This year PLC Armidale has seen nine of its students take top honours in the composition section of the Armidale Eisteddfod.
The arts in PLC
At Presbyterian Ladies’ College Armidale, the Arts educators continue to guide the students towards a vast range of experiences which will enrich their lives and provide them with knowledge for future growth. The independent nature of art subjects is recognised and the school engages specialists in order to teach the concepts convincingly.
The staff anticipate that the forthcoming National Curriculum will recognise the need for independent specialists to work within the respective disciplines and not create non-subjects such as ‘Performing Arts’. The Australian music educator Richard Gill describes this type of decision making as “fraudulent behaviour.”
Music in PLC
Richard Gill has also said that “children performing in an arena mimicking adults and RSL singers gyrating exhaustingly to a very loud accompaniment amplified at a dangerous level, does not constitute music education.” He said that “education is about observation, analysis, thinking and the subsequent application of any wisdom gathered along the way.” (NSW Orff Schulwerk Bulletin, Oct. 2007)
Singing is Recognised
When a child is preschool age, they will often sing and invent rhythmic games, proving that music is an instinctive desire which we all have. PLC Armidale aims to develop and nurture this. It has been for some time a ‘singing school’ with tangible evidence from the Armidale Eisteddfod, where the Secondary choir has won the Choral Championship for eight out of nine years! It is an environment which encourages girls to use their natural voice as an instrument and to investigate the vocal and choral repertoire created for singers. This includes the Monday morning whole school assembly singing great hymns by Bach and other significant composers. The famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin said that this is something he missed from his ‘home schooling’ experience. PLC Armidale students start every week with good singing and have done for some time.
In 2009, three former PLC Armidale vocalists have been engaged to perform in significant events in our community:
n Lexi Hutton BMus, performed Arias in the famous ‘Opera in the Paddock’.
n Shelli Hulcomb BMus (nee Gilhome) performed during the UNE Graduation ceremonies.
n Hannah Frazer (Year 12 2008) an ‘Encore’ nominee sang during the opening concert for the TAS Creative Arts building.
The school nurtures singing and a choral program from K-12. We offer music specialists who take 5 choral groups (K-2, 3-6, 7-12 choirs, as well as a junior school and a senior school vocal ensemble). Every girl is encouraged to use her natural singing voice, and students are guided into a repertoire which embraces great music. Former Australian Opera soprano Inge Southcott has recently been engaged to conduct the 3-6 choir and to work with Year 2 teacher Amy Walsh to assist her with choral techniques. The whole school approach to natural singing is encouraged at every year level. The famous secondary choir is conducted by our highly experienced Director of Music, Mr Stuart Pavel.
Junior School Innovations
This year we are building a ‘Listening’ program into every child’s day and incorporating music into our unit study program. The exercise requires the students to have access to a CD with three works on it at home. These are:
Peter and the Wolf – Prokofiev
The Carnival of Animals – Saint-Saens
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra – Benjamin Britten
The class teacher will periodically present the students with small listening tasks as part of the homework routine. During each day, a short 3 or 4 minute session will be devoted to covering different parts of the CD.
Mrs Scott, the K-6 music specialist will continue to provide the class with music lessons where performance and compositional skills will be nurtured, along with other listening works. This program is supplementary to this, and as it will be steered by the classroom teacher, it will represent a natural part of the day.
Good music should never be seen as an exclusive experience, but one which all students at PLC have the privilege of hearing and studying. Country students particularly need to learn from another source apart from the media. We are offering this opportunity at PLC. Having the CD at home means that parents will also become involved and interested in the repertoire.
The HSC results in music have for some time at PLC been of a high standard. This, of course, is not a complete measure of a successful program. The classroom from Year 7-12 is an important venue where all students study works of great composers, compose their own works and perform. Students have a natural curiosity for the many aspects of music, and the school is well resourced for satisfying this interest.
The elective students all present compositions into the Armidale Eisteddfod for assessment by a practicing Australian composer, and those who study instruments are able to submit some wonderful performances for assessment .
