Standardised testing and NAPLAN is a poison of the worst kind," says outspoken music educator and conductor Richard Gill OAM over the phone from Melbourne, where he's Music Director of Victorian Opera.
"It is educational suicide. What it does is to try to make all children the same. It's turning us into the land of the bland. And it's happening in music too. We don't want that.
"Education is not a race and it is not comparative. We are all different. You go to school for two things: to learn how to learn and to learn how to think. And the great thing about music is that it contains all the modalities of learning.
"Music is the one arts subject which heightens the child's capacity to listen and focus. And that capacity translates into all other areas."
Neither is the 70-year-old Sydney-born Gill, a former dean of the WA Conservatorium of Music who helped to get the fledgling organisation up and running between 1985 and 1990, too happy about recent calls to reduce its level of one-on-one teaching because of financial difficulties.
"There is no substitute for one-on-one teaching in a conservatorium," he says. "If you want to train musicians you have to spend money on one-to-one. It's as simple as that."
And if you want more of the same uncompromising views on education as well as some hilarious and frankly self-effacing anecdotes drawn from more than half a century of a life in music, you need to read Gill's new memoir, Give Me Excess of It.
From early years in a convent school, where a love of the theatrical Roman Catholic Mass would later translate to a love of opera, through studies in Australia and at the Orff Institute at Salzburg's Mozarteum, numerous important teaching and conducting posts, to appearances on ABC TV's Spicks and Specks and being one of the judges on the same channel's reality TV show, Operatunity Oz, Gill, it seems, has done it all.
And he's had a lot of fun doing it. But he has always taken music and education very seriously indeed. As he writes towards the end of Give Me Excess of It: "I hope one day every child in this land will be able to have a music teacher who can teach them music properly. I hope one day we will all find the courage to tell the bureaucrats exactly what we think of their stupid ideas."Richard Gill will be in Perth next Tuesday, November 20, for two events organised by Boffins Bookshop in conjunction with the WA Opera and His Majesty's Theatre. For full details and to book tickets visit boffinsbookshop.com.au/events.
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