The Gala Concert tradition

The Gala Concert Tradition

From the Director of Instrumental Music

I am often asked by students and parents why Girls Grammar does not compete in music competitions. I guess the simple answer is that healthy school music programmes are about bringing people together and building communities of learners rather than creating competition and division.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s music competitions in Brisbane were the highlight of the year for many school music programmes with a reliance on winning trophies for motivation and personal kudos, and prize money to build resources. At these competitions there was much debate about the pros and cons of competition in music education but by definition, competition produces few winners and many losers where one group’s success requires another’s failure. Austin (1990) comments that “well-meaning rhetoric continues to surround competitive music events but in the final analysis, education appears to be a serendipitous byproduct rather than a primary goal, for the many teachers and students who cling to contest outcomes for social status and material rewards”.

In 1997, as the Girls Grammar music programme was beginning to build significantly, it was decided that the goals of the programme should encourage a co-operative environment rather than a competitive one, where the contribution of all students is valued. Success would be measured not by the number of trophies in the cabinet but by the quality of the learning experience and level of student engagement. The development of fine musicians with a healthy self-efficacy underpinned by intrinsic motivation, the ability to express their thoughts and feelings and work together for the success of the ensemble was to be fundamental.

The principal, Mrs Hancock, made the decision that these goals were not compatible with participation in music competitions and instead, a major public performance would be held annually at Brisbane City Hall to showcase the achievements of the music programme and to engage the wider community. 

Two Prom Concerts began the gala tradition of excellence and innovation and involved students (past and present), staff and parents striving together with vitality and dedication to achieve outstanding levels of musical achievement and entertainment. This strong community engagement has continued to grow with significant involvement of the Music Support Group and the Grammar Community Choir.

The third concert titled I Got Rhythm celebrated the life and music of George Gershwin. It was such a success that the concept of choosing a specific theme to drive the creative process was continued. In recent years the selection of the theme has created intense expectation with students having the opportunity to be involved in the selection of both the theme and repertoire.

Looking back over the thirteen Gala programmes, the names of thousands of performers and a most impressive list of student soloists who have dazzled audiences with their technical brilliance and advanced musicianship is revealed. It is indeed gratifying to know that some of them have become professional musicians in a variety of capacities and many are active in amateur music activities. These programmes also reveal a staggering collection of demanding repertoire from a diverse range of genres and cultures providing a real indication of the expectations that have been set on each occasion. 

Over the years the quality of the light, sound, multimedia, and overall production has risen to professional levels which has significantly enhanced the quality of the learning experience for the performers as well as for audience enjoyment. 

Once Upon a Time is the title that was chosen by the 2010 senior students for the fourteenth Gala Concert. These four simple words create an expectation of excitement and anticipation, a feeling of wonder, and images of beautiful princesses, fairies, giants and elves from childhood stories. The imagination in this title has provided the creative inspiration to design a programme that tells the story of the Music Department. It is a story of achievement and excellence, dedication and persistence, creativity and musicianship, individual brilliance and cohesive teamwork, collaboration and co-operation, and ultimately the joy that comes with success.

The programme acknowledges our 135th year with a commissioned piece for the Big Band, and the return of twenty-five past students to perform the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Other highlights include four inspirational student soloists and one of Australia’s most celebrated pianists, Mr Max Olding, as a special guest artist.

Preparations for this evening have been underway since July, but in the final three weeks the tempo and intensity increases as all groups move into the most important stage of the process — refinement. During this period all students are encouraged to strive for new standards of technique and musicianship which will result in the exhilaration of an exceptional performance on Gala night.

The real value of the Gala Concert is that it provides much more than participation in a music competition. It is a powerful, collaborative, authentic learning process that motivates and challenges 350 young musicians in their quest for true artistry.

Artistic learning is rigorous, demanding and pleasurable. According to Education Futurist Professor Erica McWilliam it is a risky business that requires taking individual responsibility for learning, engagement in a community of learners, a robust self-efficacy, a disposition to keep trying, constant pruning and self editing, and the acceptance of the importance of error making, in order to learn.

23 October at the UQ Centre will be a defining moment for each young musician. For some it will be their first Gala for others their last, but for all, it will be a time to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with knowing that they have done their very best.

I extend a warm invitation to the broader Grammar community to join with us for the fourteenth annual Gala Concert and share the stories of our talented musicians as they strive for the ultimate level of refinement in artistic performance.

Mr M Sullivan


Austin, J. (1990). Competition: Is music education the loser? Music Educators Journal 76 (6) 21-25.

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