Friday 5 August 2011

Gillian Howell: Music at work

When Gillian Howell finished her work in Timor L’Este, I wondered how she would return to “normal” life in her home city of Melbourne. One of her most interesting posts last year was about motivation: how to maintain one’s own professional standards, originality and creative energy in the humdrumness of routine and in the face of  beaurocratic obstacles. So it has been a pleasure to read her posts this year on my iphone on the train on the way to work. Her blog is a shining example of a skilled person writing well about work  for which they have a passion: an unbeatable combination.
If you only have a few minutes, keep on reading for a summary: when you have more time, skip this and go straight to the source, Gillian Howell’s Music Work blog on Wordpress:
Three projects have struck me most forcefully in these last months: a series of lessons in a couple of  Melbourne primary schools, a week with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and 4 sessions in an immigration detention centre.
I don’t even have to re-read the items on primary music to pick out the most salient words: they have stayed with me since I first read them months ago. Gillian’s first impression on arrival at one of the primary schools was that the class  teacher’ s expectations were very limited. In the end, of course, the class produced more than satisfactory work. How imortant it is that children are not limited by their teachers’  expectations, and how vital that there is input from external musicians. One of the most striking features of the UK National Curriculum included the requirement that all children in KS3 (age 11 to 14) should experience live performances by professional musicians at school or at external venues. Readers outside the UK might be surprised to learn that this entitlement is now being called into question as government plans to cut funding. It is unfortunate when the contribution made by outside specialists to the ongoing work of class teachers is underestimated.
Time and space is the title of the post about a week spent in July with musicians from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, young musicians, conservatoire students and a leader. This brought happy memories of being involved in sessions led by Sean Gregory, Mark Withers,  Sigrun Saevarsdottir-Griffiths   and others over the years, and it’s a fascinating example of someone reflecting on how another person takes the leading role, which Gillian is used to taking herself.
We are often tempted to give more relevance to events and persons in extreme situations, and I was certainly impressed by the 4 sessions in an immigration detention centre. Here is a side of life in Australia that is given little attention in Europe: Melbourne features on tv once every year, with images of fireworks over Sydney Oper House  bringing in the New Year, and then on and off when there are freak fires. At the same time, nearly every English person growing  up in the 60’s knew of family, friends or neighbours who emigrated to Australia, almost all to a happy and prosperous future. Now Gillian is working in a detention centre for illegal immigrants, and they are not Smith and Jones, but Mohammed and Ali. Some touching moments in the lives of these young adults, separated by many miles from their home culture and families, and locked in an uncertain future.  
This week I have had time to look again on a pc, and have been able to se the video links which I didn’t see on the train on the iphone: an extra bonus. Thank you, Gillian Howell, for sharing your experiences and writing in such an inspiring way.
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