American tenor performs for the PM at NSW Kids in Need Foundation’s fundraising concert.

Readers of Limelight know that what unites us is an ineffable love of music. In our company of classical music devotees is the former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who was always quick to opine in the most euphuistic manner on the importance of classical music to his life and even to his decision-making processes while Treasurer and Prime Minister. Indeed, in an interview on Sky News (that is readily available on YouTube), he contends that the Australian economy was reformed in the 1980s “off the back of Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and Mr Shostakovich.”

A cocktail party and small concert was held at Mr Keating’s former Sydney residence on Saturday night, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott hosting a fundraiser at Kirribilli House for the NSW Kids in Need Foundation. As Master of Ceremonies Alan Jones, the PM, and former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir each made clear, this foundation does terrific work in raising funds for a number of charities on behalf of (as Dame Bashir put it) “the most valuable resource our nation has: our children.” In these heady days of iron ore exports and coal seam gas exploration, the pricelessness of this asset is often overlooked and this cause and Dame Bashir’s eloquence were as refreshing as the light beer on offer.

The cocktail party ended with a performance by Kyle Bielfield, an award-winning tenor from Miami, Florida. Bielfield is a product of New York’s prestigious Julliard Music School, and he treated the audience to four classic pop songs that showcased the extraordinary dimension, extent and capacity of his voice. While castrato singing has long since been retired, a live performance of proficient falsetto really is quite spellbinding. Though Bielfield didn’t have a chance to fully demonstrate the deeper tones of his voice, he is certainly a talented singer and one to look out for in the years ahead.

On a more prosaic note, obviously we as a nation need to take care of our children, but this extends beyond the basics of life. The talent Bielfield displayed was a timely reminder that Australia doesn’t have a Julliard equivalent, and certainly does not put the value on music education that other countries do, or indeed as this country once did. For some perspective, in 1902, a generalist kindergarten teacher in Australia could not graduate unless he or she was proficient on the piano and could sing solfège in all the major and minor scales from a tuning fork. A dearth of music education is endemic in our school system: a University of New South Wales study found that one in three NSW primary schools has no music program of any kind, while only around 20 percent of Australian state schools provide some sort of structured musical education. At the moment we are debating the finer points of the Brandis reforms to funding for the arts in Australia; why don’t we first agree to throw our weight behind formal music education for every Australian child?

To come back to that Keating interview, while not every child will reform the Australian economy, they can at least be afforded the exposure to the boundless wonders classical music offers, and the opportunity to “have the geniuses play with their heads”; everything else is “dust in the cracks of the floorboards of history.”

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