If you are reading this story, it can be assumed that you enjoy listening to classical music. But how much do you really know about its history, instruments, and composition? And how often do you explore – deeply explore – the works of living Australian composers?
TUNE IN is a welcome resource for listeners of any age who would like to immerse themselves in a musical journey during COVID-19 lockdowns. The new Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra initiative will have you learning about music from Grieg to Grenfell, Handel to Hindson – and plenty in between.
Project creator Jenny Compton describes TUNE IN as “an enrichment opportunity” for music lovers of all ages.
“It felt like the right time for the TSO to provide a resource that promoted listening to music as an enrichment activity, rather than an assessment activity – a life-long activity, not just a school-based activity,” Jenny says.
As TSO Learning and Engagement Executive, Jenny has helped implement an abundance of classroom and community programs that range from school concerts to open rehearsals, workshops for teachers, and online classroom resources. Though TUNE IN was already in the works for 2020, Jenny now feels it’s a “happy coincidence” that the TSO can share the joy of classical music with families at a time when they need it most.
“Learning makes us happy, and listening to music makes us happy. TUNE IN brings these two things together in one destination – and fortunately, this resource can be used by anyone with access to the internet during the lockdown.”
Accessing TUNE IN through its interactive home on the TSO website, you will come across 48 pages of orchestral music ranging from the Baroque period through to the present day. With regards to the latter, the TSO has captured videos of Australian composers and musicians who present a friendly chat about their pieces and instruments.
Navigating TUNE IN is playful in itself. Its central hub is built on a colour coding system, with vibrant pinks, yellows, reds, and other colours reflecting the pitches and lengths of classroom instruments such as boomwhackers and chime bars. For instance, longer pieces of music are coloured to match the longer tubes of low-pitched boomwhackers.
In all, there are six orchestral sets – each featuring eight recordings, which together span hundreds of years of composition, but are individually timed at a digestible 1-10 minutes. Rolling out from May to June, the pace of TUNE IN permits listeners the autonomy to fully explore each resource in their own time, while eagerly anticipating the next.
All six sets kick off with a piece of Australian music written for children; composers include Maria Grenfell, Jessica Wells, Paul Stanhope, Lisa Cheney, Matthew Hindson, and Julian Yu.
If you’d like to test your knowledge after listening, you can jump on to a short quiz about the music, as well as a word search. Lower primary school students will soon be able to access further TUNE IN worksheets designed just for them, too.
Despite the multitude of resources to assist in online learning, TUNE IN is entirely free for its online visitors, and open to everybody – younger or older; musically educated or beginner.
Jenny has long been aware of the way music can inspire interest in all ages – noticeable each time an audience member sits down to hear an enlightening pre-concert talk (one of the quieter losses of the COVID-19 lockdowns).
“Many adults are missing going to concerts, and many are missing learning something new from attending a pre-concert talk or through reading the concert program notes,” Jenny observes.
“I see first-hand just how much people appreciate the opportunity to learn about music.
“I have always felt that audiences can never get close enough to see how instruments really work. Children and adults always love the opportunity to sit close to a musician and when they do, they are so excited.”
The fun of TUNE IN is not lost on grown-ups: looking past its strategically bright and appealing presentation, older listeners can also indulge in a few minutes each week to discover something new for themselves.
“Adults will hear fantastic music, meet many TSO musicians, and learn some very interesting things about individual instruments and composers,” Jenny says.
“The music in each TUNE IN set spans hundreds of years, so they can hear the differences in sounds and styles as orchestral music evolved over the centuries.”
It’s Jenny’s hope for TUNE IN to inspire further reading, learning, and curiosity about classical and Australian music, beyond this resource itself.
“The text on each page is very brief and very general, but it may inspire someone to explore a work further, or read about a composer in more detail outside of TUNE IN.”
For now, the family appeal and benefits can’t be overlooked – particularly during a period of widespread homeschooling for children, as outside social distancing measures are enforced.
“TUNE IN can be used as an opportunity to tune out when things feel overwhelming,” Jenny offers.
“Children can choose activities that they can manage, without feeling stressed. Music makes us all feel better, and many children and parents may welcome a breather during their lockdown school schedule.”
In addition to COVID-19 homeschooling measures, many Australian music teachers have shifted to online lessons through platforms such as Zoom – allowing students to continue learning their instruments, even if they can’t come together in the physical world. TUNE IN finds a valuable place within this broader educational landscape: the TSO uses its knowledge base to provide a different but complementary experience to one-on-one music tutoring.
Jenny understands the complexities of the field. But importantly, she feels that “when it comes to music education, children deserve to have access to the best quality products out there”.
For TUNE IN, this has meant building a remote learning resource that features best-of-the-best audiovisual content – including support from ABC Classic and the Hush Foundation to incorporate some of the TSO’s top recordings. On a visual level, the TSO has joined with Hobart videographer Brad Harris to produce high-quality elements including close-ups of orchestral instruments – perhaps revealing these instruments for the first time to some budding young listeners.
It has also meant collaborating with some of the biggest living names in Australian composition. And of these talents in particular, Jenny speaks highly.
“Orchestral composers are the bravest musicians of all – musical heroes, so to speak – and they are not just a thing of the past. Orchestral composition requires the greatest skillset and technical ability of all the genres of composition.”
Strong words – but when you watch the videos, you’ll understand a great deal more about the work that goes into the writing process.
“By heading each set with a work by a living Australian composer, people may make the connection that composers continue to play an important role in society,” Jenny says.
“You can’t support music education without supporting composition, and vice versa.”
It’s an implicit benefit of TUNE IN: through building awareness of living Australian composers, adults can expand their views and understanding of music. And they can use this knowledge to better society – both within and beyond the scope of their own family lives.
“We need adults to be able to access music education as well – because adults vote in elections, adults decide if their child can attend a concert or take music lessons, and adults head up the administration of our schools,” Jenny says.
“It’s important that the conversation around music education doesn’t just focus on children. The conversation should include the benefits of music education for everyone.”
Though the benefits are widespread, you don’t need to feel too much pressure to take on the world. TUNE IN allows you to take it one piece at a time.
“It doesn’t really matter where a viewer starts,” Jenny encourages.
“Parents may enjoy experiencing TUNE IN activities with their children, and it’s also possible that TUNE IN may introduce an adult to orchestral music for the first time. Wouldn’t this be amazing!”
Visit tso.com.au/tune-in to explore the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra’s new digital music education resource.