Students band together for a one-of-a-kind concert

31 May 2012

The aim of the concert was to expose the school students to university life through music.
The aim of the concert was to expose the school students to university life through music.

For the past five weeks 20 students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music have been venturing out to three Sydney schools to jam with groups of students in preparation for a concert held at the Conservatorium's Recital Hall this week.

The Conservatorium students packed percussion instruments, iPads and guitars (both acoustic and electric), and headed out on public transport to the schools to play with the students and come up with some new music for the concert.

The Conservatorium students, the majority of whom are studying to become school music teachers, were explicitly told by their lecturers that they weren't to 'instruct' the school students, but to just jam with them in a collaborative way.

The sessions took place at Marrickville West Public School, Bexley Public School and Kogarah High School, and the project was supported by one of the University's Widening Participation Grants, which aim to expose students from disadvantaged and low SES backgrounds to university life so that they might start considering tertiary studies.

Dr James Renwick, the chair of the Music Education Unit at the Conservatorium and one of the academics behind the project, said the concert was "a remarkably successful realisation of our vision for the project".

"The majority of these students come from a non-English-speaking background and from a low-socioeconomic background, and they were extremely excited to be visiting the beautiful Conservatorium building, and performing there in a fully appointed recital hall.

The Conservatorium students guided the school students through the semi-improvised concert.
The Conservatorium students guided the school students through the semi-improvised concert.

"Listening to the collaboratively created, semi-improvised music in the concert, where tertiary mentors used their musical skills to 'scaffold' the participation of the school students, I was astonished at how successful our own students had been after only five weeks' work.

"The majority of the Conservatorium students were first-year music-education students, fresh out of school themselves, and the joy of music-making and respectful collaboration was as clear on their faces as on those of the beaming schoolchildren."

The principal of Bexley Public School, John Daniels, said although students at his school have already been exposed to the University of Sydney through the university's Compass program, this was another fantastic way to be involved with the Conservatorium.

"The students got to see what a different part of university life was like, and they really enjoyed all aspects of the performances. The students from the Con brought out the best in our students - I could really see the improvement in the students," he said.

The fact that the Conservatorium students were not long out of school themselves also meant that the students had a chance to associate with mentors much younger than most of their own teachers, Mr Daniels said.

Dr Jennifer Rowley, a senior lecturer in music education at the Conservatorium and the other project leader, said the project had been a great success. Her students found it a really inspiring and enjoyable experience. One commented to her: "I can't wait to be a teacher, this is really enjoyable."

This was the first time such an exercise had been attempted, but Dr Rowley hoped the project and concert would continue and become an important part of the music education students' professional experience training.

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