5 April 2023

ANU School of Music and National Folk Festival on song with three-year strategic partnership

| Ian Bushnell
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Chris Grange

National Folk Festival managing director Chris Grange: a paradigm shift in the relationship, delivering significant benefits for both parties. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Young and emerging musicians will be able to plug into the skills and advice of professional artists under a landmark agreement between the National Folk Festival and the Australian National University.

The three-year partnership will cover the 2024, 2025 and 2026 events, and also provide performance opportunities at the Folk Festival and recording time in the ANU School of Music’s world-class studio.

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Festival managing director Chris Grange said the deal represented a new era in the ongoing relationship with the ANU.

“We have previously collaborated with the ANU School of Music, but this new long-term strategic partnership represents a paradigm shift in our relationship, delivering major benefits for both of us,” he said.

He said it was a real meeting of minds when he sat down with ANU School of Music Professor Kim Cunio to discuss what both organisations could do for each other.

“There is such an alignment of interests,” Mr Grange said, adding that both parties were keen to do more for young musicians.

“It took us about half an hour to work out the bones of the agreement. They are as interested in that cohort as we are.”

Under the agreement, selected festival performers, including international artists, will each year offer masterclasses and workshops to students of the ANU School of Music, the ANU School of Art and Design and the Open School of Music at ANU.

The ANU School of Music will curate and produce a Youth Stage venue for 12 to 25-year-old musicians within the festival and offer exceptional Youth Stage musicians time in its recording studio.

First Nations musicians performing at the festival will also have the opportunity to collaborate and record with ANU School of Music staff.

The National Folk Festival and the National Library of Australia’s joint Folk Fellowship program will be supplemented with recipients receiving a visiting academic appointment to the ANU School of Music and a two-day recording studio opportunity.

Mr Grange said that while the focus at the School of Music was mainly on classical and jazz music, these were by no means students’ only musical interests.

“What you find is that yes, many are classically trained or jazz trained and perform in those categories, but nearly all of them perform in other genres and traditions,” he said.

Mr Grange said establishing a Youth Stage at the festival would fill a gap in the program and provide greater exposure and encouragement for young artists.

“We have Kidsfest for up to 12, and then we have our main stages, but we really don’t have a dedicated offering for that 12 to 18 group or, if emerging performers, up to 25 years,” he said.

“We can have a dedicated stage for them, we can put workshops into that venue as well to improve their musicianship. There’s no end to what we can do.”

Mr Grange said the agreement anticipated that further specific initiatives may be developed over the coming years.

When it comes to festival performers, it will be a matter of timing for some who may be touring, but Mr Grange expected as contracted artists they would come to the party.

He said the ANU would have early access to the coming year’s line-up to plan ahead for that festival’s program.

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Mr Grange said the agreement was also a joint response to challenges faced by the arts industry throughout the pandemic.

“Over the COVID years, we have seen evidence of the adverse impact of lockdowns and isolation on emerging musicians, a view shared by the ANU School of Music,” he said.

ANU School of Music head professor Kim Cunio said the deal was a win for ANU students and the music industry.

“The National Folk Festival assembles some of the best musicians in Australia and internationally each year,” he said.

“Gaining access to these musicians for our students and our staff is great news for the future of the Australian music industry.”

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