I’m not a particularly religious person. I have a belief system and a set of morals and ethics built over time that govern the way I conduct my life, but still, I don’t subscribe to a particular religion. However, there is one belief that is fundamental to me and has largely shaped the path of my life and kept me motivated to continue to advocate for music and music education. Even though the Arts are generally underfunded, under supported and under appreciated, even though subjects like music and drama are always the first to be cut when the government of the day make budgetary cutbacks in education, even though arts activities are often the first to go when families want to tighten the purse strings, I keep persevering because of my belief. I keep on advocating, encouraging and exploring ways for people to keep music (in particular) as a part of their life. My advocacy and passion is not borne of some politically motivated left-leaning “let’s hug the world” kind of mentality, but springs from something that I believe is hard-wired into the DNA and molecules of every human being on earth.

I believe that every human being is meant to play a musical instrument, and being a singer myself, I include voice in that. However, I further believe that everyone has what I call their “Soul Instrument” – the musical instrument that resonates (literally and figuratively) with them most strongly. Just as we all have sounds that we find grating and unpleasant, we are also naturally drawn to particular resonances and timbres. It is a highly individualised matter. For the lucky ones, they find their soul instrument right away. They fall in love with it at an early age and go on to have a lifelong relationship with it. For others, the search takes time until one day they stumble across that instrumental sound, technique and approach that just feels “right” and makes them happy and excited. Yet others sadly never find their soul instrument and never really know what they are missing, but somewhere in the back of their mind they sense that they are missing something. Often as adults people yearn for an instrument that they might have started to learn as a child and then had to leave behind due to circumstances beyond their control. Then there are others who discover their soul instrument at a concert and fall in love but are too afraid to get started because they deem themselves to be too old or even worse, have been told by some (usually ignorant) “expert” that they have no musical aptitude. How sad, and how completely wrong!

I am a trained singer and happily so. I love singing and all types of singing. I also play a bit of piano, guitar, drums and clarinet. But are any of these my soul instrument? No. I didn’t know this until I stumbled upon my soul instrument and then I knew immediately. I didn’t discover my soul instrument until I went to university. As part of our course work we had the opportunity to gain some experience with a range of different instruments. One day, I was given a cello to play and I remember, as soon as the bow touched the strings I thought to myself “Oh wow! This is it! This is the instrument I was meant to play!” I fell in love with the cello in about 5 seconds flat. Unfortunately by that stage I was studying voice with full intensity and simply couldn’t manage to take on something new. Still, it was satisfying to know that I had finally met the instrument meant for me. Growing up in a small country town in the 1970’s, there was limited access to a range of musical experiences. Basically, if you wanted to learn piano or perhaps guitar you were pretty right, anything else forget it. We didn’t have a wonderful NSW Regional Conservatorium system back in those days!

Anyway, time goes on and I still love the cello but I have decided to put it first on my “bucket list” of things to do when I finally decide to retire. In the meantime, my reason for writing this slightly rambling and personal blog is to give some hope and respectful advice.

Parent – if your child starts learning an instrument and it just doesn’t seem to “gel”, that doesn’t mean that MUSIC as a whole is not for them. It just means they haven’t found the instrument that belongs to them yet. Worst case scenario is that it might take a couple of tries to find “the one” but luckily it is quite easy to hire instruments before purchasing to avoid investing in an expensive piece of musical equipment only to see it become another dust-gatherer.

For the “wishers” amongst us (those who WISH they had had the chance to learn an instrument as a kid) you really are never too old and it is never too late! In fact I have known adults who have taken up an instrument in their 60’s or 70’s and played with joy for a further 20 years – so don’t limit yourself!

Our souls, minds and bodies need music. We crave the physical - aural – emotional connection with music and the added dimension of creating your own sound offers that personal connection with music that you simply don’t get as a music consumer / listener.

As you move into 2016 and the future, I encourage everyone to  by continuing to love the soul instrument you have found, or find the soul instrument that is waiting for you!

Paul Scott-Williams

As I write this article, the internet seems to have gone down in most areas of the Southern Tablelands and highlands. No email, no Google, no Facebook – how will we survive? I think it is quite nice actually, to be rid of the constant rapid-fire stream of techno-babble that we have become so used to. Perhaps I am showing my age in longing for a time long past where things were slower, people spoke to each other and weren’t bombarded by bad news every second of the day.

As a trained counselor, I find that it has become harder and harder to achieve a “quiet mind” or to be “in the moment” these days, with so many distractions and overbearing input. Although I acknowledge the many amazing things that we have gained through technology, I am mindful of what we have lost too. “Mindful” – that is the key word – the act of mindfulness, of being present, without distraction. Such a rarity today.

