BY CELINE CHONG, 2017 CUTCOMMON YOUNG WRITER OF THE YEAR
This blog awarded Celine Chong the winning place in the 2017 CutCommon Young Writer of the Year Competition. It responds to the entry question, Classical music: what’s in it for young people? We publish this story as part of our Young Writers’ Month.
Classical music: what’s in it for young people? Or, anyone, actually.
It’s a question we musicians often face, whether it’s at dinner with friends on a Friday night, or on the train when a stranger uses your instrument case as a conversation starter.
The ‘sensible’ answers start coming to mind: music activates all the areas of the human brain, it encourages creativity, teaches teamwork and communication skills, promotes higher achievement in literacy and numeracy tests…and the articles and research studies go on and on. But is that really it?
That’s not to say all of these reasons are irrelevant; on the contrary, they are only some of the wide-ranging benefits that come with a music education. The bottom line is: music helps us to grow socially, emotionally, and intellectually, but I’d like to take another step back and consider why we do what we do.
If you were to ask a student in a school orchestra: ‘Why do you play your instrument?’, imagine if his or her first answer was: ‘Because I want to get better grades in Maths and English!’. Doesn’t that leave a bitter taste in your mouth? Thankfully, what’s far more likely is: ‘Because I like it’. Or, ‘Because it’s fun’. Humans are intrinsically drawn to music and music-making, not because of its intellectual or scientific benefits (although they are definite perks). But because music speaks to us emotionally, because it allows us to communicate, and, perhaps most importantly, because we enjoy playing and listening to it.
The value of doing something just because it brings you happiness is too often undermined
These days, however, ‘Because I like it’ has lost its ground as a good-enough reason to be doing anything. The value of doing something just because it brings you happiness is too often undermined. But would children be laughing and singing in a music classroom if they weren’t having fun? Would the millions of concertgoers worldwide be going to watch performances if they didn’t enjoy them? A music education is important because it puts smiles on people’s faces, because it energises them, and because music is an essential part of enjoying life. Sure, music brings with it a host of other benefits, but its ability to bring happiness to people and enrich the human experience is why it has endured the test of time. It’s why we insist on empowering the musicians of tomorrow, handing over the baton, time and time again.
The future of classical music in Australia is indeed in our hands
As a university music student myself, I’ve been lucky enough to have had some amazing teachers to guide, encourage, and challenge me: teachers who have inspired me to follow their lead and spread a love of music. But I’m sure I speak for others as well when I say that studying a music degree can, at times, be equal parts daunting and stressful as it is fulfilling. University students face an awkward time of change and transition: suddenly having students while we ourselves are still being taught; expectations mounting ever-higher while we still find our feet artistically; and the trepidation of never knowing what the future holds. It is at these times when we are truly tested – when ‘Because I like it’ doesn’t seem like nearly enough. However, I urge you to remember that it is also precisely these moments when no other reason will pull us through. And I have no doubt that we are all the better for it.
The future of classical music in Australia is indeed in our hands. It’s up to us to believe in ourselves, and thus inspire a love of music in the next generation. By performing the pieces we love, programming music that we enjoy, and going to concerts that leave us starstruck, we can create the vibrant musical community that we envision. Passion is contagious, and as long as we encourage children to pursue their interests, ignite their curiosities, and love what we do ourselves, the classical music scene will thrive. After all, it only takes a spark to set the whole forest ablaze. So the next time someone asks, ‘What’s in it for you?’, remember why you fell in love with classical music in the first place. Because that, in itself, is more than enough.
Celine is undertaking her second year of a Bachelor of Music (Honours)/Bachelor of Arts dual degree at the University of Queensland, studying piano performance with Dr Anna Grinberg. A conscientious and passionate student, Celine regularly performs a variety of solo and chamber music repertoire, having recently participated in the Advanced Masterclass program at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. In addition to her 13 years of piano experience, Celine also enjoys writing and has won numerous awards from the University of Queensland, Queensland Piano Competition, Redlands Eisteddfod, and the English Teachers Association of Queensland. Celine aspires to have a portfolio career in music, using her skills in performing, chamber music, teaching and writing. However, in her spare time, she seeks out good food, and is a self-proclaimed stationery enthusiast.
Check back in as we continue to showcase talented young musicians responding to this question throughout CutCommon Young Writers’ Month.