Developing Character Through Music

When we learn an instrument, especially in the early stages, we also learn a lot about our character. This past week saw each of the Year 4 and Year 5 students present at the Music Immersion Program concerts, and as I was driving into the College before the first of these I saw the first of many signs newly dotted around the campus – each one detailing one of the 24 character strengths that frame our educative interactions on academic, co-curricular, social and pastoral levels. As I walked past these signs, I thought, ‘music does that’, ‘music supports that’, ‘music develops that'…

Learning an instrument speaks to and allows our students to show many of these character strengths, namely bravery, creativity, curiosity, perseverance, perspective, self-regulation, teamwork, not to mention the opportunity to appreciate beauty and excellence. I particularly like this last one – the appreciation of beauty and excellence – and I think this is what music provides for and provokes in us so powerfully!

Music is a beautiful thing – to paraphrase a well-known saying, children can make beautiful music, but more importantly, music can make beautiful children. We appreciate music through the ways in which we put it to use in our lives. Music allows us to explore and express ourselves in ways that words cannot reach; its beauty is at times unnamable. This intuitive engagement with music is where it all begins. As we learn an instrument, however, we begin to assign meaning to these intuitive experiences. We begin to uncover how it works and what it can say (and we can say with it); however, only a continual striving for excellence will see us become increasingly fluent and conversational. The appreciation of how music attends to beauty and excellence, and how it provokes beauty and excellence in us is something very special.

So how might our young Year 4 and 5 musicians work towards making ‘beautiful’ and ‘excellent’ music? It all comes down to practice. Practice progresses us toward excellence. No one is above the need to practice – even those we deem ‘excellent’. Perhaps one of the best statements about practice is from the legendary cellist Pablo Casals, who when asked why he continued to practice at age 90 said, “Because I think I’m making progress”.

We can show students the skills and techniques needed to make music, but they will never fully realise their potential unless they practice and strive for excellence. Things that are worthwhile take time; few become truly excellent at something, because only a few are committed to what will be a long journey that will present many challenges to skill and character. In moving toward this, students must also work on other elements of their character – bravery as they move into the realm of foreign experience, curiosity with new languages and forms of communication, creativity with an expressive language, and regulate their perseverance and perspective when things don’t quite work, or happen very slowly. Informed, committed and supported practice will soon allow music of beauty and excellence to flow from a student’s instrument. And, the best thing is, that we can always make more beautiful sounds and be more excellent, just as Casals provokes. Music is a long journey, but there are so many beautiful stops and views along the way. And, as we edge along this pathway, we develop our character.

The Immersion staff congratulate each and every student on the wonderful concerts last week, and we wish you all the best as you continue on from here on your journey.

Dr Cade Bonar

Head of Music (Curriculum)