Transcript of Episode 2

Music

Julia Brennan:
Welcome to the second podcast about the creative arts. And as I’ve mentioned to you before if you would like to follow these podcasts you go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and click on the orange follow button. Log in with your @education.nsw.gov.au account or if you’re a non-DoE person go through Facebook or alternatively create your own SoundCloud account. And we’ll have lots of interviews and discussions with principals and arts educators, teachers, industry professionals, even a few famous people coming along and we’ll be talking about general information about the Creative Arts. So, today I’ve got in the studio with me Susan Sukkar and many of you will know Susan, she’s worked with I don’t know how many students over the years but a lot with her current role as a Arts Coordination Officer. But you might know her through the Festival of Instrumental Music which she has run for a gazillion years and I’m sure Susan will talk us through that a little bit later. But I’d like to introduce Susan and welcome her today, hi Susan.

Susan Sukkar:
Thank you, Julia.

Julia:
So, Susan and I first met a really long time ago. We’d been trying to work out where or when but I think what we can track it back to is around about the time of the Sing 2001 choir program which was set up to really as an opening ceremony item for the 2000 Olympics. And I was a new grad at the time and I remember my principal saying to me ‘Oh, look you’ve got a bit of a musical background, why don’t you go for this?’ Because they were auditioning for people to take some of these choirs. And I had absolutely no confidence and thought really I don’t have that much of a musical ability but I’ll give it a go. And I remember I think it was actually Richard Gill who came along at the time and auditioned me with my Year 1 class …

Susan:
No pressure whatsoever.

Julia:
… and I taught them to sing a round and he obviously saw potential in there and thankfully got lots of professional learning and I believe that’s where I first met you.

Susan:
Probably. My story is a little bit similar in that I was sitting in a staff meeting at the beginning of the year for a teaching position, I had a classroom position and they were going through the list of duties and they were saying ‘Who would like to wash the tea towels? And who would like to be the Fed rep? And who would like to take the choir?’ And nobody put their hand up and they said ‘Really, nobody?’ And nobody put their hand up and I said ‘Well, I’ve got a little bit of a music background and if there’s nobody else to take the choir’. I hated the thought of the choir not existing. I’ll do that. And the rest is history. So, I’m like Julia I came into it from a music background but as a generalist teacher and without thinking that I had the necessary skill set that was required. And yes, so I’ve been on that journey with Julia all these years. And in fact it was the last millennium that we met, that seems like a very long time ago.

Julia:
Saying something about our age I think.

Susan:
Well, you know we have had a lot of experience and lots of amazing times in-between. So, it’s been a privilege to work in this area of education and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Julia:
So, you’ve sort of told us a little bit about your music education journey there but like how did it transpire from there? Obviously you started taking the choir but what happened next? What were the next steps?

Susan:
Well, I started to look for opportunities for the choir to perform and obviously the Arts Unit opportunities came up and the school had been successful in the past, in years past in auditioning for those opportunities so the Sing 2001 started and I also auditioned for that and was successful in winning one of those places. And I started auditioning the choir for various things and very quickly discovered that the adjunctive of those performance opportunities and not even the performance opportunities but the repertoire that was so carefully selected and so suitable for primary children was like absolutely essential to my music teaching practice and I was taken off classroom teaching and put onto RFF music at this large school with over seven hundred children. So, I was hungry all the time for repertoire and you know the Vocal Ease all came out around that time. I went to every professional development that was available and sort of soaked it up and it was so great …

Julia: That’s probably why our paths kept crossing. We were following the same trajectory.

Susan:
Yes.

Julia:
So, Susan you have obviously got a musical background but that’s not something that we all necessarily need to have to make this journey start.

Susan:
No, it’s a love of music and the desire to have a go and to enrich the lives of students through music. And I always find with teachers that I work with that once they start that journey and they see the enormous and immediate response from children and their enthusiasm and their love of learning they often feel starved for that type of experience I feel children and teachers. And once they start that journey it’s self-propagating, you know it just continues.

Julia:
And that’s something I said in that very first podcast was that I think teachers who will deprive their students of an arts education really they’re starving those students of something that is so important for their lives and so important for the future of our country.

