchy-feely 60s. That is simply not true. The arts function in different ways. And music, in my view, is at the top of the food chain.

The drama people tend not to agree with me on that. But I also put dance in there. But what I want to say is that the power of the creative thought transferred from music to all other areas of learning is hugely potent. The neurological evidence for music is in in a spectacular way. That’s a bonus. Music is worth teaching for its own sake. It is worth teaching because it is good, it is worth teaching because it is unique, and it is worth teaching because it empowers children spectacularly. And when you get a fifth grade boy who comes up with a piece of music and says, “Look, I made this myself,” with that sort of threat you know it’s working, thank you.

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