This month, it was my great pleasure to interview our long-serving and dedicated Member for Goulburn, Pru Goward.
Pru has represented the Goulburn electorate since 2007 and is currently the Minister for Planning and Minister for Women in the Mike Baird led NSW State Government.
Prior to this, Pru spent six years as Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner and a further two years as Age Discrimination Commissioner.
However, it is her role as our local representative that has brought her into close contact with the Goulburn Regional Conservatorium. Pru has been a long and vocal advocate for the work of the GRC in our regional community and for music and the Arts in general. I was interested to know what inspired such active advocacy.
PSW: Pru, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk about music. I am grateful to you.
PG: It is my great pleasure, Paul. I'm very passionate about music.
PSW: I am exploring music and the role of music education in people's lives. I wonder, where did you first consciously encounter music?
PG: Well, my mother was a very gifted musician and a lovely pianist. My father was a very good singer, and his mother was a wonderful singer, so I can't remember not singing. There was a pianola in the family, so the excitement of going to Aunty Alma and Uncle Ron's place was not so much to see them but to get on that pianola! I can't remember not being excited by music. My mother playing the old phonograph: Grandpa had given it to her and she would play "78's", and then later she bought a "Radiola"! This was a stereo – it was such an exciting thing! Then she joined the World Record Club! She also played very well. At one point my father gave her a piano, and I remember she would play all the nursery rhymes. I'll never forget the way she used to play "Für Elise". I always used to cry when she played it. She was a mischievous woman and she would sometimes say "Come here Prudence, I want to play this for you." I'm a twin, so it was a special thing to gain my mothers individual attention. She would play Für Elise and laugh when it made me cry. So, the piece means a lot to me – I want it played at my funeral. It's a bit of a "rosebud" for me.
PSW: It sounds as though it's one of the pieces that has been there from the start and comes back again and again. It's interesting how we all have certain pieces of music that seem to have been with us forever.
PG: Yes. It takes me right back to my childhood.
PSW: So if you were surrounded by music as a young child, I'm interested to hear what you remember of first encountering music in a school environment. What kind of music education did you experience in primary school?
PG: Oh well, this was a country town in South Australia, so the ABC broadcast to schools. We would all sit there in front of the great big speaker on the wall and the teacher would click it on and we would have our music lesson. Then a new principal came to our school. He walked in one day and said: "I've been told you children can sing!" He made us sing a song that we thought we could sing quite well. He said: "Oh, deary me!" (laughs) Then he taught us to sing Shakespeare's "In a Cowslip I do Lie" and it was so wonderful to hear the precision of sound that a mass of children could produce. I was only a little girl, so I don't think I sat back and thought, wow, that's a precise sound, but I was aware of the wash of sound and of his determination to get our diction perfect and to follow his conducting exactly. This is what I see when I watch you conduct and when I see really good choirs. I absolutely understand the focus and determination you must have. So, the ABC I guess was my introduction to school music, but there was so much music at home. I was one of four and life wasn't easy at home. My father was chronically ill so Mum carried a lot, but when I was 12 she bought two season tickets to concerts by the Adelaide Symphony orchestra. I look back now and my poor mother who had been brought up in an extremely musical family – they had a family orchestra believe it or not – so she grew up with so much music and then suddenly she was in the suburbs with four children, a stereogram and occasional visits to the pianola. So when I was 12 she had saved the money to buy two season tickets to the Adelaide Symphony. I had a younger brother and a twin so we couldn't all go. So every month one child would go with my mother. That was my first symphony concert. I remember the conductor was Grigor Pauk. I can't remember the music, I just remember that once every three months I was allowed a special night with my mother. It was an hour's drive into town, so I had this special time alone with my mother to listen to wonderful music. She would give me a commentary on the music and the musicians.
PSW: It's interesting that this theme has come up in other interviews. What do you think your mother's philosophy of music education was?
PG: That's very interesting because, with my mother's background, with her own piano playing, her brothers' and grandfather's great musicianship, they lived their whole lives through music. My mother loved jazz, musicals, a very broad range. That's something I've never forgotten. A friend of mine summed it up perfectly – people who really love music love all kinds of music, and that how it was for my mother. To only like one kind of music is often a form of ignorance or snobbery. If you are really musical, you get joy out of all kinds of music, and she certainly did. We had all of the great musicals, and also symphony concerts and recitals. It didn't matter for Mum, as long as it was music.
PSW: So it sounds like she took a very holistic approach to music and music exposure in the lives of her children.
PG: She did.
PSW: Did she ever make comment on the kind of music education you were receiving at school?
PG: I think she occasionally disagreed with the teacher, but she was very impressed with Mr. Mundy the Principal who came along and held such high standards of music education. Maybe we just didn't know enough to tell her because I'm sure if we repeated something that had been said by a teacher, she would have had a view on it. She just wanted us to love music the way she did. She was very tolerant of music, but could be intolerant in other ways – quite black and white – but not with music.
PSW: So do you think she had any particular ambitions for you in music?
PG: No, and you know, that is one of the few things I resent. My twin sister has a magnificent voice. My younger sister and I have quite good voices and both sisters were wonderful pianists. They both won the musicians prize at school. The obvious thing for the three of us was to form a musical group! Mum would not have it because she said it was not respectable.
PSW: Oh, really?! What was not respectable about it?
