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The intersection of Chamber Music, Social Justice, and Arts Education - with Musica Viva Australia
Episode 87th June 2022 • Mission Megaphone • Growth Network Podcasts
00:00:00 00:23:11

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We’ve handed the megaphone to Hywel Sims, the CEO of Musica Viva Australia.

Musica Viva is one of the leading providers of music education in Australia, as well as one of the world's leading presenters of chamber music. Passionate about creating a vibrant musical future for Australia’s artists and audiences, Musica Viva nurtures both established and emerging talent from around the country and is committed to learning from their First Nations friends and colleagues on how to most effectively include the many peoples and languages that, together, comprise the oldest living culture in the world.

You'll learn;

  • the history of indigenous music in Australia
  • how to center live music in education
  • what really is chamber music?

To learn more visit and follow Musica Viva

This is a Growth Network Podcasts production. Our producers are Lynz Floren, Sari Weinerman, and Jeffrey Morris. Production Manager is Maura Murphy Barrosse. Original music, sound design, and mixing by Nicolas Fournier. Promotional support from Marsha Ord. Website by Nick Brodnicki.

Mentioned in this episode:

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Transcripts

[:

Hywel:

If you looked at Musica Viva as a diagram, that'd be three

equal components they would be our emerging artists program. They would be

our education programs and schools for younger children and then the main

stage concerts where we really do celebrate int

ernational brilliance and

Australia and brilliance. My name is Hywel Sims and I'm the Chief Executive

Officer of Musica Viva, Australia.

[:

Lynz:

This is Mission Megaphone, a Growth Network Podcasts

production. We're on a mission to be a megaphone

for purpose driven

organizations that are changing the world.

[:

Hywel:

I think it's important to know that Musica Viva was started

by Jewish refugees in the:

so many Jewish people ended up in, all

over the world. And in most of those

places, they started arts organizations or they started performing or they started

funding the arts.

The founding generation naturally brought their children and their

grandchildren to concerts. I know from talking to

a lot of both the founding

generation and their children and their grandchildren, I that in most cases that

kind of worked coming to concerts is not only an opportunity to hear the music

they've learned to love, but it's a way of honoring the tradition.

So

we've got this long history of bringing music, live music importantly, to this

country. And for about the last 40 years, we've been the major provider of music

education in schools in Australia. So we're all about bringing music to life for

communities ar

ound the country.

It's becoming practice here to whenever you present a public event or launch a

website, that you would acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands.

Australia, as you would know, was colonized by white people about 200 and

some years

ago. And at that point as far as we know, the country was divided

into literally hundreds of what we call countries now, each had its own

language, or most of them did. And the life was governed as would be typical

by ceremony and careful conversations and

discussions and debates between the

countries to allow them to survive together successfully.

We also know that traditional owners learnt over the 60,000 or so years we

think people have been here, to take care of the land. So we do it at the

beginning of

every life performance. For example I would start by

acknowledging that I'm on Gadigal land, which is the name of the peoples who

populated the land I'm actually on at the moment. And I would say bujari

gamarruwa, which is welcome in Gadigal. So the Gadig

al is one of the

languages we have some elements left of, the majority of them have been lost

because people were taken from their lands and prevented from speaking the

language.

The debate about what chamber music is a very lively one, and our artistic

di

rector who's been with us several years now is determined to change the way

we think of that term.

In our schools programs in Australia, we have 14 musical ensembles that tour

the country. And they perform in a very wide range of genres from a wonderful

Ty

co drumming group, who have interpreted drumming for curriculum and

lessons in schools. We've got two First Nations ensembles we've developed in

conjunction with people from those countries. One in particular called Wyniss

which comes from the islands off

the coast of Australia, or some of the islands.

They actually perform in language rather than in English, and then translate

from language into English so the school children understand what's going on.

And the kids who see our shows have been through a ye

ar of curriculum

preparation, so when the artists arrive it's like rockstars arriving in the school.

It's fantastic. And so Wyniss performs dances from their country, speaks in

language, talks about some of the gestures they're using and the dances they're

doing.

And that's just one of a range of about 10 or 15 different stars of music from as

many cultures that we perform around the country. So perform anything up to

2,500 concerts every year when we can, and most of those would be in a wide

variety of mu

sical styles that the more traditional would not think of as chamber

music.

In the pandemic we all discovered that live music is unique. That the live

experience can't be replicated. The full experience of sitting in an audience or a

room or a hall with l

ive musicians, you can't recreate that digitally. You can do

other things digitally, you can create new work that's designed specifically for

the digital medium, but to point cameras in a room at artists and perhaps an

audience, if you're lucky to have one

and hope that will have the same

emotional impact is largely impossible.

So it's been reaffirmed for us and for artists actually, that for them performing in

a live setting is unique as well. And it takes the connection between artists and

audience to ma

ke the event. It's not either or, it's both.

The two groups that I'm most worried about with COVID, are artists

themselves. Musicians in our case, but artists who've largely not being eligible

for government support of any kinds, have tried to keep going.

