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Teaching music in New South Wales primary schools : 1920-1956

posted on 2009-07-10, 00:00 authored by Marilyn Joan Chaseling
This thesis concerns the place of music in New South Wales schools from 1920 to 1956. The initial chapters explore issues related to the investigation and the methodology that has guided the research. To provide a foundation for the thesis as a whole, the investigation’s British antecedents are considered and the relevant literature is reviewed. Six broad themes are used as the organisational framework for this thesis: the major events that shaped schooling, the syllabus and recommended music resources, the rationales for the inclusion of music in schools, the place of school music broadcasts, music teaching practice in schools, and the provision of teacher training. Each theme forms the basis of one chapter, with the exception of one extensive theme which is discussed in two adjoining chapters.

This investigation concluded that from 1920 to 1956, the Department of Education’s fundamental aim for schooling was to develop the state’s children into good citizens. Music was valued for its ability to contribute to this aim.

During this period, the Department engaged in a policy of music transmissionism. Specifically, the Department sought to transmit the music values, knowledge and skills that it held in high regard to teachers who in turn were expected to transmit them to their students. The dominant culture and values that were transmitted were those of Britain and the British Empire—that is, music was used to transmit Britishness to children.

The investigation also concluded that during this period there was an expansion of music curriculum and pedagogy in New South Wales. However, in a oneway traffic of ideas between Britain and Australia, it was British music education practices that continued to influence the methods used in New South Wales schools.

In addition, this investigation concluded that there were past periods when New South Wales schools were very musical places—specifically, at the turn of the twentieth century, during the Second World War and during the immediate post-war years. The successes achieved in music during these times required the interplay of six factors: a Department of Education that valued music for the contribution it made to the development of children as good citizens; a Department of Education that provided strong leadership for music by employing a conscientious, inspirational music educator or educators whose sole responsibility was to champion and supervise music across the state; a Departmental expectation that music would be taught by generalist teachers who themselves had developed music expertise during their pre-service preparation or through professional development opportunities offered to them; the existence of a reward system to encourage teachers to increase their music discipline knowledge and skills; a music syllabus that was developmental and hence built on prior music knowledge and skills; and teachers who were able to deliver quality music programs to their students because they themselves were one element in a cycle of respect for music.


Material type


Resource type




Degree type

Research doctorate

Degree name

Ph. D.


R Stevens, T Evans


Faculty of Arts and Education


School of Education

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