Thursday, May 15, 2008



Most Malaysians today are musically illiterate and have been so for a long time. This is no exaggeration. Increasing commercialism and uninformed consumerism have affected music education as well as music making significantly. Music is taught no differently today than decades ago as is the commercial musical output – both recorded as well as performed.

Music education in schools, for instance, does not cater for a holistic understanding and appreciation of the universal mix of musics available. The levels of musical knowledge or even the performance capability acquired in public schools and higher institutions of learning have to be improved. Private instruction in music still employs outmoded and drill-oriented experiences that tend to keep alive music traditions of alien cultures instead of bringing out the best in the student. Thus the bulk of Malaysians today remain ignorant of the true potentials that music can bring into one’s life. Try asking any Malaysian to sing the national anthem correctly. In public gatherings, most people opt to merely mime the words while the choir or CD playback covers this lack of public singing.

In the commercial arena, music is not doing that well either. It has steadily declined in quality and quantity. Music activity in the commercial world is most often targeted at a musically illiterate crowd which literally “looks” at the performer rather than his/her musical ability. Reality shows are regularly churned out for a musically ignorant audience. Words like “talent search” and “academy” are thrown in to fool audiences and make a lot of money. For most of the time, the critics / jury in such “talent” shows have exhibited very little knowledge of vocal pedagogy or stagecraft themselves. Limited words such as “pitching” and “feel” are repeatedly used in their comments that clearly indicate this shallow knowledge. Indonesian singer Hetty Koes Endang was a guest critic in one such show lately. She really showed what a true critic should be like and was in a class of her own. Even the station concerned was not prepared for her comments. She replied “ Di Indonesia bisa”. Our Anita Sarawak is one who can match this Indonesian diva and should be roped in as often as possible to share her talent and experience or at least as a consultant.
The related governmental agencies should call for a seminar and discuss ways to improve this deplorable state of music education and music making in Malaysia.

Johami Abdullah @ Joe Chelliah
Malaysian Association for Music Education.