Interactive technology is taking music teaching in schools to new and wider horizons, reports Sean Mooney.
Music education is being delivered in a number of Adelaide schools at a level of technological sophistication that is unprecedented. 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 SA through the MVIS Equal Music Program. Both these initiatives have also been introduced in New South Wales, 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 in Sydney, 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 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 is allowing the software to reach more schools across the country. Although new to other States, 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 last year. "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."
Teacher Anne Hueppauff is performing-arts coordinator at Port Lincoln Primary School, which has been using Musica Viva products for about five years. Hueppauff says the MVIS software will be introduced to the school's students after teacher training in August. "Basically all our staff do the training, as we don't have classroom music-specialist teachers in our school," she says. "Teachers from smaller schools in the area also do training with us." She says MVIS has given teachers in the region the confidence to deliver music education to their students. "The Musica Viva programs have been really worthwhile because they show that even if you haven't had the formal training, you can still lead and influence students in the arts by making sure you get fantastic resources and training for people."
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 Adelaide's Child.