NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

This is just the beginning: Yamaha and First Nations music

By Matt Livingstone, Mat Taylor and Steven Vranch — Yamaha is the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments. Formed in 1887, the company has a long history of engineering innovation, design creativity and supporting musicians, producing music making devices ranging from reed organs and pianos, through trumpets, saxophones and violins to digital mixing consoles, recording interfaces and software.

It feels good to work for a company like Yamaha, knowing the significant contributions it has made to music making all over the world over the years.

However, sometimes “Yamaha” feels like a distant idea. Being an old brand and originating in Japan, it can feel foreign and disconnected from local life here and now in Australia. This is something that the team working at Yamaha Music Australia (YMA), a subsidiary of Yamaha Corporation Japan, feels acutely aware of. In order for us to be connected to our own society and music community, we are motivated to form strong connections with Australian musicians and embrace our beautiful, diverse local culture. It is to this that we owe all of our success here, our future and our livelihoods.

Our primary focus in recent years has been to increase the quality of and participation in Music Education. We believe all Australians should have access to quality music education. We are proud of the work we have done in this area including awarding $300k of grants to schools wishing to make music education a priority, working with preservice and current working teachers on the pedagogy of ensemble learning and much more. The great impact this work has had has made us hungry to do more, and find more ways to become the best local corporate citizens we can be.

So when the opportunity to meet with the Yil Lull leadership at the Australian National University (ANU) came up, we jumped at the chance. We met with Kim Cunio, Will Kepa and Scott Davie from the ANU music school, who showed us around and explained their ideas for the Yil Lull studio project passionately and eloquently. It was clear from the start, they were lighting a way forward towards equality in First Nations people’s access to Music with an incredibly well thought out, responsible and sensitive approach. We immediately saw how much value this project has, how much opportunity and inspiration it can provide, and how well this aligned with our own values and goals. It was clear Yamaha Australia needed to support the Yil Lull Studio for First Nations people.

Yil Lull Studio, lead by Torres Strait Islander Musician Will Kepa, aims to give First Nations people a place to meet; to create; to share and expand First Nation people’s stories. The ANU have committed to resourcing Yil Lull by creating a space and staffing the studio but needed help ensuring that the best quality gear was installed in the space. Kim Cunio’s aim was to ensure the Yil Lull studio has gear as good, if not better than the main studio space at ANU and were looking for partners to help fill the space.

Partnership was exactly what we were looking for. With a small team of local staff and currently no one working at YMA with a First Nations background, we’ll be the first to admit we need help in understanding how we can use our small resource to create the biggest impact. A team like the one from ANU, having so much existing experience and having already done so much work in this area, are a great partner for us on our own journey of growth and development. We have a long history of carefully seeking out and nurturing partnerships that help guide us in supporting the community we serve. Partnership and collaborative decision making are fundamental ideas, woven into the DNA of our business, so working with the ANU on this partnership was the natural first step.

Yamaha Music Australia has committed to a three-year partnership, supplying the Yil Lull Studio with $85k of equipment for visiting First Nations Artists to use while at the Yil Lull Studio. This includes drums, guitars, stage pianos, synths, recording equipment, PA systems and much more. For us, filling the space with good quality gear is the easy part. The harder part to consider has been, what’s next? How do we make sure our contribution doesn’t just stop here?

We’re in love with many of Will and Kim’s other ideas, like a First Nations recording engineer program to ensure First Nations people have the opportunity to experience this artistic and technical craft. We’d love to support that! We’re so looking forward to hearing the stories of the people that use the studio, and hopefully we can help to spread the word about their art, amplify and share it with as many people as possible through our own channels.

Like all businesses, we have more to do and more to learn about being good corporate citizens and especially about trying to be a part of a meaningful and just reconciliation. There are so many other areas to ensure equity of access in music. This is just the beginning! Yamaha Music Australia is committed to ensuring this project acts as a spring board and inspiration for our own staff and our whole industry to keep evolving.

Matt, Steve and Mat share between them over 40 years of experience in the Musical Instrument industry. With knowledge covering a broad range of instruments and music making equipment, education and school sales, live performance, production and recording, as well as a wealth of business experience from product management and marketing to business planning. Together they help lead Yamaha’s Musical Instrument and Education division and contribute to Yamaha’s vision of ensuring music is attainable for everyone.

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Associate Prof Chris Sainsbury, Professor Frank Millward and Professor Kim Cunio — The title of this edition is a provocation. While it is not too late, we at the Academy have for too long done too little, and this issue takes a journey into the life of a music school that has decided to get on the ground and do its bit.
By Dr Scott Davie — In 2020, the ANU School of Music devised an innovative research project aimed at engaging Indigenous composers with an old keyboard instrument, the Henrion piano.
By Professor Frank Millward — There are many things that need to be remembered in relation to Indigenous Australians. Here are three we may have chosen to forget or have faded enough from our collective memory that they may be considered as forgotten...
By Pat O’Grady — My office in the ANU School of Music shares a wall with Yil Lull studio, one of the few studios in Australia dedicated to recording First Nations’ music. The walls are thin. I often hear the wonderful music taking place on the studio floor.
By Professor Kim Cunio — I am really proud of our music school. It has accomplished a great deal, rebuilding, decolonising and allowing an evolution in First Nations practice to occur.
By Tor Frømyhr — Many wander through life unaware of the real story that led to their existence and the course their lives have taken. Is it important? For many, not really. For me, vitally important.
By Jennifer Newsome — The ANU School of Music is currently pursuing a bold and progressive approach to the way it engages and does business with First Nations’ People and communities.
By Dr Chris Sainsbury — When a music school gets it right pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement, a certain feeling grows within the school. “Feel” is a word that I intentionally borrow from music-making. Speaking from our in-house example, it feels positive and empowering for First Nations students, staff and visiting First Nations peoples who often engage with us.
Professor Frank Millward talks to Will Kepa, producer, engineer and director of the Yil Lull Indigenous Recording Studio at the ANU School of Music