NEW MUSIC EDUCATION INITIATIVE
Expat director, educator and conductor Dr Rob McWilliams has returned to Australia after 23 years to work directly with music educators and young musicians.
Recently, he spoke to Fine Music magazine about his charter at Yamaha, which is to be in the front line, in schools, helping ensemble directors and students reach their full potential.
FM: Can you explain your role with Yamaha and what you will be doing with music students and schools in Australia?
RM: The main purpose of this role is to increase the quality and participation within the instrumental music scene across Australia. Firstly, I see it as vital to collaborate directly with teachers, educational administrators (locally, regionally, and nationally), and community music organisations in providing professional development (PD) for all aspects influencing (and hopefully improving) the art of being an effective ensemble director.
Secondly, working directly with ensembles via guest conducting, music camps, etc. can also make an important contribution.
Thirdly, my role can help by providing direct support for new and/or fledgling programs to grow and improve by working with them in program set-up, recruitment, advocacy, etc. In addition to “hands-on” support, there are a number of very useful materials from a variety of sources available that can also help.
Yamaha’s new initiative “Off to a Great Start” is one example. Part of this initiative involved the production of two excellent videos for recruitment purposes.
FM: In your experience, what are some of the most important factors for students of music to be successful and go on to pursue careers in music – specifically classical and jazz as opposed to popular music?
RM: Having the right attitude toward all issues that influence having a successful career is probably number one (and probably two and three as well). This encompasses being dedicated to the study of your instrument and having the persistence to overcome the inevitable obstacles that all musicians encounter. Progress is rarely, if ever, linear and there are moments where our progress plateaus or even declines slightly before moving forward again.
Being a reliable and good colleague is also a vitally important disposition. Being on time and treating everybody with appropriate respect goes a long way to continued musician employment.
FM: How is Yamaha supporting children to study music and why is this important?
RM: Supporting children in the study of music is truly important because the study of music is a unique form of intelligence and a significant means of understanding our world and ourselves in a unique and powerful way. Music is often considered the “language of emotions” and this alone makes it a significant part of human development and a critical component of a well-rounded education. There is also, of course, an increasing amount of research that speaks to a significant link between learning a musical instrument and positive brain development – especially at the formative ages. Music is also a cultural asset – we have not yet found evidence of any culture (including those we might label as “primitive” or “undeveloped”) that does not have music-making of some sort as a defining characteristic. If that wasn’t enough, we also know that being involved in music-making teaches us a lot about collaboration, teamwork, persistence, hard work, etc. So as I think you can see, supporting music education is, indeed, critically important.
Yamaha supports children in the study of music in a number of ways. Firstly via the Yamaha Music Education program which has more than 690,000 students and educators, across more than 5,650 locations worldwide. This program strives to enrich the learning experience of the students, with a dedication to a curriculum of the highest standard.
FM: Can you tell us a little more about you?
RM: I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. I taught myself piano from a relatively young age and learned trumpet formally from Year 7. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Melbourne, I taught at Eltham College, an independent K-12 school in Melbourne where I established a brand new instrumental program recognized for its excellence.
I served as Professor of Music and Director of Bands and Instrumental Music Education at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh from 1996 to 2014 where I also served as Head of the Music Department from 2011. At Oshkosh I conducted many of the university’s symphonic and jazz ensembles including primary responsibility for the University Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band. I also taught courses in instrumental music education, conducting, and jazz.
In early 2015 my family and I relocated to Brisbane, where I have recently taken up my new role with Yamaha as well as continuing to freelance as a musician, educator, conductor, adjudicator, and composer/ arranger.
– Paula Wallace