Susan:
Absolutely and it’s a human condition to love the arts, it’s part of our DNA, we all love music. If your love of music happens to be country and western and you take that to your children in the classroom and show them that you love it and explain why. The children will start to love it too, they catch that enthusiasm and it enriches their lives and then that has a spill on effect to every other aspect of education, that joy, that spontaneity, that creativity flows over into everything else.

Julia:
So, if I’m out there listening to you talking Susan and I hear okay, well you’ve got all these skills behind you but I don’t have much, I’m pretty limited in my experience. Let’s say I’m a cricket player and I’m really great at that but I’m really aware that I need to start teaching my students some music but I’m scared to death. What do I do?

Susan:
Well, there are so many resources and things that you can delve into and the Vocal Ease MORE resource that has now just been released, that’s the genre of the music is very varied so that you will always be able to find some way of hooking into children through the music that you love. You actually will realise that you know a lot more than you thought you knew. If you take the creative arts (music) syllabus, K-6 syllabus and apply that to music that you love as a starting point with the children. So, it might be beat, it might be pitch, it might be an ostinato that you can hear through the music. If you look at the curriculum it isn’t that difficult to breakdown the composite parts and analyse a piece of music and take it from there.

Julia:
I think it’s a lot to do with getting past that initial fear of ‘I can’t do this’. And as I said last time you know quoting Master Yoda that there’s no such thing as try, just get in there and do it. And that’s what happened for me, I was kind of forced, my hand was forced, go in and try, well, I’ve just said don’t just try but go in and do it and you’ll be amazed. And once I broke down that initial barrier, the sky was the limit for me and it really surprised me what I was capable of. So, I think that’s a really important message to get out to people out there.

Susan:
It’s true and teachers are inherently creative people, they have to be, you have to be flexible, creative, a blue sky thinker to be a good teacher. So, if you take those qualities into your classroom and have a go with the children they will forgive your errors, it’s your enthusiasm, it’s your passion for music that they will pick up on. I’m constantly learning from teachers. I do professional development with teachers everyday, almost you know on a daily basis and everyday I learn something from a teacher. I watch what they’re doing and think ‘Oh my gosh that is a great idea, I had never thought of that’. And a child will ask a question and take you off onto another tangent and the lesson will go off in another direction that you couldn’t possibly have imagined initially. You need to be flexible, you need to enjoy it and have a go.

Julia:
So, what if I’m one of those people who back in the day was perhaps tapped on the shoulder and said no, you’re not in the choir because you can’t sing in tune or someone’s told me somewhere along my journey that I can’t sing, what do you do?

Susan:
Well, you hear that all the time from teachers and it makes me so mad because learning to sing is a skill and it’s a skill that needs to be carefully attended to. So, it’s almost akin to saying to somebody like me who is very, very bad physically, go and jump those ten hurdles over there without knocking one over. Well, I could never ever do that, it would never happen. I can sing because I’ve got some natural sort of ability but everybody has that ability, it’s a matter of finding the right repertoire of not jumping in trying to sing. And this is an example I give all the time to teachers: ‘Red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue. I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too’. Okay, lovely words, lovely kindergarten sort of message, very, very difficult. The range of the notes, the intervals: ‘I can sing a rainbow’. Very, very difficult. So, any teacher trying to sing that without the background and the pre-learning, it just won’t work. So, you must learn to assess the music and to pick and that’s why things like Vocal Ease More are so useful because all of that has been done for you.

Julia:
The curating.

Susan:
Yes, the ranges of the songs, the sort of sequence of learning the music so that it’s broken down into bite sizes. I have never met a teacher that I couldn’t work with so that they could sing in tune I have to say. I’ve had bets along the way and I’ve won them every time.

Julia:
So, in saying that, okay so you’ve given us an example of something hard, if I wanted to start, where could I start?

Susan:
Well, there are masses of primary school level music that’s available. So, you could start with chants, you could start with very limited …

Julia:
Okay, so through speech.

Susan:
Yes.

Julia:
Yes, so we’re using speech to start.

Susan:
Yes and you go from speech to chanting which is rhythmic speech to very simple songs like: ‘Seesaw, up and down’ the minor third descending ‘in the sky and on the ground’.

Julia:
Don’t worry if you don’t understand what that terminology means. All that’s just your siren.

Susan:
Exactly.

Julia:
Apparently the first interval that children ever hear is that interval.

Susan:
And it is also the interval that is cross-cultural.

Julia:
Absolutely.