The other group

is schoolchildren. Not least because kids need to go to school to get fed in a lot

of cases. So we're worried about the impact of the loss of a year and a half, two

years of education generally, but equally then worried about the loss of t

wo

years of music in children's lives.

In all of our lives, because music does connect, does heal, does inspire. And

we've not been able to do any of that. And it's showing. I think there's an

absence of joy really in people's lives that the arts are there

to instill. For us, it's

been an affirmation that I focus on local. We'll be what we continue with.

The pandemic made some of our audience members who might have been a

little unsure about digital, become much more savvy themselves. So there's been

I th

ink a change of opinion about what digital can do, even though we still

believe that live is unique. There's a sign that people will be more willing to

accept digital as an alternative. The issue of access is very big because Australia

is a very big countr

y and most of the population lives in the bottom right

-

hand

corner, but there are people scattered across Australia.

We can and do send musical ensembles out to remote and regional areas

sometimes for audiences of 30 children who've all trucked in from di

fferent

cattle stations around their area to listen to live music, cause they don't get to

hear it otherwise. But certainly one of the things digital is doing and will do is

allow artists more access. And people who have access difficulties, who can't

for

one reason or another, get to a traditional performance will now have access,

do now have access to music. So that's a really quite significant change in the

lives of people for whom accessibility is an issue.

In terms of longer term goals, I'd like every

child in Australia to have access to

quality music education in school and most don't. It's an international issue.

We're part of an international reference group for music education and in every

country, even the ones that have better funding for educati

on and for music than

we do, there is anxiety that the increasing pressure to test for science and math

subjects is making teachers and schools and principals and systems and budgets,

they're already under enormous pressure, feel even more pressured. And t

he

tendency, the temptation is always to say, haven't got time for, can't quite do

that, can't quite afford the music lessons, the drama lesson, the dance lessons.

We'll do them later and later never comes. And kids who have access to the arts

music parti

cularly, but other arts too, live fuller lives. We know them to be

more successful academically, particularly they learn an instrument. It's wrong

for children who haven't got the benefit of coming from wealth or privilege of

some kind or are unable to acc

ess good facilities.

They have every right as does anybody else does to have music in their lives. So

The long

-

term goal is to convince our friends in government and our friends in

funding bodies, that music is every bit as essential as anything else that

a child

will learn.

There's a new First Nations Indigenous school that's opened in part of the

country and I went to visit not long ago. It's wonderful. They say that the arts

are the spine of the school, they are essential and that reflects First Nation

s

philosophies. We've commodified everything, but in First Nations communities,

to dance and to in some cases sing and certainly to make markings of some

kind, is a way of demonstrating that you're alive. You can't separate them. I'd

most like to see that

every child attends a school that has arts as its spine,

because that would make the country and the individuals so much richer.

It's a pressing question for any organization that represents what we might see

as high art or traditional, all kinds of words

are used to describe art forms that

are increasingly seen as the domain of a certain part of society. To be fair, the

people who started Musica Viva were chamber musicians, but they weren't

chamber musicians because they thought that was the clever or the

posh thing to

do. They were chamber musicians because from the earliest age, that music, the

music of Haydn and Beethoven and go on with the list of that set of composers,

is it been all random.

So that's one part of the community that we feel a strong re

sponsibility to

because they are why we're here actually. For them it was the stuff of life, it

wasn't for a particular group of people or seen in a particularly elite way. It was

the music that they loved. I would say we still do that. We take that view.

We

try and make our music as accessible as we can in terms of price, in terms of

location of performance around Australia. We could do much more and we will

do much more about that in the coming years.

Audience of Musica Viva's main stage concerts is chan

ging and it's reflective

of the country. Until recently, the majority of new immigrants to Australia

would still have come from largely speaking the Northern European area. But

for the first time, not many years ago, the number of new immigrants from

China

exceeded the number of immigrants from many other countries. So the

modern face of Australia, faces of Australia, has changed and will change even

more. And all of that's an opportunity, we certainly don't think we should keep

on doing what we do in a cer

tain way, at a certain time, in a certain place.

So then comes the job of making sure that the way we present ourselves, the

way we talk about ourselves, the places we perform in, the prices we charge, the

insistence that the people on our stages reflect

the modern face of Australia and

the world, all of that now is what we're working on. And that will take some

time to effect the change but we've got enough pure belief in the music,

eliteness of quality, and excellence of performance, but not elite in kee

ping the

doors closed.

We present an international chamber music competition every four years when

we can. And in the middle of that competition where 50 or so people from all

over the world come to perform in ensembles to win prizes, there's a free day

of

performance. The competition is based in Melbourne, which is one of the other

larger cities in Australia. And this free performance happens in shopping malls,

anywhere. There was a trio who had not been successful in getting through to

the finals so the

y offered to play in as part of this live free event. And it was in

the middle of a public square, it's got a roof on it, but its a public square in the

middle of Melbourne.

