In the soaring space of The Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre, the lights dim. On yoga mats scattered around the floor, about 50 primary school students stretch out in the semi-darkness, calm and relaxed.
Then the moment arrives. From the front of the room, pianist Andrew Brown begins playing a Prelude by Bach on piano, the beautiful melody rising and falling in the air.
Soon, the lights go up, and the students will express what they have felt by drawing with coloured pencils on a shape of the human form.
Welcome to the Art of Listening, an acclaimed program from the Edinburgh International Festival that gives young students the power to listen by exploring their inner world through classical music.
The Art of Listening team has been in Melbourne for a series of workshops with students and teachers, brought here by Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) to mark the launch of the 2017 Arts Learning Festival.
It is planned the team will return for more workshops as part of the festival, which will be held between Wednesday 3 May and Sunday 7 May next year. While the festival is being organised by ISV, it will involve students from all schools sectors and the wider community.
The Art of Listening has been running for almost 20 years as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. The demand is such that it now runs all year, reaching thousands of students.
Based on what we have seen in Melbourne, the Art of Listening workshops will be extremely popular.
The two-hour session takes students on journey of discovery, as they open up about music, what they love and what they feel. Apart from the meditative listening and drawing, Andrew Brown works with tenor Chris Elliott to explore music and the art of listening.
At times, it is high energy, with an emphasis on student involvement. While the focus is on classical music, it is also a place where music from artists such as Bruno Mars or the Star Wars theme get mentions.
Chris Elliott does more than just use his beautiful voice, employing all his skills as a performer. His interactions with students, for instance, might see him climbing over rows of chairs.
‘When I went to school,’ says Chris, ‘I was told to sit up straight and behave myself, keep my nose clean and listen and not get distracted – stop staring out the window.’
Many of those things were well meant, he says, but a lot of the time, children don’t know why they get distracted.
‘And one of the wonderful things that music can achieve – classical music in our case – is that it can help you discover things about yourself you didn’t know.’
By getting young students to think about the things happening in their inner world, they can use them as a force to listen and concentrate, while learning about themselves.
‘It’s a beautiful thing to watch, actually,’ says Chris. ‘The kids discover things about themselves and along the way they get a great love of music, particularly classical music.
‘They go skipping out at the end. It’s a very rewarding thing to see.’
Main image: tenor Chris Elliott conducts an Art of Listening workshop.