Susan:
If you go to Japan and go into a classroom or a playground you’ll hear that interval, Hungary, Australia, anywhere in the world. So, it’s very natural.

Julia: And in saying that think about children’s singing games and their clapping games that you might see in the playground.

Susan: ‘You’re king of the castle, get down you dirty rascal’.

Julia: That’s not very nice, Susan. What about something like you know Frère Jacques or something like that? So, let’s just sing that one.

Susan and Julia: Frère Jacques Frère Jacques Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous? Sonnez les matines Sonnez les matines Ding, ding, dong Ding, ding, dong.

Julia:
Now, let’s say for fun we wanted to change the words and I’ve done this a lot with students over the years where we just changed it to something that’s fun for them. So, let’s try the Star Wars version.

Julia and Susan: R2-D2 R2-D2 C-3PO C-3PO Obi-Wan Kenobi Obi-Wan Kenobi Han Solo Han Solo.

Susan:
Han Solo Han Solo, sorry I got mixed up with that.

Julia:
No, that’s alright. Now, let’s go even further with that, just say we were in a classroom and want to have a bit of fun. I’ll do just one about you.

Susan:
Okay, and I will answer.

Julia:
So, you’re going to make one up back to me?

Susan:
I will.

Julia:
Wow, this is getting complicated. Okay. Susan Sukkar Susan Sukkar She’s very clever She’s very clever She’s a great musician She’s a great musician Wow, she’s good Wow, she’s good.

Susan:
You are great You are great. We’re patting each other on the back here aren’t we?

Julia:
That was a bit of fun but that’s great fun kids can have. We are 3B We are 3B and so on you know making up things, yeah.

Susan:
And you can change words to nursery rhymes too and to things like Diddle, Diddle Dumpling, Richard Gill’s set of those beautiful nursery rhymes that we’re losing out of our culture.

Julia:
Nursery rhymes are so important aren’t they?

Susan:
They really, really are and there are lots of examples of those but you can take one of those nursery rhymes and personalise it to a child in your class and when you do do that the look on their face is …

Julia:
It’s gorgeous isn’t it?

Susan:
… precious because they realise that you’ve picked them and you’re making up something about them, they love it.

Julia:
Yeah, now look in saying that we just launched straight into singing that in a round. Now, you wouldn’t do that if you were not feeling very confident in music, you would start with just singing it as we did without doing it as a round and then gradually building up that singing in a round skill. Because that takes some time and some practice, you have to be really confident with the melody and everything first don’t you?

Susan:
Yes. Well, you noticed us we were sort of or me in particular …

Julia:
What are you saying Susan?

Susan:
You know I wouldn’t like to listen back to that with a tuner on because you know it’s not an easy skill, that’s right. So, these people that have been told when they’re a little child you know you should never sing, you go out and skip and stop singing is hurtful and it’s a very strong message that people carry as a hurt and it should never happen and we need very much to guard against that making those very sweeping judgements about people’s musicianship.

Julia:
Oh absolutely, I remember my mother telling me she never ever sang to me when I was a child because she’d been told she couldn’t do it. Someone at school had told her that.

Susan:
And that’s you know that’s just not true, it’s a learnt skill it’s and it’s one that has to be carefully worked on. So, keep singing in the shower, sing away, don’t worry about what other people say, use the music that you know and enjoy as a starting point with your class. Do some research into that. Go into other key learning areas, have a look at the words.

Julia:
Yes, absolutely. You know don’t be scared to use recordings as well as long as they’re good recordings and sing along with those too.

Susan:
Yes, absolutely. You know it’s a matter of just introducing music that you love to your children. I think that’s the most important message.

Julia:
Absolutely. Now, talking about that though, let’s say you don’t really, I know you do love classical music but let’s say that you didn’t and it’s not something that you listen to. What’s your position on teaching classical music in the classroom or having some classical music for the students to listen to?

Susan:
My position is that classical music forms part of the genre of music for all of us and that just because you’re unfamiliar with it, doesn’t mean that you should shy away from it. Stories that are told through classical music can be incredibly powerful to children. You can Google anything these days so you can find adventures in music and you can be listening to all sorts of music and I believe that classical music should be part of that cannon of what we teach to children. Just because you haven’t got any experience with it doesn’t mean that you should shy away from it.

Julia:
Absolutely.

