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The power of music

Research on arts programs for disadvantaged kids shows music, when taught the right way in the right environment, can be truly transformative.

Victoria University psychology academic Angela Utomo was part of a research team exploring the experiences of refugee-background students as well as teachers and artists involved in The Song Room program, which introduces music and creative arts to disadvantaged children in selected schools.

The Song Room runs about 250 free programs annually across Australia, including in-school and school holiday workshops, performance programs and training to help sustain programs into the future. The national not-for-profit program has already reached more than 150,000 socio-economically disadvantaged, special needs or recently arrived migrant and refugee children.

Ms Utomo's research, which she presents at this week's 'Place & Displacement' conference, focused on what it was about The Song Room experience that engaged children so effectively.

"Teachers said many of the students were hard to engage in classes but as soon as The Song Room music program came they reacted to the hands-on, experiential learning and immediately engaged,"￾ she said.

She found the musical experience "for many kids their first" as well as the non-disciplinary style of instruction and the welcoming environment made children feel comfortable.

"The children seemed to experience it as a place of safety and beauty: places which are important for all of us to have,"￾ she said. "Above all else it was a very social place for them "" from the way activities were organized to the way seats were arranged "" so that kids from refugee and non-refugee backgrounds mixed and spoke much more than they usually did in school or other settings."￾ 

She said while the program  was not designed exclusively for children from refugee backgrounds the focus on building musical ability, regardless of academic or English proficiency, and the interaction between all involved had been therapeutic, without singling them out as being deficient or in need of therapy.

"What comes through in this research is the restorative quality of music and arts programs like this if the right environment and tone is created,"￾ she said.

Ms Utomo's work was part of a larger research project in 2010 with The Song Room that led to the "˜New Moves' report by Victoria University's Associate Professor Michele Grossman and Associate Professor Christopher Sonn.

Ms Utomo will present her research findings Friday 23rd November at Victoria University's 'Place & Displacement' conference, organised by Victoria University's Community, Identity & Displacement Research Network. The conference begins with a free public lecture from Professor Mick Dodson at 7pm, Wednesday 21st November on level 12, 300 Flinders Street, Victoria University.

Media are welcome to all sessions.


Available for Interview:

Angela Utomo, Sessional Academic & Provisional Psychologist

Faculty of Arts, Education & Human Development, Victoria University

0415 427 398; [email protected]

Media contact:

Michael Quin, Research Writer

Public Affairs Department, Victoria University

(03) 9919 9491; 0431 815 409; [email protected]

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