Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

An 'Attunement for Change': R. Murray Schafer and the Introduction of Creative Music Teaching in Australia

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

An 'Attunement for Change': R. Murray Schafer and the Introduction of Creative Music Teaching in Australia

Article excerpt


In Australia in the early 1960s school music consisted of students learning about music rather than creating and performing music. At the time Tahourdin (1968) pointed out that, "Until recently music education has been centred almost exclusively on performance and the study of musical history and theory" (p. 25). In Australian primary schools, music was the responsibility of the generalist class teacher and many students entered secondary school with few skills in music and once there the emphasis was on music theory, appreciation, and class singing (Stevens, 2006).

Paynter's discussion of school music education in England could equally apply to Australia from where most of our music education practices derived. Paynter (1970) noted that the knowledge primary students had of music and the limited amount of time available for music in junior secondary schools made the prevailing teaching of music literacy ineffective for both students and teacher alike. He argued that, "As important as the skills of music-reading undoubtedly are, they touch only a small proportion of children in schools" (1970, p. 199). Instead of teaching music literacy to naïve junior secondary students Paynter maintained that, "Classroom work should be based on music-making (performing, improvising, composing)" (1982, p. 28).

As elsewhere in Australia, in Victoria only a few state secondary schools taught classroom music until the 1970s (Comte, 1983, p. 169). Although a new secondary music curriculum was developed for Victorian secondary schools during the early 1960s it also concentrated on music theory that resulted in few students deciding to study music after the compulsory years of secondary education (Vanson, 1975, p. 15). By the end of the 1960s there was momentum for change.

Schafer (1975) noted that in the 1960s "the teaching profession has demonstrated greater attunement for change. At first there were merely a few sparks of energy, the early work of Peter Maxwell Davies and George Self in England... and by no means least, the work of uncelebrated Originals' in out-of-the-way places everywhere" (1975, p. 3). These influences variously reached Australia but the first major catalyst for change appears to have been the visit by composer and teacher Peter Maxwell Davies to Sydney for the 1965 UNESCO Seminar on School music (Australian National Advisory Committee for UNESCO, 1965). The discussions at this gathering convinced many Seminar participants to consider introducing creative music education. Australian composers and educators argued for change.

In 1969 Australian composer Keith Humble (1927-1995) advocated that, "Creative music means making music ... [and] the creative music approach is to 'live' a musical experience" (Humble, 1969, p. 12). Composer Peter Tahourdin (1929-2002) recognised that, "Composer-teachers, such as Zoltán Kodály, Carl Orff and Peter Maxwell Davies, have shown that children can create music spontaneously and effectively" (1969, p. 25). Walker (1983) points out that during the 1960s a "reflection of some developments in contemporary music began to be shown in music classrooms in a number of countries" (p. 86). He identifies two purposes behind the inclusion of experimental music in schools, to bring "the work of contemporary musicians into the classroom, and the other is to involve all children ... in acts of music making, both performance and composition" (p. 89).

This article discusses the upswelling of interest in creative activities in school music and the influence of international visitors to Australia, such as British composer Peter Maxwell Davies and particularly Canadian R. Murray Schafer. Although some contemporary publications describe this work, much work by teachers and students occurred in relative isolation with teachers "grappling with new ideas formulated through their own musical and professional teaching experiences" (Walker, 1983, p. 86). This historical discussion explores contemporary documents and descriptions of teaching. …

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