Susan:
Just listen to it, find a piece in the ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ from the Peer Gynt Suite, ‘Rodeo’ from Aaron Copland, things that are very strongly programmatic.

Julia:
The Four Seasons.

Susan:
Yes and tie into other areas and just Google classical music for children and listen through to things. I have seen a simple listening lesson where a piece of music has been put on, children are sitting and listening and I have seen children be absolutely captivated and transported and they’re not the ones that you necessarily would think be the ones that have been transported by this music. So, it can lead into an art lesson, it can lead into a creative writing lesson so easily. It can be used as a lesson break to just you know as a circuit breaker in the classroom for children to relax, to breathe. You will come up with all sorts of ideas if you start to think about what you can do.

Julia:
Absolutely. So, we know that music is a universal language and basically you’ve already said that but how could we relate music in our classroom to other cultures?

Susan:
Well, you know every culture has its own specific music and so it’s quite easy to find examples of that music and then to go and research.

Julia:
Or ask the students themselves.

Susan:
Yeah and one thing I’ve done is I actually asked the class to ask their mums and grandmothers and grandfathers for that matter and fathers to sing a lullaby to them, something that they use to go to sleep.

Julia:
It’s kind of their homework, isn’t it gorgeous?

Susan:
And actually got them to come in and sing it to the class and to teach it.

Julia:
Wow.

Susan:
Because usually the language is very limited and you know so it’s something that you can actually teach another language to the class and that makes that child feel so valued that their culture, that their traditions are being valued by a whole class of children. And a lullaby always has very small number of lyrics. So, just quite simple and they can just come and sing it or they can record them.

Julia:
And nice and soft and gentle too. I think our students are so exposed to things like the Voice and Australia’s Got Talent and all of those things I think they’ve got to belt everything out and use this really big chest voice and you know blast the roof off the building but beautiful, gentle singing is the best way to do it and it’s the best way not to damage your voice as well.

Susan:
Absolutely.

Julia:
Now, I wanted to talk to you about a difficult topic which is notation. Now, this is always a block for teachers if they don’t read music they think I can’t do it, I’m not going to do it, it is too hard. Now, I know and you know that really reading notation (a) it’s an expectation of the syllabus, talking about that sound to symbol relationship but it’s actually just a mathematical code, it is really just symbols on a page to represent a sound, that is all it is. Now, we’re not saying that you have to go out and suddenly start doing music lessons so that you can read music but getting the idea across to yourself and to the students that notation in the primary school is about getting that sound to symbol relationships so we start with graphic notation and then we can build it up. How have you dealt with that with teachers who don’t know how to read music and maybe are reluctant to do it?

Susan:
Well, again exactly as you said, you start off with a very limited palette of rhythmic notations and you teach it alongside the children. So, every teacher is able to read you know a crotchet, two quavers and a crotchet rest or ta tee tee and sa rest.

Julia:
So, we could think of it like a whole pizza for ta, a pizza cut in half for tee tee and a sa, the whole pizza’s been eaten.

Susan:
Yes. Oh yes you could do that.

Julia:
All we’ve got left is the packet to show that there’s still a beat there.

Susan:
That’s right.

Julia:
Nothing left of it.

Susan:
And you can devise it in all sorts of different ways but I start off with teaching that, it’s very interesting how much you can do with just those three, you can do all sorts of games with auditory imagination, auditory memory, auditory awareness. So, just those three things can be used to build a whole lot of lessons around teaching those very, very fundamental and important skills that our children we all feel as teachers are losing. You know they are that ability to listen and to focus and to because of the amount of stimulation that’s coming into the world …

Julia:
Absolutely.

Susan:
… is a challenge for many, many children and so you can use those things to teach that then adding pitch to those rhythms is another so just a note and then a note above and the note below and just adding.

Julia:
A gradual process.

Susan:
Yes. And for the majority of primary school children and teachers that is enough. So, if they do go onto private lessons in you know or instrumental lessons at another time that’s given them the foundations and the concepts of the principles to start to learn more complex notation. But from that point it’s really up to the individual to see how far they develop. And a lot of teachers do get a great kick out of being able to do that and to realise oh, yes well, there’s and so much out there now to help you with it. There’s so many tutorials and you can go into Vocal Ease 2, Vocal Ease More, all of those departmental resources.