Ensembles at PLC Strings
The great violinist Isaac Stern has said that “teaching young artists is like giving water to a flower”. It is inspired teaching which produces the healthiest bloom, and the school has had a vibrant string program ever since former music teacher Lucy Poggioli introduced the Suzuki string teaching into the school in the 1970s. In recent years, Elizabeth Scott and Sue Dowdell have built the number of players so that we now have a number of string ensembles operating in PLC.
This year we welcome NECOM String teacher April Kelson as our musician-in -residence, and together with NECOM teacher Marion Barford and the leader of the Armidale Symphony Orchestra Errol Russell, we have a marvellous support staff for the violin and viola players in the school. The cellists are well serviced by NECOM teacher Eleanor Streatfield and the highly experienced Sue Metcalfe.
PLC does not have a compulsory classroom string program. The students who are learning the instruments do so voluntarily. We have found that a natural curiosity exists within the school for string playing, and this natural interest is sustenance for daily practice and ensemble playing.
Every Week the Following Ensembles are Rehearsed:
n PLC String Quartet
n K-6 String Ensemble
n Secondary String Ensemble
And it is wonderful for the whole school to hear the string sounds emanating from the music room. Teachers and staff often stop and listen and leave with a smile on their face. The students love the challenge of playing a good repertoire with their friends, and this includes works by Australian composers, as well as the extensive repertoire from the Baroque period.
PLC Armidale is proud to have a senior orchestra that provides opportunities for a variety of girls to perform orchestral works by the great composers. Our orchestra is fortunate to have instruments such as the oboe, bassoon and French horn, instruments that are difficult to play and therefore not always available in schools. Our orchestra rehearses regularly and performs each year at the Armidale Eisteddfod, as well as at our own annual concert and Speech Day.
Jazz band gives an opportunity to our saxophone and brass players to develop their skills in the area of Jazz and improvisation. Along with a rhythm section, they explore the repertoire of the big band and stage band. Many girls in the Jazz band are multi-instrumentalists and can also be seen playing stringed instruments, as well as other wind instruments. Jazz band is a lot of fun and allows us to ‘let our hair down’ a bit.
This choir comprises girls from Years 7 to 12 and sings a varied repertoire of quality vocal music, including many pieces by Australian composers. The choir is compulsory for Year 7 and rehearses twice a week. Our performances include the Armidale Eisteddfod, our own annual concert, Speech Day and the highly acclaimed Carol Service held in the Cathedral of St Mary and St Joseph each year.
A vocal group, consisting mainly of singing students, rehearses weekly and performs throughout the year at a variety of venues. These girls sing a more demanding repertoire than the choir and often sing a capella. They perform at local events and nursing homes and compete in the Eisteddfod each year.
Excursions and Concerts
The ‘String Soiree’ concert was introduced last year in November and provided the music department with the opportunity to present the exemplary solo string players, as well as the string ensembles in the school, to an enthusiastic audience. This year we are hoping to be joined by a string ensemble from Barker College in Sydney.
The string ensembles, plus the orchestra and vocal ensemble are travelling to Broken Hill in July in order to join with the Broken Hill Symphony Orchestra for a community concert. The Concert Master is one of Mr Pavel’s old school friends, so this is a first for PLC, and it should be fun to visit and play in this part of Australia.
Later in the year, members of the Secondary choir will travel to Sydney for the ‘Celebration Concert’ in Sydney Town Hall with the infamous Mal Hewiit, and we will sing large scale works with his orchestra. We will audition some of our ensemble for a spot in the first half of this concert as well. Last year we presented the ‘Celtic’ Strings.
All ensembles will participate in the Armidale Eisteddfod this year, and they are challenged by the standard they achieved last year – where they won almost every section they entered! The adjudicators comments praised the musicianship, excitement and skill with which the works were performed.
The Junior school participates in the IPSHA concert in Sydney every year as part of an ensemble with PLC Sydney, as well as performing a solo item. These performances are eagerly awaited and provide the junior girls with a great experience.
All students studying instruments or voice are invited to nominate for performance practice in our ‘In-House’ concerts. These concerts are absolutely wonderful programs, where the whole school is represented. It is an environment where a Year 12 student could present a work they are preparing for the HSC, and this is often followed by a Year 2 student playing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. The school recognises the need for students to present individual items, and this is the platform for such an experience.