PG: She had read about the "goings-on" of rock bands, so she was very against us having anything to do with music professionally. If Mum hadn't be so absolutely rigid about the social conformity aspect, we'd have had a wonderful life in music as singers or accompanists. So, she did deny us that option. It was only a couple of years ago that my cousin who is now well into his 60's, told me that my grandfather (who was a great trumpeter), had been invited by Tommy Dorsey to join him on his tour in America and Europe. He had witnessed behavior that he found quite offensive, and he told my mother that she should never be involved in the profession of music as a result! So I think her views on professional musicians were tied up in that message.
PSW: So, although her view of music was very egalitarian, there were very strict rules and boundaries beyond which you must not go. You moved into secondary school. What was your music education like there?
PG: Well, the influence of my mother continued. She loved Tchaikovsky, she was a very passionate woman, and we went to the Adelaide Symphony concert one night. A lot of people got up and walked out. I asked my mother why they were leaving and she said: "Because it's Tchaikovsky and they're snobs and they don't think it is right to approve of Tchaikovsky." What was interesting was the vehemence felt toward Tchaikovsky.
PSW: So, more of a societal reaction than musical?
PG: Oh yes. But music continued in my life. I didn't take music through high school. I did many things but music wasn't one of them. I guess music became a bit lost for me. My first husband didn't really like music. I remember my mother used to love to play Tchaikovsky or Beethoven very loudly on a Saturday while doing the housework.
PSW: Everyone should vacuum to Beethoven! What happened after school.
PG: Well, I married someone who was very mathematical and wasn't into music much, but Saturday was cleaning day, so it was music day. I was a young wife and I'd put the music on and start cleaning but I wasn't really allowed to have it on for long. So I'm sad to say I lost touch with music for about twenty years. Isn't that amazing?
PSW: Yes it is. Have you rediscovered music do you think?
PG: Well it only really came back when cd's came along and you could play them in your car. This allowed me to play my music in the car and then I bought my own pianola.
PSW: It's interesting to note the complete contrast between your immersion in music growing up to the very opposite in your adult life.
PG: Amazing. I really don't know how that came to be but I guess that's just how things were back then.
PSW: Do you think the new "privacy" that technology offers where you can immerse yourself in music again through a set of small headphones has given you a new access to music?
PG: That's probably true. I might be a bit too old for that. The other thing that occurs to me is that the church is still a very big part of my life, partly because it allows me the opportunity to hear music and to sing. The music of the Anglican church is very grand and I still get an enormous kick out of going to the church and singing.
PSW: My father is a bit the same – he goes to church because he gets to sing the wonderful music. I wonder if another aspect that appeals is the acoustic of singing in a cathedral? It is so wonderfully resonant you have to be immersed in it! We have some wonderful cathedrals in Goulburn.
PG: Yes – and St James' in Sydney too. You can let yourself go. Isn't it interesting that music enables you to abandon yourself? I don't think there is another art form that does that. You can look at a picture or sculpture, or watch dance or read literature, but music is the only art form where you can lose yourself, on many levels as a spectator.
PSW: So, moving on to perhaps more philosophical matters, I wonder, what do you think has been gained and lost in music today?
PG: I think it is enraging that children aren't taught music. It should be every day, part of your life. Every child is musical – humans are musical.
PSW: So what would be your reaction to the statistics that show that, currently, we are at the lowest point of incorporated music education in schools and teacher training in music education since Federation?
PG: I'm not surprised. Makes me so cross. Every child loves music – rhythm, beat, the complexities of sound. It's part of being human.
PSW: So many studies have been done now that clearly show the positive impacts of music and music education on the developing brain and on learning. Why do you think it is true that music education is still considered peripheral to a core education program?
PG: Really, unfortunately, I think music is still seen as elitist. It's a political thing. People don't consider music as central to life. No, it is seen as elitist and access is only through reading a special code – the notes and rhythms – the language. I think it's part of the egalitarianism of Australia. There are plenty of good things about egalitarianism, but once something is deemed to be art, then it's forbidden. But then, look at how many kids want to start up rock groups. I go to Goulburn High and Mulwaree High and you can hear the beginnings of a good voice or a good musician, but where is the training and discipline? Why don't we accept the discipline that comes with learning music? I think that's the other aspect. Music is an intellectual discipline too, whether it's rock music, jazz or classical, there is an intellectual discipline associated with it. I'm not sure that everybody thinks that's such a good thing. To me it goes along with the loss of science in Australia, because it's all about the same thing. It's about discipline and the importance of precision.
PSW: So, if all of the academic rigor has been applied which attests to the holistic, intrinsic value of music education for every child in Australia, why do you think it remains so hard to attract adequate funding to allow us to deliver music cheaply and easily?
PG: It's a difficult question to answer. I think there is more than one reason. I remember when I was a child, music WAS a part of the every day education, it was an every day activity. It does make me angry. I think it is driven by a sense of judgment that music is an elitist activity. It is sad.
PSW: The challenges are there I guess for us to keep on doing the best work we can to find opportunities to support music education in schools. It's clear to me that your support of music comes from a deep connection with music as a key part of your life and I'm very grateful to you for sharing that with me today. I have really enjoyed our discussion and I want to thank you very much for this opportunity to talk about music.
PG: Thank you Paul. It's been a real pleasure. I hope to get to a few concerts at the GRC before the end of the year.
I hope you have enjoyed my informal interview with Pru Goward, Member for Goulburn.