Music to stimulate a yearning for higher learning

The first UTS Kids' Proms, picture supplied

The first UTS Kids' Proms, picture supplied

In summary: 
  • The first of what will become a series of UTS Kids' Proms was held recently by the International Research Centre for Youth Futures in association with the UTS resident ensemble, the Australia Piano Quartet
  • The workshop, where many children heard classical music for the first time, aimed to stimulate minds and offer an inspiring glimpse of university campus life

Music might soothe the savage breast but at UTS it is becoming a way to inspire children of mainly non-English speaking backgrounds to participate in the university community. 

Recently, the first of what will become a series of UTS Kids' Proms was held. It was run by the International Research Centre for Youth Futures in association with the UTS resident ensemble, the Australia Piano Quartet.

Many of the children who attended had never heard live classical music before. Famed Australian composer Lyle Chan talked about how music is composed and School of Education lecturer Robyn Staveley led children into playing along with the quartet. 

Drawn from schools in Sydney that have higher proportions of students experiencing learning challenges, the musical workshop aimed to stimulate minds and offer an inspiring glimpse of university campus life.

Professor Rosemary Johnston, Director of the centre, said music has a unique ability to not only stimulate emotions but also the intellect. 

"Our first Kids' Proms was designed to help children enjoy new experiences, new kinds of learning, new sensations, and new possibilities," Professor Johnston said.

"Learning should be interesting, foster curiosity and creativity, and nurture personal responses. Music transcends language difficulties and creates a lovely sense of shared community."

"My colleague Robyn Staveley worked with the Australia Piano Quartet to really get the children involved.  We also expanded on the music with inspiring interactive multimedia designs created by Deborah Szapiro from the university's design faculty."

The Australia Piano Quartet, from the left, Evgeny Ukhanov, Thomas Rann, Rebecca Chan and James Wannan The Australia Piano Quartet, from the left, Evgeny Ukhanov, Thomas Rann, Rebecca Chan and James Wannan

Based at UTS since 2012, the Australia Piano Quartet is enriching classical music in Australia by illuminating forgotten masterpieces, championing contemporary composers and collaborating across media and art forms.

Quartet Director Thomas Rann said helping to open children up to a rich array of music for the first time and drawing out their excitement was unbelievably satisfying.

"Music is one of the greatest forces that help us feel, think and create," he said. "Music cuts across cultural differences, and to share the richness of music with anyone, but particularly children, is a privilege indeed."

Professor Johnston is keen to expand the musical workshops, complementing the many centre initiatives already in place designed to encourage young people to expand horizons of thinking, engage with education, and grow options of choice for futures. 

"We can't know for certain where these new experiences may lead, but we do know that many young people are coming to campus and for the first time thinking that university can be for them. Last year one group wrote a rap which began 'UTS is the best!'"

Professor Johnston has been a long-time advocate for developing arts-based and other creative programs to enhance learning among children in remote Indigenous communities and from priority schools in Greater Sydney, where sometimes up to 97 per cent of students come from homes where a language other than English is spoken.

She was the founder of UTS's Australian Centre for Child and Youth: Culture and Wellbeing, which because of the rapid growth of its programs, many with corporate support, has now become the International Research Centre for Youth Futures.

The Australia Piano Quartet presents both well-known and rarely performed gems of classical repertoire for piano quartet, alongside brand new works by Australian composers, at a world-class standard of performance.