Johami Abdullah @ Joe Chelliah
Malaysian Association for Music Education
232, Jalan Angsana 5/2
Taman Pinggiran Golf
70400 Seremban, NSDK
There is much lack of attention given to the formal study of music by our young. Even since the KBSR curriculum was introduced in 1983 when music education in Malaysia was made compulsory for all primary school children in 1983, Malaysian youth have not been any more or less selective in their musical tastes than their elders. The oldest member of the KBSR generation(s) should be at least twenty-four years old by now. Frankly I see no significant difference between an average member of this KBSR generation and his/her counterpart from say P. Ramlee’s generation. The majority from both groups:
1. Are equally uninformed about almost all aspects of music except perhaps the
personal details of their favorite singers.
2. Are incapable of serious or intelligent thought / discussion on any kind of
music including their preferred variety.
3. Think of music as purely serving a hedonistic or sensuous function only and
associating it only with such concommitant behaviors as drinking,
dancing, free sex and drugs and being totally ignorant of the many more nobler
4. Have very narrow musical tastes with usually a distinct preference for the pop
5. increasingly giving more priority to music as a visual art rather than also an
aural one like getting soaked with harmonies of a 100 pc string section.
6. Love Hindi songs passionately mainly because of the pretty / handsome faces who
deliver the songs on the screen and not so much because of the total exploitation
for instance, western musical instruments being manipulated completely and
and made subservient to Indian ragas and intricate rhythmic schemes by brilliant
Indian composers like A.R. Rahman.
7. Look down on any non-European music especially if they happen to come from English
speaking homes with a misguided notion that the only music worth studying or
listening should be music from the West - from the present or from the past.
8. Are not bothered about the quality of commercial music duplication resulting in
a widespread and high success rate for musical piracy and cheap music
reproduction devices such as CD / DVD players and sound systems.
9. Reject the recorder which is a KBSR mainstream instrument taught to children as a
“sakit telinga” (painful to the ear) instrument.
10. Have not heard of patriotic songs such as “Pahlawan Ku” unless a pop singer like
Siti Nurhaliza sings it for an RTM’s Merdeka or patriotic programme.
11. Cannot identify any musical instrument by its name - be it a Western or a non-
Western one including Malay, Chinese or Indian instrument.
12. Readily identify any brass/wind instrument only as “ trumpet”.
13. Are incapable of singing the national anthem or their state anthem accurately
with correct lyrics and in correct tune or tempo.
14. Look upon formal musical notation as both cumbersome as well as not worth
learning even if they happen to be professional musicians or singers preferring
instead to play / sing “by heart” (by rote).
I could go on and on but surely the aforesaid should be sufficient to illustrate my general description of the current status. Music is still treated as an optional frill in the education process in spite of the government spending billions for this aspect of music education in public schools alone in order to provide a more wholeseome education package for the young..
In any case, music is seldom the first concern to most people even around the world. If one shifts into a new house the first thing one need to obtain is not a piano or even a CD player but the security grille for the doors, furniture, lights and windows. It is a matter of priorities. Even the 2nd President of USA Mr. John Adams demonstrated this clearly when he wrote the following in a letter to his wife:“ I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain. ”( Adams, 1841). So you see, even in America, the leader in general music in schools today, the last priority was for the arts, music included - and they are still trying to improve it through constant R & D.
I should think that surely after 50 years of independence we have passed this initial "set up" stage. Just like any of the so-called core subjects such as Mathematics, Science or the languages, every child has the right to also learn of music and how to appreciate it in its variant forms. We do not deny Mathematics to a child even if he is not too good at computational skills. Similarly, music education should not be considered fit only for the musically talented or inclined only.
Perhaps our current approach to music education is all wrong and we need to do some serious rethinking. Not everyone is musically gifted to display musical behavior. But everyone can and should be taught to appreciate music in its various forms from the primary level itself. This can definitely make one more cultured.