Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Expert strata, facilities & building management services

It’s time to reclaim our School of Music

By Steven Bailey - 13 October 2015 9

Peter Tregear

Earlier this year, my business partner and I attempted to produce a small opera in Canberra. Having been buoyed by a successful seasons in Hong Kong, we thought we’d bring it to the place we love and call home.

It was impossible. The lack of suitable venues, coupled with an inflexible attitude from government-funded arts bureaucrats, left us rather disheartened. But these problems were not insurmountable, the killer blow was that we simply couldn’t find the musicians, so we settled for a smaller touring show – which only recently had its closing night in China.

Canberra is no longer the wellspring of talented, budding, classically trained musicians that it used to be.

The School of Music is no longer a home for Australia’s great musicians, and many of Canberra’s classical greats now live in poverty, exile, and isolation.

After interviewing musicians for this story, I have renewed and grave concerns for the mental health of many of Canberra’s classical musicians.

School of Music enrolment numbers have plummeted over the past four years, and as someone who works in the industry I can say with authority that talented students are encouraged by their teachers to take their tertiary studies outside of the capital. Remaining in Canberra for a viable career is out of the question.

Just what is the Australian National University’s issue with music? I am not the first to have asked that question over the past seven years.

In 2012 we were informed by the ANU management that the School of Music faced an urgent and unavoidable need for curriculum and administrative reform. Staff, now former staff, at the Canberra School of Music were told that federal funding of universities left conservatoriums around the country in financial peril. The ANU also forced the school to reconsider the function of the Bachelor of Music degree from one that supported elite musicians to one that supported people who wanted to refine the three-chord riffs that might come in handy as a primary school teacher or whilst on holidays from a successful career in law or medicine.

The public outcry was considerable, and institutional reform of any kind is never easy. It is widely acknowledged that the incoming Head of School in 2012, Professor Peter Tregear (pictured), made good on his promise to establish a renewed self-confidence and financial stability, as well as community confidence in the School. A series of world-class appointments were announced, and by 2014 the School had become the leading recipient of research income for music in the country. Its students were again winning national performance prizes, and the School’s endowment was again attracting significant donor support.

This year, however, the School has witnessed a spectacular haemorrhaging of
professional and academic staff, including Professor Tregear himself.

How has this been allowed to happen? And who is to be held to account? Who are the senior university managers whose job is, ultimately, to care for the disciplines they are entrusted to deliver, and the students, staff, donors, and the wider community they are meant to serve?

The handling of the first round of changes in 2012 by the ANU elite management was already ripe for criticism.  World-class Canberra musicians lost their jobs, and the case prosecuted by the ANU appeared to be poorly thought through and nothing short of a public relations disaster. Perhaps this is why every time a potential controversy arises regarding the School of Music, ANU staff are given an instruction to not speak with the media or public.

It was surely the School of Music’s achievement under Professor Tregear to be able to recover so quickly. And it is surely a matter of renewed and arguably greater concern that the ANU seems to have not been willing, or unable, to capitalise on that achievement.

The ANU must answer to the people of Canberra on this matter, but if we are to ever re-establish the cultural integrity of the Australian Capital Territory, a political process must occur.

The university has failed the School of Music, and therefore the people of Canberra and Australia.

The Canberra School of Music can only fulfil its purpose if it stands as an independent institution, unchained from the economic fundamentalism imposed by the ANU.

It is time for Canberra to reclaim the Canberra School of Music.

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
9 Responses to
It’s time to reclaim our School of Music
robw 1:09 pm 18 Oct 15

Interesting article and comments about this tragic situation. However, most don’t realise that Tregear’s actions of getting rid of nearly all the actual music performance teachers and replacing them with musicologists, all well as his abolition of one-to-one teaching, accelerated the School’s decline.

Deref 12:27 pm 15 Oct 15

Hear, hear! Fully support this proposal. The dismantling of the School of Music by ANU philistines was a disgrace. Perhaps we could look at a similar restoration of the School of Art!

creative_canberran 9:43 pm 13 Oct 15

switch said :

Yes, it is hard to fathom why such a wonderful showcase for the ANU was so thoroughly run into the ground.

You need to understand the history. Art and Music Schools were lumped in with ANU at a time of shake ups for higher ed. It was only fear of riots that stopped them adding UC too to the merger. ANU doesn’t see the school as a showcase. ANU’s reputation, rankings, and income, rely on research performance. There’s only so much research the School of Music can do, and it’s relatively expensive to run.

