Let's create more P Ramlees
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Irama dan lagu
Walau hanya sederhana
Tetapi tak mengapa
Moga dapat membangkitkan
Sedarlah kamu wahai insan
– Getaran Jiwa, P Ramlee
This song will continue to resonate timelessly. P Ramlee was not a one-hit wonder. His songs spanned decades, from the infectious Bunyi Gitar to the aching Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti. His is a genius sorely missed in today’s creatively barren music industry.
Subsequently, this dearth is derived and feeds from us, the masses, who, some will say, are easily satisfied. I’d rather call it “not well equipped”. Both descriptions are fair. We get overexcited at mediocre copycat songs like Malaysian Boy, and are not attuned to exposing ourselves to a whole plethora of music beyond the Top 20s.
My parents sent my sister and me for classical piano lessons from a young age. I had a little more patience for the strict discipline and persevered to Grade 8, the last grade. My sister stopped halfway, partly because my parents couldn’t afford the ever increasing fees, but also because she thought they were lame. Which I agreed with.
The focus was on passing exams, thus classes were tailored to master three classical pieces, scales (ugh), and some technical singing and sightreading, year after year. Music classes in school weren’t any better. We learnt some basic note reading and played the recorder until Standard Six. In secondary school, music was no longer compulsory but an elective, known insultingly as a subject for the “less smart” students.
Why do schools teach music in a way that turns off so many young people rather than ignite their imagination? There is so much potential in music lessons, spillover effects to help learn academic subjects like language arts and math, using music to engage children who are disruptive or at risk of failing. Allowing expression. Providing joyful, engrossing, community-building qualities. Instilling perseverance.
“Any professional musician will tell you that to get where they are (jazz, classical, or pop), they had to work hard, very hard. A classroom music setting in band, orchestra, or choir, reveals the work required to succeed,” says Tom Chapman, a professional musician himself.
Studies show the Mozart effect, linking music-making with enhanced cognitive development in children. And it can be so much fun. Imagine being taught to play the guitar at six. A few basic chords is enough set you up for life. Being taught to play songs you like, instead of scales, is like being told to eat ice cream instead of broccoli.
These pop songs do not signal the death of classical music, or “serious” music. The orientation should never be the focus, but how bizarre, awesome and brilliant it should be.
In this case, it is what interests the kids most. If that happens to be Justin Bieber, so be it. At the end of the day, what matters is that we captivate their interests, supply them with the basic music-making skills, and guide them as they explore music. We want them to be inquisitive and daring music appreciators, if not musicians.
This is not the beginning of an end to classical music or to “serious” music education. The goal is not to produce professional instrumentalists for only one genre of music, but for them to grow and thus for music to grow as well. Money and manpower are limiting factors, but they can be overcome. Enough with the outdated syllabus and methods already. It’s 2011, for goodness sake.
Programmes such as Little Kids Rock provide music classes where students play in bands, and are allowed to improvise and even compose. They have been remarkably successful in low-income areas, where they’ve revamped the music education systems in the US.
Sure, there are funding and resources issues, but if you can build another billion-dollar castle, surely you
can buy a few guitars and some keyboards. Companies record billion-dollar revenues every year, too – it’s time for some corporate social responsibility.
What about teachers? Do we have the human resources to pull this off? This is where I am hoping fervently
that the promising Teach For Malaysia trainees will jazz up Malaysia’s music education system.
A good teacher can inspire. My piano teacher in Grade 6 taught me to notice and appreciate the subtle nuances in Chopin and even scales! She briefed me in the history and colour behind a piece, instead of being a drill master like many others.
By her cultivating in me this ability to appreciate, it gave me the edge to play music with a little more soul, and to enjoy it, not just to earn a paper. Music education needs not be a privilege for a few.
It needs to be democratised for all. After all, it is a win-win situation. It would be such a waste to not tap into the enormous musical potential of our young ones. Let’s start young. Let’s bring quality back to our music scene.
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