If you have wandered the streets of George Town, a street mural or two would have probably caught your eye at some stage, courtesy of artists like Ernest Zacharevic and Julia Volchkova – think Armenian Street’s ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ and Stewart Lane’s ‘Indian Boatman’ respectively.
They’re not the only ones making art, however; the art scene in Penang has expanded through the years in all forms and mediums – ranging from painting and photography to theatre and dance – thanks to events like the George Town Festival. This annual month-long festival aims to celebrate and bridge traditional and contemporary art while focusing on Penang’s unique culture and heritage.
With such a strong spotlight on the proliferation of the arts in Penang, international schools have responded by offering more intensive and varied arts programmes and curriculums to help students tap into their creative side at an early stage.
Tenby Schools Exposes Students Since Young
Since its opening, Tenby Schools Penang has nurtured and developed a booming music programme for its students, with complementing facilities such as classrooms fully – and impressively – equipped with electronic keyboards; three practice rooms containing drum kits, guitars, amplifiers and percussion instruments as well as nine computer workstations running music sequencing and notation software.
Tenby Schools aims to help students identify their artistic side by exposing them to music at a young age, offering it as a core subject from the early years to Year 9 and as an elective from Years 10 to 13. The school readily offers instrumental lessons and gives all students the opportunity to participate in concerts that are held throughout their academic year.
Throughout their school years, students will develop skills in composing and individual as well as group performance. Apart from being exposed to different genres of music, their education also takes them out of the classroom with fun and exciting co-curricular activities such as rock bands, choirs and drama productions.
Earlier in June, Tenby’s five campuses collaborated to give an impressive performance with their rendition of ‘Carmina Burana’ at the magnificent Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Kuala Lumpur. Not only was it a gala event at one of the finest concert halls in the world for professional classical music in Malaysia, but it was also a milestone for Tenby Schools as both music and dance were originally produced by the composer.
This year, Tenby has been preparing for its next big annual production, ‘Rock of Ages’. Auditions have already been held and rehearsals are now underway. The next step for the performers is learning their scripts and lyrics as well as practicing their songs and dance routines for the big night.
“I was astonished by the level of enthusiasm, commitment, and talent that students demonstrated in music. It has been the students themselves who have adopted and developed the ethos of an inclusive, supportive, and hardworking department where ANY student can take part. Hence, ‘Music for Everyone!’” said Mr Nick, the department Head of Music at Tenby Schools Penang.
Music and Confidence For All Ages At GEMS
GEMS International School at Pearl City, Penang offers full IGCSE courses purely for Art and Music. Additionally, creative subjects are compulsory in Key Stage 3 of other courses, while after-school clubs and activities dedicated to the arts are also available.
The Music courses focus mainly on group performances and contemporary music styles, aiming to enable students to play a variety of instruments – whether solo or in an ensemble. The students are encouraged to take the initiative in choosing their own songs and groups for practice and performances, giving them a sense of ownership towards their studies and helping them build teamwork dynamics. Students can also discover their own learning styles through ICT mediums.
While it is a common perception that students who have not undertaken lessons and official examinations since young are not musically talented, GEMS places every student on stage or in a band to give everyone the chance to tap into their creative side and to break stereotypes.
“We have children who may not have English as a First Language, yet their confidence, popularity and belief has skyrocketed since being involved in our music projects. We have definitely broken all the stereotypes of what a music pupil should achieve. All-girl rock bands, ballad singing boys who harmonise; we’ve had it all this year!” said Moez Khan, a Teacher of Music and Performing Arts at the school.
The structures of the GEMS Music courses are designed to accommodate students of varying ages to boost their confidence, even those with no musical background. Older students are given more freedom in choosing their instruments, songs and learning approach, while curriculum for younger children will have additional guidance and support from teachers. Songs can be simplified to adapt to the student’s age and skill level, and every student will be given the chance to perform.
GEMS’ Battle of the Bands competition event assimilates the popular competitive TV show, where even the teachers dress in the style of the celebrity judges to evaluate the performance of the contestants. Some students are even chosen to represent the school in local concerts, like at the Alliance Francaise Fete de Musique at Gurney Plaza.
On the fine art front, GEMS hopes to spark artistic creativity in its student community by hosting yearly art exhibitions, where even famous local Penang artists will be present to teach at art workshops. With themed shows every term, the school successfully collaborates between both its Art and Music stream courses to showcase their talents.
Hands-On Activities At Straits International School
Straits International School attempts to ignite creativity within students at a younger age by incorporating music and art lessons, taught by a specialist, once a week. During the IGSCE levels, students have the option of choosing Music and/or Art and Design as a subject. Art and Design classes teach students sketching, painting and 3D art crafts such as papier-mâché and wood carving.
The music classes focus on the three disciplines of performing, composing and listening using modern music, orchestral music and traditional world music from all over the world. Recorder classes are compulsory for all students in hopes of instilling an appreciation for music. All lessons are also carried out by specialist teachers.
The difficulty levels of the lessons are all adjusted to suit the age, interests and capabilities of the student. At the primary level, music lessons involve lots of singing and percussion whereas the secondary students compose pop songs using guitars, keyboards and other instruments.
Drama classes are also taught to all primary and secondary level students, where they will delve into the three disciplines of making, performing and responding. Pupils use the techniques of improvisation and devising to produce drama pieces. Different historical stimuli and drama practices such as Non-naturalist Drama are used within the classroom.
The school also strives to make music affordable for all under its Music Instrumental Program by providing instruments for students to hire. Lessons for piano, violin, clarinet, flute, saxophone and trumpet, as well as group learning sessions for the guitar and recorder, are also available in the programme.
All art, music and drama students will be able to showcase their talents through the big annual production, whether through designing costumes and sets, dancing, acting, singing or playing instruments. The school also has concerts and special celebrations assemblies featuring performances from musicians throughout the whole school. Every half term, informal Twilight Concerts are held to give the instrumentalists an opportunity to showcase their efforts.
“Pupils are regularly informed of events going on in Penang such as concerts and art exhibitions. Staff members perform with local music groups which inspire pupils to continue with the arts. Street art is very inspiring for the visual artists who reference the work that they see in George Town in their own work,” said Ellie Saunders, Head of Arts and Humanities Faculty.
Thus, it can be seen that under the arts programmes provided by international schools in Penang, students are strongly encouraged to explore their creative side, a growth process that is reinforced by the continued boom of the local art culture. Ultimately, this harmonious union should provide an ideal environment for the development of artistic skill and appreciation from the ground up.