And they were to play a piece by Shostakovich, not the sort of easily hummable

mu

sic that might get people interested, but Shostakovitch. So they started

playing and there were the diehards, I love them, the diehard chamber music

types, they brought their own chairs. There were about 40 people who are just

brilliant supporters. The pie

ce lasted, I don't know, 15, 20 minutes. What

happened, I was watching from the balcony above, was the people passing by

would kind of stop and then they'd stay so that by the end of the 20 minutes,

there were easily 300 people all standing around with the

ir kids in strollers and

their dogs and that, whatever they were going about their business of the day as

people used to do. And they were transfixed.

When I hear concerns about music being difficult to access, I simply don't

accept them. I think music a

nd dance and painting and all the many other art

forms, they're there for us to make of what we will. The artists are not there to

create exclusion, they're there to bring us in or to make us think about the world.

There's something in Australia called the cultural cringe. The country, when it

uses that term, essentially what people are talking about is the constant sense of

being less than european countries. In the arts in particular, that can be

interpreted to sug

gest that to be successful and artist of any kind has to leave

and go overseas to train or to live or to practice. And to some degree, of course,

art has no boundaries and the more that we travel and experience new

circumstances, the richer our art becomes

. So there is some truth in that, but it's

not fair to extrapolate from that, the idea you have to leave to develop your

skills and your abilities as an artist.

I always think it's very ironic that I, this Welsh Californian Highbridge, should

be saying ho

w important it is that Australians should be believing that what we

produce here is every bit as brilliant. We both accept that, celebrate that, and

invest in those musicians or composers and increasingly some writers who are

clearly on a path to becoming

the country's next artistic leaders, the world's next

artistic leaders.

We're lucky to have foundations support this two year bespoke program for

people we really believe will be a world

-

leading in the futures. That program

has been running about six year

s now, and we're already beginning to see for

the earlier alumni evidence of international excellence. We also provide

masterclasses bringing artists from around the world to Australia, because that's

part of our mission.

But we do that in part so that the

y can spend time with local musicians who

might not yet have had the chance to study in a variety of different countries. So

create that exchange. We also have an annual high school chamber music

competition called Strike a Chord, in which about 500 studen

ts from around the

country from high school applied to compete. There are kids from every state

and the job of all those elements is to strengthen the music world in Australia,

the ensemble music world in particular, and the whole planet. With cultural

cri

nge, that the job here is to kill that stone dead because it's simply not true.

For Musica Viva, we think that music can change the world. But it'll take us all

to support music education in your community, wherever that is. Go visit

musicaviva.com.edu and

take a look at what we do and if you'd like to support

us great, but particularly get involved in music and ensuring that children have

access to music wherever they are.

We spend a lot of time talking to our government representatives. The

interesting th

ing about education and government is that trends and disciplines

and opinions change as governments change. And though it's important for

government to support the arts in general, because how else do you measure a

society other than by what its artists p

rovides and create, though it's important to

do that I think we need to strengthen and ensure that the base, the structure for

music education transcends governments or parties, or terms of a parliament or

a Congress.

So it's educati gn people in governme

nt about how music brings us together..

The COVID pandemic has driven us apart, it's hunkered us down. Music helps

us emerge again. So I think government certainly has an interest in the role in

helping us build community stronger.

One of the other ways i

n which we can ensure the future of music is to ensure

the future of musicians and of teachers. Teachers survive longer than

administrations. So I think the more we can help institutions that train teachers

to teach music is a way in which music will conti

nue. Of the 2,500 or so events

we produce every year, the majority are in schools.

They're not typically performances up on a stage somewhere with children kept

at a safe distance and told to be very quiet. In fact our work, our curriculum is

designed to

maximize the amount of involvement by the students. We hear

often of people who remember Musica Viva musicians coming to their school.

So both from our musicians now, and from audience members, we often hear

the story that the first time they saw somebody

play a musical instrument live

was when Musica Viva came to their school. And so I guess most of what we

do even now, and more and more of what we do in our main stage work will be

to encourage the breaking down where that's possible of the fourth wall.

I

want to give a shout out to every single musician, because there's nothing in

our society that supports somebody when they pick up an instrument or when

they discover their voice and they think they want to use that skill, to make that

music. Everything w

orks against that. School systems often do, unless you're

lucky to be in a school that has a wonderful music department. The parental

voice or the Guardian's voice will often be saying, are you sure? So I think

musicians are absolutely extraordinary in the

way that they relentlessly hold to

this belief that they're in the world to make music. And they have no choice.

Actually, the artist has no choice, but to make their art. I celebrate every single

musician who perseveres and makes our world different.

[:

Lynz:

You've been listening to Mission Megaphone, a Growth

Network Podcasts production. Follow this podcast for more incredible stories

from purpose driven organizations and individuals you'll want to meet. To learn

more about this show or Musica Viva, please c

heck out our show notes.

I'm Lynz Floren. Our producers are Sari Weinerman and Jeffrey Morris.

Production manager is Maura Murphy Bourasse. Original music by Nicholas

Fournier. Promotional support from Marsha Ord. Website by Nick Brodniki.

Thanks for list

ening. Until we meet again, keep searching for inspiration and

when you find it, make sure to pass it on.

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