Natus Cantorum, one of Kaohsiung’s premiere choirs (how many choirs have bragging rights such as being featured in their city’s music documentaries!?) is celebrating their 5th Anniversary this year and I have the privilege of being invited to guest conduct them as well as give workshops to Taiwanese music educators and conductors recently. I just had to blog about this as a keepsake of the fantastic experience there!
I perceive a dedication to life-long learning in this country. Apparently, in less than 24 hours after the official notice for the masterclass went out, 20 people had already signed up. People from as far as Taipei enquired (and attended), conductors and teachers teaching at the primary/secondary schools, university/adult levels all came… even retired teachers were enquiring! Response was overwhelming leading to a cap on maximum numbers to ensure quality control. Aye such dedication to one’s continuing education and professional development! I can’t help but wonder how many of Singapore’s co-curricular activity (CCA) instructors (e.g. band/choir/strings conductors) and MOE music teachers would travel to another city, pay for accommodation and workshop fees out of their own pockets for the sake of self-improvement? That said, perhaps Singaporean educators simply have no time nor energy for such stuff in view of the crazy working hours and workloads – our Taiwanese counterparts tend to knock off from work between 4pm-6pm (normally 4-ish). Perhaps the time and space given to educators to live, breathe and properly prepare lessons for teaching makes all the difference? I have learnt from a famous Indonesian pastor that ‘people put their money where their heart is’… it is certainly obvious where the hearts of Taiwanese music educators and conductors lie!
I also learnt very interesting things about their ‘music curriculum’ – perhaps ‘arts curriculum’ is a more correct term. Apparently, their ‘music lesson’ is a combined arts lesson that incorporates not only music, but also other performing arts such as theatre (both traditional chinese and western opera), dance etc. Visual arts appreciation also form a large part of their curriculum and includes not just western masters like Picasso but also beautiful Chinese paintings by the likes of 吳昌碩 or 黃昌慧. The music curriculum bits I thought were good, although a tad too heavily focused and geared towards instrumental playing and music theory (i.e. looks rather like a sit and listen approach) for my taste… I suspect though, that the textbooks and music included will very much come alive in the hands of a well-trained musician-pedagogue. Anecdotal evidence and conversations with various music teachers who absolutely fell in love with the application and doing of music, e.g. music & movement games we played seemed to corroborate these observations.
I also started the workshop emphasizing that the voice IS an instrument… and perhaps is one of the most difficult instrument to fully master. Genre wise, the curriculum employs an open-minded, broad-based approach incorporating not just western classical music ( opera, german lieder etc.) but also newer genres such as musicals, Chinese pop ballads made famous by singer Emil Chau but also introduces ‘Art Music’ Taiwanese composers such as 馬水龍.
While I can empathize with the super broad-based approach to the ‘arts curriculum’ after learning about the need for a ‘democratic solution’ in the employment of teachers of different art forms… I do however question the wisdom of such an approach – as I always say:
Music is a specialized subject requiring specialized delivery
It would take a very exceptional, multi-disciplinary artist-pedagogue to be able to effectively teach art-forms that are outside of one’s specialty. Personally, I suspect the effect on children might be better if we had an educator who specializes (and is passionate about) one particular art form – teaching it really well, incorporating multi-disciplinary art-forms when appropriate. That said, there is of course no perfect system in the world and even the best curriculum can suffer from poor execution.
In the face of such fantastic material, I can’t help but look forward and hope for the day when Singapore’s music curriculum will incorporate scholarly, well-researched music material… where excerpts of orchestral and choral works by local Singaporean composers can be found amongst the pages that also describe Bach and Beethoven.
On a lighter note, I have spoken more (ultra rusty) Chinese in the last 4 days than I ever had in the last 4 years… resulting in many a funny situation e.g. I was hoping to say something like “let us stand and release tension by stretching”, a wrong use of a similar sounding term (shu1 jie3 紓解 versus shu1 zhan3 舒展) resulted in a hilarious Chinese equivalent that meant “let us stand and pee”… OMG! Am suddenly grateful for the billingual education I had attending schools with an emphasis on Chinese culture like Dunman High School (DHS) or the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). Hahaha.
What beautiful people, beautiful food （牡丹園 and 茶湯會‘s 觀音拿鐵s brought me to heaven…）, and beautiful memories. I truly had a FANTASTIC time with this group of talented, passionate and super fun singers. 愛死你們了！ Looking forward to December when I bring Schola Cantorum to meet with you guys to sing choral works by Singaporean composers! See you again very soon!! 🙂