If you looked at Musica Viva as a diagram, that'd be three
equal components they would be our emerging artists program. They would be
our education programs and schools for younger children and then the main
stage concerts where we really do celebrate int
ernational brilliance and
Australia and brilliance. My name is Hywel Sims and I'm the Chief Executive
Officer of Musica Viva, Australia.[:
This is Mission Megaphone, a Growth Network Podcasts
production. We're on a mission to be a megaphone
for purpose driven
organizations that are changing the world.[:
I think it's important to know that Musica Viva was startedby Jewish refugees in the:
so many Jewish people ended up in, all
over the world. And in most of those
places, they started arts organizations or they started performing or they started
funding the arts.
The founding generation naturally brought their children and their
grandchildren to concerts. I know from talking to
a lot of both the founding
generation and their children and their grandchildren, I that in most cases that
kind of worked coming to concerts is not only an opportunity to hear the music
they've learned to love, but it's a way of honoring the tradition.
we've got this long history of bringing music, live music importantly, to this
country. And for about the last 40 years, we've been the major provider of music
education in schools in Australia. So we're all about bringing music to life for
ound the country.
It's becoming practice here to whenever you present a public event or launch a
website, that you would acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands.
Australia, as you would know, was colonized by white people about 200 and
ago. And at that point as far as we know, the country was divided
into literally hundreds of what we call countries now, each had its own
language, or most of them did. And the life was governed as would be typical
by ceremony and careful conversations and
discussions and debates between the
countries to allow them to survive together successfully.
We also know that traditional owners learnt over the 60,000 or so years we
think people have been here, to take care of the land. So we do it at the
every life performance. For example I would start by
acknowledging that I'm on Gadigal land, which is the name of the peoples who
populated the land I'm actually on at the moment. And I would say bujari
gamarruwa, which is welcome in Gadigal. So the Gadig
al is one of the
languages we have some elements left of, the majority of them have been lost
because people were taken from their lands and prevented from speaking the
The debate about what chamber music is a very lively one, and our artistic
rector who's been with us several years now is determined to change the way
we think of that term.
In our schools programs in Australia, we have 14 musical ensembles that tour
the country. And they perform in a very wide range of genres from a wonderful
co drumming group, who have interpreted drumming for curriculum and
lessons in schools. We've got two First Nations ensembles we've developed in
conjunction with people from those countries. One in particular called Wyniss
which comes from the islands off
the coast of Australia, or some of the islands.
They actually perform in language rather than in English, and then translate
from language into English so the school children understand what's going on.
And the kids who see our shows have been through a ye
ar of curriculum
preparation, so when the artists arrive it's like rockstars arriving in the school.
It's fantastic. And so Wyniss performs dances from their country, speaks in
language, talks about some of the gestures they're using and the dances they're
And that's just one of a range of about 10 or 15 different stars of music from as
many cultures that we perform around the country. So perform anything up to
2,500 concerts every year when we can, and most of those would be in a wide
variety of mu
sical styles that the more traditional would not think of as chamber
In the pandemic we all discovered that live music is unique. That the live
experience can't be replicated. The full experience of sitting in an audience or a
room or a hall with l
ive musicians, you can't recreate that digitally. You can do
other things digitally, you can create new work that's designed specifically for
the digital medium, but to point cameras in a room at artists and perhaps an
audience, if you're lucky to have one
and hope that will have the same
emotional impact is largely impossible.
So it's been reaffirmed for us and for artists actually, that for them performing in
a live setting is unique as well. And it takes the connection between artists and
audience to ma
ke the event. It's not either or, it's both.
The two groups that I'm most worried about with COVID, are artists
themselves. Musicians in our case, but artists who've largely not being eligible
for government support of any kinds, have tried to keep going.
The other group
is schoolchildren. Not least because kids need to go to school to get fed in a lot
of cases. So we're worried about the impact of the loss of a year and a half, two
years of education generally, but equally then worried about the loss of t
years of music in children's lives.
In all of our lives, because music does connect, does heal, does inspire. And
we've not been able to do any of that. And it's showing. I think there's an
absence of joy really in people's lives that the arts are there
to instill. For us, it's
been an affirmation that I focus on local. We'll be what we continue with.
The pandemic made some of our audience members who might have been a
little unsure about digital, become much more savvy themselves. So there's been
ink a change of opinion about what digital can do, even though we still
believe that live is unique. There's a sign that people will be more willing to
accept digital as an alternative. The issue of access is very big because Australia
is a very big countr
y and most of the population lives in the bottom right
corner, but there are people scattered across Australia.
