Sunday, November 18, 2007


Music Appreciation by Malaysian Youth
At a Recent Rave Party in Port Dickson - Music Appreciation ? Wooooooooo!


THE deplorable level of understanding and appreciating music should become an immediate and principal concern among Malaysians at all levels of society, particularly policy- makers. This is because the average Malaysian is unable to talk sensibly about almost any aspect of music, even in a most basic way. We are well on our way to becoming a nation of musical idiots, sorry to say. The situation today has deteriorated to a state where most musical appreciation by Malaysians is not viewed as as an aural art but as a visual one in which the youthful and attractive looks of the performer by far matter more than their actual musical prowess.

Music, together with the other arts as well, reflects the sublime and universal aspects of humankind and should, therefore, be treated as a primary subject and receive meaningful focus in school curriculum, especially at the pre- school and primary school levels.

The arts have always been a very strong indicator of the progress level achieved by any society since the dawn of civilization. No one can study the Islamic Civilization or the Moghuls or the Egyptians without also examining their respective progress in the arts as well.

The arts, which are collectively referred to as the fourth "R", besides the traditional 3Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic, must receive equal emphasis in any school curricula and at all levels at that. In USA, even a science student has to study the liberal arts as well. This is definitely not the case in Malaysia today.

This regretful situation has come about as a result of decades of negligence and apathy of the general Malaysian populace and policy-makers towards the fine arts and, if I may digress for a moment, sporting activities too.

The over-emphasis and "obsession" showered on science-based subjects has been glaringly apparent since the early 1970s with the mushrooming of science, technical and vocational schools almost everywhere. This trend of streaming students into the science and arts category actually started way back in 1958. I was the among the first batch of students to be artificially separated into the arts and science streams. Luckily for us at that time the streaming was not total as we still studied History and Geography with a sensible balance that was still acceptable. My peers and I can tell you where Stockholm or Mauritius is just as we can tell you who Hannibal or Genghis Khan was. Try asking such questions today to even a university lecturer or dean today who holds a Phd.

Although put in the Form IV science class in 1958, today I am known more for my arts than my sciences. A learned gentleman once told me that in Chinese culture, no one is considered a true scholar unless he/she can (also) play chess, recite poetry and sing. What this means is a well-rounded curriculum that includes both the sciences and the arts. Even Chinese medium schools in Malaysia have not forgotten this advice. Clearly more Chinese parents send their children for music classes not merely to become musicians or music teachers but to balance the academics in school.

It may surprise many that this indeed is the main intent and purpose of our National Education Philosophy (NEP). As such, music was formally introduced in the Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Rendah (KBSR) back in 1983. But 24 years down the line, the situation appears to have worsened. The curriculum (i.e. the educational experiences children actually undergo at the school level) has not been in congruence with this particular aspect of the NEP.

Today, the number of As solely measures a child's scholastic achievement and ability in any of the summative public examinations that punctuate a child's education process. Due credit is never afforded to a pupil who excels in sports and in other areas of the so-called co-curricular activities which, to me, are core curricular activities and not co-curricular ones. Disappointed students have even committed suicide.

It is time for some serious re-thinking. I hope that each and every Malaysian will look into this "gaping hole" that will, if not already, jeopardize our national aspiration to be a developed nation. Without an equal emphasis in the arts such aspirations are at best dreamy. The recent fiasco at a rave party in Port Dickson should get us all thinking about this matter too.