The Music Engagement Program was introduced at the Australian National University School of Music in 1984. Its first manifestation as an elite program from 1984 to 1994 focussed on ‘specialised tuition for children with special music potential’. This involved intensive and prolonged specialist contact for selected students in a small number of schools, first just primary, then secondary, focussing on depth for a few, rather than breadth for many. As the program has developed this focus has shifted to an approach which emphasises innovative enhancement of music making opportunities for all. The MEP has grown, developed and changed since its first manifestation, with a variety of names across its 30 year history. These include: the Music Education Program (MEP), the School Singing Program (SSP), Music in Primary Schools (MIPS) and Music in Primary and Secondary Schools (MIPSS).
Several early reviews of the Program at one of its original ‘home bases’, Ainslie School, helped influence the program’s direction. These were the Education Department’s own Performance Review and Development (SPRAD, 1993) process and the School of Music’s subsequent review, The Pearce Report (1994). The SPRAD process at AinslieSchool helped clarify the attitudes of the various stakeholders of the Music Engagement Program and led to the specific review of the program in 1994. This 1994 review, the Pearce Report, further formalised the history and detail of the initial Program model as well as signalling a change in direction for the MEP. This eventually led to an alternative paradigm for music education that now affects the lives of thousands children each year.
The MEP is built around a simple, practical way of making music, the practical result of a philosophy, not a method. The philosophy assumes that music-making is a normal human activity that has an important social function. By prioritising the social function of music, we can develop an alternative model for music in education as it is usually practiced in modern Western society, which has lost much of the basic, social enculturation processes for music that might exist in other societies. A social model of music-making does not place central importance on achievement or technical virtuosity, but on joyful and sustained engagement. The principal intent behind our music-making is, therefore, to prioritise shared music-making by all in a stress-free, non-judgmental and joyful environment, where each individual develops his own musical identity and musical skills in a way that promotes on-going involvement.
The opportunity to enhance and broaden this new concept came in 1999 when the ACT Government decreed that the program needed to spread beyond the borders of its one-school environment and offer its research and development to teachers throughout the system. The MEP began a transformation from a ‘train the students’ model at one school to a ‘train the teachers’ model across many schools. Now training, coaching and music making via the MEP occurs throughout the ACT in a multitude of environments within and beyond the education system.
The MEP has gradually transformed the local ACT landscape in a way that is principally about engagement. In more recent years this engagement, having influenced a broad range of schools and environments, is now giving rise to a different approach to the development of high-level musical outcomes, including instrumental engagement and the training of those within the professional music arena.