CIMF review / Music education day misses its target

Music / CIMF concert 16: “Return to Basics”. At Canberra Grammar School, May 4. Report by HELEN MUSA

The Q and A session at the Grammar School.

PRESENTED in association with Canberra Grammar School and Musica Viva in Schools, this educational demonstration and panel session, subtitled “From the Quill to the Cloud”, was presumably aimed at the gallery of school music students in the Tim Murray Theatre at Grammar, but it never quite hit the mark.

MC Julian Day called it a “technological journey” that would explore music and technology, but the subsequent lectures and demonstrations focused far more on the analogue world than on the contemporary technical many young people had come to see.

In a Q&A session that follow, the kids had long-gone, and among the detailed questions about pitch and mode that were thrown at the speakers, only one seriously addressed the question of how modern technology could benefit up and coming musicians.

To be sure, the riveting extracts from “Beowulf” performed by Benjamin Bagby to the Anglo-Saxon harp held the gallery spellbound and Bagby took the occasion to lament the decline of the oral tradition in music that could be laid at the door of the centralist Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. But even this seasoned performer was talking well over the heads of the students when he traced the gradual introduction of notation.

The affable Italian musician Simone Vallerotonda and his antique music ensemble I Bassifondi (roughly meaning “the wrong side of the track”) looked at part books and alphabet notation, also playing music created in the era of the printing press. Vallerotonda and his colleagues demonstrated the time-honoured convention of ‘false’ or ‘blue’ notes in guitar notation using a standard in the Baroque age, “Melody of a nun,” to illustrate the and finished up with a lively galliard, but by this time the gallery was decidedly restless.

When the concertina maker and vocalist Adrian Brown stood to speak of the ribald popular music traditions of the 17th century and to sing, with recorder player Susanna Borsch, a frolicsome song about a licentious barber, the connection with technology seemed to have vanished. It was there all right, but it wasn’t the kind of technology the students had in mind.

Time intervened and just as Utrecht-based composer Ned McGowan rose to demonstrate modern notation and recording technology, the gallery departed for regular classes, meaning that his intriguing show of music created with apps and amplified through a “geo-synthesiser” entirely missed the target audience.

In the concluding Q&A, the festival’s composer-in-residence, Mary Finsterer, joined the panel and she did indeed address questions of technology in composition, but by then it was only the learned and sophisticated older music lovers who got to hear her.

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