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Vale Richard Gill
Renowned Australian conductor, educator, advocate — and, more recently, television celebrity — Richard Gill died on 28 October, a matter of days before he would have turned a youthful and energetic 77.
The seemingly stern and somewhat prosaic “reward for hard work” dictum was one of Richard’s pearls, although compatible with a personality so well known as the personification of the joy of music.
In Richard’s case, hard work and joy sat very comfortably together. When I first heard Richard say this many years ago, rather than dismiss it as a dubious attempt at an inspirational comment by a jaded elder (my likely youthful default at the time), I realised it was absolutely true.
This was always the way with Richard; his air of authority, conviction, and credibility made everything he offered as an educator — whether in the capacity of teacher, conductor, advocate et cetera — hit home.
There have been many public reflections — and of course, countless private ones — on Richard’s life and work since his passing. So why another?
To my mind it is imperative to highlight the fact that Richard was first and foremost a teacher, and certainly the best I have ever personally experienced.
From his early teaching post at Marsden High School right through his ongoing development as a composer, conductor, speaker and high-profile advocate for music education — through each and every role he undertook — he was a powerful and insightful educator.
Richard was generous and authentic, to a degree that few individuals were or are. His commitment to teacher-led curriculum and student assessment (over the current model of standardised testing) as the increasing focus of his public commentary, and the countless unpaid hours he devoted to the development of the National Music Teacher Mentor Program over the past few years, clearly demonstrate his passion for quality school education by those best placed to deliver it — professional, highly capable classroom teachers.
From all the opportunities I had to connect and share time with him over 40 years, I can say that while he was certainly larger than life, and at times theatrical, he was never one to employ empty rhetoric or self-promotion.
Nor was he disingenuous or compromising in his pursuit of and advocacy for quality music education for all.
Like countless others fortunate enough to have considered Richard a friend, mentor and teacher-without-peer, I frequently find myself applying the “Gill filter” when approaching decisions around educational models and pathways for the learning communities for which I am responsible.
As I learnt many years ago from the man himself, when it comes to education, and helping to create valuable, quality opportunities and experiences for those in our charge, the reward for hard work is indeed more hard work.
Thank you, Richard.
Dr Graham Sattler is a Centre for Professional Learning presenter and the Executive Director of the Mitchell Conservatorium in central western NSW