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.
Obviously, the growth, and maintenance of that growth, in our overall enrolment has been very pleasing. We now have a huge In-Schools Music Program with more than 500 children receiving weekly music education. In the space of 12 months our Early Childhood Music Program has gone from almost zero enrolment to approaching 200 students enrolled. Both of these programs are what I describe as foundational programs – the bedrock of music education that we lay in order to set a path for the future. Imagine the impact in 5 and 10 years time when these 700 students who have been receiving well resourced, consistently and professionally delivered music education reach our high schools! We must plan to be able to respond to that and support our high schools now and into the future. The Goulburn Strings Project – an innovative and phenomenal program that emerged from the In Schools Music system now has 75 low socio - economically situated children at Goulburn Primary School with their own instruments and equipment receiving weekly tuition from one of Australia’s premiere musicians. Linking with the University of Canberra and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, in 2016 these children will experience performing on the stage of Llewellyn Hall WITH the Canberra Symphony under the baton of Maestro Benjamin Northey, playing a three-movement concerto – the “Goulburn Concerto” – that has been composed for them! Such events, such moments, can be life changing. Indeed, one of the wonderful by – products of a good music education is that you DO change lives, you DO influence directions, you DO stimulate family discussions and you DO make sometimes challenging circumstances better.
How did this growth and innovation happen at the GRC? It didn’t come about by accident. First of all, there was an inheritance of innovation delivered by previous Directors, some of which you have heard about tonight. At the start of 2013 the full staff of the GRC met and confronted in a very honest and robust way, the issues of raising the standards of all we do across the GRC. We called it “Raising the Bar” and over the past three years the initiatives developed in that first session have brought about fundamental change to this institution in the way that staff are valued, the way they are employed, the way they are supported and the way they are paid. This has led to a broadening of the scope of our programming and improvement in the competence and confidence with which it is delivered. There is real innovation and creative thinking here and we strive together to support each other and embrace the process of continuous improvement. Achievements such as winning the award for Excellence in Regional Australia do not come about as a result of an individual, there is always a strong and united team of people involved, all playing their part and sharing in the collective vision for this institution. I wish to acknowledge the entire staff of the GRC and thank them for their continuing dedication and professionalism.
So, what of the future? We can’t possibly know or anticipate everything, but what is certain is the necessity to find ways to engage with our entire region. Yes, we are situated in Goulburn, but our regional spread runs from Mittagong to Yass and everywhere in between. With both the In-Schools Music Program and Early Childhood Music Program rapidly achieving a truly regional spread, it is clear that in order to meet this growth demand, the GRC must decentralise our operations. Our mothership will always be Goulburn, but our forward intention is to open remote campuses in both Yass and Braidwood between now and 2020, thereby enabling us to more efficiently and professional offer our services across the Southern Highlands and Tablelands. Through our work we aim to increase the cultural capital of the entire region, attract high quality musicians to the area and yes, even stimulate the regional economy through the implementation of community music programs and activities that will engage and inspire. Collective initiatives such as “Music: Agent for Change” where we are working with Southern Tablelands Arts, Musica Viva, the University of Canberra and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra are flagship, evolving programs with regional community engagement at the core of their philosophy. The path to a large extent is clear – to survive we must embrace our region, and to do that, we must collaborate.
Speaking of creative collaboration, over the past five years, we have placed a particular focus on commissioning new work, and on the development of composition and creativity at the GRC in general. Works such as the beautiful “Speaking Piano” by James Humberstone in 2012 and the huge “Goulburn Oratorio” in 2013 live in the memory. In 2016 we look forward to the amazing innovation of “The Goulburn Concerto” composed by Sean O’Boyle AO for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the children from the Goulburn Strings Project and featuring soloist and Strings Project tutor, Kirsten Williams in April on the stage of Llewellyn Hall. Later in 2016 we will also premiere a stunning new Australian song cycle entitled “Homesong”, with libretto by local author Nigel Featherstone and music by composer James Humberstone. This work will explore key questions of masculinity and connectedness in modern Australia through the eyes of a returned serviceman. It will be premiered in Goulburn and will then tour nationally throughout 2016 and 2017.
Pushing the boundaries, challenging perceptions, striving to create and advocating passionately for Music and the Arts are all important functions of a Regional Conservatorium, emerging from, and driven by the key purpose of delivering music education to all levels of regional society. The end results being that the remarkable becomes commonplace – not any less special, but expected, accepted and even funded by our governments, our philanthropic organisations and our communities. Music education as we know, remains under-resourced, under delivered, under funded and under appreciated and that is simply the sad reality in Australia today. However, Regional Conservatoriums have a potent role to play in acknowledging that reality, but striving at the same time get out there and be active, in every way we can think of, to bring about change, to move Regional New South Wales forward, to do good work and demonstrate every day the relevance and importance of music in the lives of every individual in our region, and to make sure that everyone has access to music at every stage of their life.
The GRC has a bright future, a clear mission and a collective determination to succeed. I am determined that over the next five years, we can make another thirty five years of difference across this wonderful, diverse and beautiful region of Australia.