We can and do send musical ensembles out to remote and regional areas
sometimes for audiences of 30 children who've all trucked in from di
cattle stations around their area to listen to live music, cause they don't get to
hear it otherwise. But certainly one of the things digital is doing and will do is
allow artists more access. And people who have access difficulties, who can't
one reason or another, get to a traditional performance will now have access,
do now have access to music. So that's a really quite significant change in the
lives of people for whom accessibility is an issue.
In terms of longer term goals, I'd like every
child in Australia to have access to
quality music education in school and most don't. It's an international issue.
We're part of an international reference group for music education and in every
country, even the ones that have better funding for educati
on and for music than
we do, there is anxiety that the increasing pressure to test for science and math
subjects is making teachers and schools and principals and systems and budgets,
they're already under enormous pressure, feel even more pressured. And t
tendency, the temptation is always to say, haven't got time for, can't quite do
that, can't quite afford the music lessons, the drama lesson, the dance lessons.
We'll do them later and later never comes. And kids who have access to the arts
cularly, but other arts too, live fuller lives. We know them to be
more successful academically, particularly they learn an instrument. It's wrong
for children who haven't got the benefit of coming from wealth or privilege of
some kind or are unable to acc
ess good facilities.
They have every right as does anybody else does to have music in their lives. So
term goal is to convince our friends in government and our friends in
funding bodies, that music is every bit as essential as anything else that
There's a new First Nations Indigenous school that's opened in part of the
country and I went to visit not long ago. It's wonderful. They say that the arts
are the spine of the school, they are essential and that reflects First Nation
philosophies. We've commodified everything, but in First Nations communities,
to dance and to in some cases sing and certainly to make markings of some
kind, is a way of demonstrating that you're alive. You can't separate them. I'd
most like to see that
every child attends a school that has arts as its spine,
because that would make the country and the individuals so much richer.
It's a pressing question for any organization that represents what we might see
as high art or traditional, all kinds of words
are used to describe art forms that
are increasingly seen as the domain of a certain part of society. To be fair, the
people who started Musica Viva were chamber musicians, but they weren't
chamber musicians because they thought that was the clever or the
posh thing to
do. They were chamber musicians because from the earliest age, that music, the
music of Haydn and Beethoven and go on with the list of that set of composers,
is it been all random.
So that's one part of the community that we feel a strong re
because they are why we're here actually. For them it was the stuff of life, it
wasn't for a particular group of people or seen in a particularly elite way. It was
the music that they loved. I would say we still do that. We take that view.
try and make our music as accessible as we can in terms of price, in terms of
location of performance around Australia. We could do much more and we will
do much more about that in the coming years.
Audience of Musica Viva's main stage concerts is chan
ging and it's reflective
of the country. Until recently, the majority of new immigrants to Australia
would still have come from largely speaking the Northern European area. But
for the first time, not many years ago, the number of new immigrants from
exceeded the number of immigrants from many other countries. So the
modern face of Australia, faces of Australia, has changed and will change even
more. And all of that's an opportunity, we certainly don't think we should keep
on doing what we do in a cer
tain way, at a certain time, in a certain place.
So then comes the job of making sure that the way we present ourselves, the
way we talk about ourselves, the places we perform in, the prices we charge, the
insistence that the people on our stages reflect
the modern face of Australia and
the world, all of that now is what we're working on. And that will take some
time to effect the change but we've got enough pure belief in the music,
eliteness of quality, and excellence of performance, but not elite in kee
We present an international chamber music competition every four years when
we can. And in the middle of that competition where 50 or so people from all
over the world come to perform in ensembles to win prizes, there's a free day
performance. The competition is based in Melbourne, which is one of the other
larger cities in Australia. And this free performance happens in shopping malls,
anywhere. There was a trio who had not been successful in getting through to
the finals so the
y offered to play in as part of this live free event. And it was in
the middle of a public square, it's got a roof on it, but its a public square in the
middle of Melbourne.
And they were to play a piece by Shostakovich, not the sort of easily hummable
sic that might get people interested, but Shostakovitch. So they started
playing and there were the diehards, I love them, the diehard chamber music
types, they brought their own chairs. There were about 40 people who are just
brilliant supporters. The pie
ce lasted, I don't know, 15, 20 minutes. What
happened, I was watching from the balcony above, was the people passing by
would kind of stop and then they'd stay so that by the end of the 20 minutes,
there were easily 300 people all standing around with the
ir kids in strollers and
their dogs and that, whatever they were going about their business of the day as
people used to do. And they were transfixed.