Steven Bailey 8:47 pm 13 Oct 15

dungfungus said :

While I agree with your comments about the demise of ANU School of Music generally I don’t agree that “Canberra is no longer the wellspring of talented, budding, classically trained musicians that it used to be.”
I regularly attend Carl Raffertey’s light opera productions which are normally held at Albert Hall which is an excellent venue. The last venue was in the Drill Hall Gallery which was a little cramped but nevertheless quite satisfactory. Peter Tregear actually performed admirably at that last show.
There are many aspiring local artists performing at these shows.
The boozer in the foyer of Llewellyn Hall has ruined the place (it smells) and the absence of a central aisle when new seats were fitted is a disaster. The acoustics are not what they used to be either.
There are regular guitar recitals at the Wesley Centre also. Canberra has a lot to offer.

Dungfungus! I hope you are well. I enjoy Carl Raffertey’s productions too, and have worked with Carl on a number of occasions. Carl is certainly one of Canberra’s most impressive impresarios. He searches the world for performers… he doesn’t search Canberra. I’m obviously not saying that Canberra doesn’t produce beautiful music; I’m saying that without the interference of the ANU, Canberra would be doing much better.

dungfungus 6:32 pm 13 Oct 15

While I agree with your comments about the demise of ANU School of Music generally I don’t agree that “Canberra is no longer the wellspring of talented, budding, classically trained musicians that it used to be.”
I regularly attend Carl Raffertey’s light opera productions which are normally held at Albert Hall which is an excellent venue. The last venue was in the Drill Hall Gallery which was a little cramped but nevertheless quite satisfactory. Peter Tregear actually performed admirably at that last show.
There are many aspiring local artists performing at these shows.
The boozer in the foyer of Llewellyn Hall has ruined the place (it smells) and the absence of a central aisle when new seats were fitted is a disaster. The acoustics are not what they used to be either.
There are regular guitar recitals at the Wesley Centre also. Canberra has a lot to offer.

violinist 3:25 pm 13 Oct 15

Well said, although I take some issue with paragraphs 9 and 13 – Peter Tregear did his best, but the University’s implementation of the PDA (professional development allowance – a sum with which students could procure lessons from anyone they chose, or attend a summer school or go to the pub), their listing of Teaching Fellows, many of whom have little if any professional experience and/or live in places like Sydney and Brisbane and their downgrading of all performance classes (amongst many other atrocities) was always going to spell doom. The ANU has pots of money – it’s all about what they want to spend it on. They are happy to spend money on Llewellyn Hall – it’s a nice little earner. The Hall was specifically designed with minimal foyer areas so that it would be seen as primarily an education space. The current rebranding is “here is a concert hall with a few teaching rooms tacked on”.
Might be interesting to do a “Where are they now?” for the teachers on the staff in, say, 2000. The thousand cut demise started then or earlier.
It’s also interesting to note there has been little if any outrage from other tertiary music institutions. Our loss is their gain.

rubaiyat 10:20 am 13 Oct 15

I agree, the destruction of a wonderful institution has been tragic.

miz 10:18 am 13 Oct 15

Such a pity and a waste. Ernest Llewellyn must be crying from his grave – he had vision, unlike some of his successors.

I also note that the implementation of the high school/secondary college structure in the ACT inadvertently resulted in the death of many ACT high school music programs. Back in the day, most schools offered excellent music programs – for example, Melrose High School had an orchestra, choirs, etc before colleges came in! But such programs were subsequently impossible to sustain due to the time it takes for such skills to develop. ACT schools cannot hope to compete with, for example, NSW schools, which have high school bands that continue until the end of Year 12. You see this all the time at Eisteddfods, where our students, try as they might, find it difficult to compete with interstates with two years’ more instrumental experience. The general lack and dumbing down of music education in the ACT (with a couple of notable exceptions) means people have to source music education privately (which is expensive and therefore selective), so those with hidden talent are not unearthed and developed by schools like they should be. There is a clear, known, parallel between music education and success in other subjects, yet music is lumped in with other ‘creative arts’ as an ‘extra’ that is somehow ‘less important.’

In my view this whole attitude of devaluing music is to society’s detriment.

switch 10:12 am 13 Oct 15

Yes, it is hard to fathom why such a wonderful showcase for the ANU was so thoroughly run into the ground.

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site