Richard Gill at NMC
Friday 15th March, 2019

Richard Gill AO:
Celebration of a Life

Many of Victoria’s leading musical organisations came together last month to celebrate the life and work of Richard Gill in a concert at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall. Musicians paid tribute to Richard’s notable contributions to music in an afternoon of inspired performances, and people from many walks of Richard’s life shared their fondest memories in a collection of moving speeches. Australian Youth Orchestra CEO, Colin Cornish, shared his own stories of Richard at the event:

Every child in Australia will have access to a quality music education. Richard Gill never lost sight of this vision. He has now laid down the challenge for the many people in this country to come together to continue the pursuit of this goal.

Thanks to many of the experiences we are hearing about today we also know music education is much more than learning to play an instrument. Since 1980, Richard was a regular director and conductor with the Australian Youth Orchestra and always offered these young people an experience they would never forget. His ambition for AYO’s musicians was grounded in musical excellence but, as always, he expected so much more of them. His message to the musicians at AYO National Music Camp in 2017 was this:

In a topsy-turvy world where imbeciles are running countries and cultural values seem to have been relegated to some global bottom drawer, you people have the responsibility to remind us that, through your music and your great talents, there is a better world worth fighting for and that a music-led global recovery would change the nature of the world.

Richard based the majority of his classes around the voice; whether they be in primary schools, tertiary institutions or with those discovering music later in life. In recent years Richard spent Monday mornings 8 or 10 times a year at the South Melbourne Town Hall leading the musicians of the Australian National Academy of Music in a singing-based program that quickly became one of the academy’s most eagerly anticipated activities.

If you haven’t seen the video of Richard and the 1000-voice flash mob choir singing Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, I encourage you to take a look online! Richard asks the crowd to identify their voice type – soprano, alto, tenor, bass – by raising their hands. He then says “now put your hand up if you don’t know”, giving Richard the chance to share another important learning principle with them: it’s ok to not know. It’s ok to fail as that’s when we learn.

In 2015, thanks to Richard’s lateral thinking and articulate and passionate advocacy, the National Music Teacher Mentoring Program was established. Following the next performance you will see a video about the program in which Richard so clearly explains the way in which it works. Since this video was produced the program has moved from a three-year trial to an ongoing and growing program with mentors working in schools in all parts of metropolitan, regional and rural Australia. Anyone who wants to be involved as a mentor, or would be interested in bringing a mentor to their school or community is warmly invited to get in touch with us at AYO.

Another initiative that will no doubt inspire many others to follow is the creation of a pioneering school in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales. The Muswellbrook Richard Gill National Music Academy is an independent school founded on the philosophy and vision of Richard Gill and will have music and physical activity as core elements of the daily curriculum. This academy will open its doors next year and will also offer the highest quality demonstration and practicum experiences for trainee music teachers.

Shortly we will hear the Australian Youth Orchestra and conductor Dan Carter perform a movement of Beethoven’s beautiful Symphony No.7 – a piece of music that, on first hearing, is a major moment of discovery for musicians and audiences, and is a perfect representation of the creative process Richard shared often. It starts with an idea which comes from the musical imagination; and when the musical imagination is ignited in a group circumstance, we have the most extraordinary power to change lives through music.

We will miss Richard so much in many ways but when it comes to music education he has given all of us and future generations so much to use; so many gifts, so many memories and so many directions to achieve his vision, which should equally be Australia’s vision: to provide quality music education for every child. Let’s get on with it!

–Colin Cornish, CEO Australian Youth Orchestra