When I hear concerns about music being difficult to access, I simply don't
accept them. I think music a
nd dance and painting and all the many other art
forms, they're there for us to make of what we will. The artists are not there to
create exclusion, they're there to bring us in or to make us think about the world.
There's something in Australia called the cultural cringe. The country, when it
uses that term, essentially what people are talking about is the constant sense of
being less than european countries. In the arts in particular, that can be
interpreted to sug
gest that to be successful and artist of any kind has to leave
and go overseas to train or to live or to practice. And to some degree, of course,
art has no boundaries and the more that we travel and experience new
circumstances, the richer our art becomes
. So there is some truth in that, but it's
not fair to extrapolate from that, the idea you have to leave to develop your
skills and your abilities as an artist.
I always think it's very ironic that I, this Welsh Californian Highbridge, should
be saying ho
w important it is that Australians should be believing that what we
produce here is every bit as brilliant. We both accept that, celebrate that, and
invest in those musicians or composers and increasingly some writers who are
clearly on a path to becoming
the country's next artistic leaders, the world's next
We're lucky to have foundations support this two year bespoke program for
people we really believe will be a world
leading in the futures. That program
has been running about six year
s now, and we're already beginning to see for
the earlier alumni evidence of international excellence. We also provide
masterclasses bringing artists from around the world to Australia, because that's
part of our mission.
But we do that in part so that the
y can spend time with local musicians who
might not yet have had the chance to study in a variety of different countries. So
create that exchange. We also have an annual high school chamber music
competition called Strike a Chord, in which about 500 studen
ts from around the
country from high school applied to compete. There are kids from every state
and the job of all those elements is to strengthen the music world in Australia,
the ensemble music world in particular, and the whole planet. With cultural
nge, that the job here is to kill that stone dead because it's simply not true.
For Musica Viva, we think that music can change the world. But it'll take us all
to support music education in your community, wherever that is. Go visit
take a look at what we do and if you'd like to support
us great, but particularly get involved in music and ensuring that children have
access to music wherever they are.
We spend a lot of time talking to our government representatives. The
ing about education and government is that trends and disciplines
and opinions change as governments change. And though it's important for
government to support the arts in general, because how else do you measure a
society other than by what its artists p
rovides and create, though it's important to
do that I think we need to strengthen and ensure that the base, the structure for
music education transcends governments or parties, or terms of a parliament or
So it's educati gn people in governme
nt about how music brings us together..
The COVID pandemic has driven us apart, it's hunkered us down. Music helps
us emerge again. So I think government certainly has an interest in the role in
helping us build community stronger.
One of the other ways i
n which we can ensure the future of music is to ensure
the future of musicians and of teachers. Teachers survive longer than
administrations. So I think the more we can help institutions that train teachers
to teach music is a way in which music will conti
nue. Of the 2,500 or so events
we produce every year, the majority are in schools.
They're not typically performances up on a stage somewhere with children kept
at a safe distance and told to be very quiet. In fact our work, our curriculum is
maximize the amount of involvement by the students. We hear
often of people who remember Musica Viva musicians coming to their school.
So both from our musicians now, and from audience members, we often hear
the story that the first time they saw somebody
play a musical instrument live
was when Musica Viva came to their school. And so I guess most of what we
do even now, and more and more of what we do in our main stage work will be
to encourage the breaking down where that's possible of the fourth wall.
want to give a shout out to every single musician, because there's nothing in
our society that supports somebody when they pick up an instrument or when
they discover their voice and they think they want to use that skill, to make that
music. Everything w
orks against that. School systems often do, unless you're
lucky to be in a school that has a wonderful music department. The parental
voice or the Guardian's voice will often be saying, are you sure? So I think
musicians are absolutely extraordinary in the
way that they relentlessly hold to
this belief that they're in the world to make music. And they have no choice.
Actually, the artist has no choice, but to make their art. I celebrate every single
musician who perseveres and makes our world different.[:
You've been listening to Mission Megaphone, a Growth
Network Podcasts production. Follow this podcast for more incredible stories
from purpose driven organizations and individuals you'll want to meet. To learn
more about this show or Musica Viva, please c
heck out our show notes.
I'm Lynz Floren. Our producers are Sari Weinerman and Jeffrey Morris.
Production manager is Maura Murphy Bourasse. Original music by Nicholas
Fournier. Promotional support from Marsha Ord. Website by Nick Brodniki.
Thanks for list
ening. Until we meet again, keep searching for inspiration and
when you find it, make sure to pass it on.