Music can be a powerful tool in the development of mindfulness skills. How often have you sat watching a concert, or listening to your favourite music and found that the rest of the world has drifted away? I know I have, many times. It is a wonderful sensation to be in the moment, totally absorbed by the music and the performance to the exclusion of all else. Although I do understand why parents film and photograph performances given by their children, I also sometimes despair because they are seeing their child’s achievement through the filter of technology. In a sense they are not in the room with their child. They are one step removed, technologically remote from the performance. In that sense, even though the performance may have been recorded, the parents missed it. They missed the moment.

As we head into 2016 and another year of huge musical activity, I would like to encourage parents every now and then, to put down their mobile device and choose instead to be in the room - in the moment - and actually be part of their child’s performance. Trust me – you will have a wonderful time and your young musician will enjoy your undivided attention.

Address by the Director, Paul Scott-Williams

There are moments when one is compelled to pause, and take stock , and this is one of those moments. I have said in the past, that the natural state of existence when working here at the GRC is so frantic, busy, exciting and complex, that each year spent here feels like a dog year. So by that calculation I am about to complete my 35th year at the GRC!

I must be honest when I say that I really had no idea what I was taking on when I arrived in 2011, but I don’t reflect on that time as a period of ignorance, more a moment when it was impossible to know what lay ahead. I have the strong sense that, for every Regional Conservatorium Director, the challenge is similar. Essentially, our job is to have a clear vision for the future, clear aspirations and well-communicated intentions, but also be prepared for the fact that the road to achievement will be non-linear and sometimes hugely divergent, and that not everyone will want to go on that journey with you. It reminds me of one of the mantras of my life – “have a plan, but not too much!” I could not be more grateful to the GRC for what it has given me in terms of knowledge, experience and opportunity to influence the substance and direction of music education in this region.

There have been so many highlights over the past five years that it would make for a very long address if I listed them all, so I will simply identify the key themes.

National Contemporary Music Roundtable

6th August, Erskineville Town Hall Sydney

The inaugural National Contemporary Music Roundtable has unanimously affirmed a commitment to implement a series of measures to drive business growth and success.
All of Australia’s music business peak bodies and representatives from key music companies and agencies attended the half day forum convened by Music Australia. 50 influential people explored key opportunities for growth and committed to work together to develop detailed national strategies to drive industry growth and success.

Michael Smellie, Music Australia’s Chair noted:
“At Music Australia we take the view that Australian contemporary music needs a cohesive and ambitious set of goals of sufficient ambition to befit our Australian talent, and national pride. We are delighted that our colleagues have committed to developing a National Contemporary Music Development Plan. One that is comprehensive in scope, covering jobs, skills, investment, economic contribution and cultural impact. There now is a clear industry wide mandate to implement clear strategies that can position Australian Contemporary Music as a global player, influencer and contributor in the world business of music.”

“Arts Nation: An Overview of Australian Arts” was released on 4 March 2015 by the Australia Council. In the current climate of funding cutbacks and “rationalisation” of national Arts budgets, this document takes on added importance and significance for the understanding and evolution of the Arts industry in Australia.

Australia Council Chief Executive Officer Tony Grybowski said Arts Nation told a great story about the way Australians engage with the arts, the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts, the increase in private support for the arts, and the contribution made by arts and culture to the Australian economy.

“Understanding the arts is complex. This report creates fresh new indicators that are measured through original and existing data. This snapshot in time sets a benchmark against which we can measure future trends. It also identifies data gaps, so the report will evolve over time as new information is identified.” Mr Grybowski said.

Key facts in the report include:

  • 85% of Australians think the arts for a richer and more meaningful life
  • Geography does affect and impact attendance levels as much as you might expect, with 74% metro, 69% inner regional, 65% outer regional and 67% remote
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are proportionally more likely to be nominated for a major Australian art award or participate in an international arts event
  • Indigenous visual arts are a major contributor to the arts economy, and remote art centres generated $53 million in art sales between 2008 and 2012
  • The cultural sector contributes $50 billion towards Australia’s GDP, including over $4.2 billion from the Arts
  • Consumers are the biggest arts funders, with 1.5 billion in live performance ticket sales in 2013
  • Crowdfunding is a small but rapidly growing area of Australian arts funding with high success rates
  • 2.4 million international arts tourists visited Australia in 2013-14, up 19% over the past four years.

The full report “Arts Nation; An Overview of Australian Arts” is available at: www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research 

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