Julia:
The animated scores that follow along and show you what to do and how to read it. Yeah, it shouldn’t be a stumbling block and again even just starting with graphic notation of you know a triangle equals this instrument and a circle means play this instrument and a big one might mean loud and a small one might mean soft and if it’s up high on the page then it might be a high sound and down low might be a low sound. Those sort of starting points, it shouldn’t be a hurdle. Now, Susan we’ve talked a lot about music, what about the other art forms in your opinion, let’s talk about the importance of all the art forms.

Susan:
Well, for me I feel like to divorce them and to put them all into their own little category is a really alien concept to me. Movement, dance and music just go together. Dramatising you know chants and if you’re channelling your inner Richard Gill as I always say you know you dramatise everything that you’re doing with children, it’s hard not to and to move and I know that dance has its own repertoire of movement and terminology and symbols and all of those things and I’m completely you know I respect all of that but I also think that there’s a symbiosis that goes with all of these things that happens automatically and one thing leads to another. So, as I was saying you know if you’re singing a song or you’re listening to a piece of music and it leads to some creative writing it can also move very easily to dance and it can also move to drama and it can very easily go into visual arts.

Julia:
Absolutely. And I’ve seen some fantastic local teachers using visual artworks as stimulus for all of the other art forms as well and I just think it’s magical.

Susan:
Yeah, they all interrelate and have a relationship with each other and to try and divorce them from each other is counter-intuitive I feel.

Julia:
We don’t function like that as people do we? We don’t walk around going I’m only music, I’m only dance, I’m only mathematics, it’s all integrated in our lives.

Susan:
And that’s the fun of teaching when you take something like that and then just explore it and go to whatever corner of the Earth that it takes you with your children and with your own creative ideas.

Julia:
Fantastic. Well, look is there any other advice that you’d like to offer to some teachers out there who might be struggling with their music or arts journeys? Obviously your background is mainly in music but is there anything that you’d like to pass to those teachers out there who are thinking I can’t do it but I’m on the precipice, I’d really like to give it a go.

Susan:
I would say get in touch you know make sure you get in touch with you or with me, there are networks of teachers out there that you can get involved in. There’s a myriad of support documents around and help that you can get. If you have a community of schools perhaps talk to the other teachers and workout whether you can have a music afternoon and all bring something along to the afternoon and invite another person along. You know there are music teachers right over NSW, it’s not as though or and dance and drama. It’s not as though there’s nothing happening so you just need to reach out and make a connection.

Julia:
And if you’re on your own just starting with, even if you’ve got a Stage 3 class, there is nothing wrong with starting with a nursery rhyme, getting it chanting, turning it into a rap and then adding some backing music to it. It’s amazing, the sky is the limit really and letting those children take some creative control there and go for it, give them some stimulus.

Susan:
Yes and they can use garage band now and make backing tracks. The children are infinitely better at that than we are.

Julia:
Absolutely. Comes back to that old digital native statement.

Susan:
The children now are fearless and we, I’m talking about myself, a lot of the teachers listening to this are probably in that fearless category. I worry about breaking something or doing it wrong, the children aren’t and they go with them, you know get them to make a film, make a digital and put music to the film and there’s your drama happening. You can have dance and movement happening in there. You know there’s so much that can be done. But reach out for some support if you need that, there’s many people in the department, I know you would be a good starting spot.

Julia:
Absolutely. And we’ve got some online courses in music particularly that are great if you’re starting on that musical journey.

Susan:
Yes.

Julia:
And those are all linked on the education.nsw.gov.au page which is freely available for teachers to look at and download and access courses and they can jump on MyPL and there’s a few music courses there that they can do as well. So, look Susan it’s been fantastic talking with you today and I’m sure everyone’s got a lot out of hearing about your journey and it’s been really exciting. I know how many students out there have been incredibly stimulated in their lives by the work that you’ve done with them over the years and for their teachers. So, thank you and thanks for your time today, it’s been great.

Susan:
It’s been a real privilege speaking with you. Thank you very much Julia.

Julia:
And if you enjoyed today’s podcast and you would like to follow us so you can get future episodes remember to go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum click on the orange follow button and use your @education.nsw.gov.au account to log in and set that all up or otherwise go in through Facebook or create your own SoundCloud account and I’ll look forward to speaking to you very, very soon.

Music

End of transcript

Return to top of page Back to top