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School of Music: history and solution

By John Hargreaves - 19 October 2015 7

ANU_School_of_Music,_LLewellyn_Hall

The issue of the School of Music being slow poisoned by the ANU has attracted many conversations and opinions, most of which are in favour of a resurrected or valued institution and most of which are critical of the ANU’s treatment of the School. And rightly so. It is solely responsible for the slow death facing that most cherished of institutions in Canberra.

I joined the School of Music in 1972 as its Registrar, the senior administrative officer at the School. I worked directly with Ernest Llewellyn CBE, and alongside such luminaries as Larry Sitsky, Donald Hollier, Bill Hoffmann, Alan Jenkins, Vince Edwards, Len Fischer and Don Banks, to name a few. All internationally acclaimed artists and teachers in their own right.

The School was the vision of Doug Anthony MP and his wife Margot. In 1965, the federal government enticed Ernest Llewellyn to create a school of music to teach the performance and academic aspects of music along the lines of the Julliard School in the US.

The idea was to create academically qualified concert performers who could pass on their talents and skills in a structured and professional way after a world acclaimed performance career. Or indeed, perhaps both at the same time.

Many will not know that Ernest Llewellyn was himself a violinist of world repute. He played the viola in a trio with Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin.  His wife Ruth was the daughter of the Australian acclaimed violin maker AE Smith and whose bridesmaid was Hephzibah Menuhin.  He was awarded the MBE for services to music and later was awarded the CBE for further service to the performing arts.

His vision was to have the School of Music the premier conservatorium of music in Australia. The School started humbly teaching performance and musicianship towards A Mus and L Mus and awarding scholarships in a variety of musical disciplines. During my time, the School went from awarding a Dip Mus to awarding a BA Mus, on its way to awarding higher degrees culminating in the PhD in music.

We built the premises in Acton, leaving the campus at Manuka (and satellites in the Narrabundah Infants School and the Jewish Memorial Centre) in 1976. The institution was growing up, with world class performance facilities.  But along the way, the School did some pretty amazing things.

One such development, largely unrecognised, is the development of electronic music. Around 1974/75, the electronic music scene in the classics was just taking off.  The charge was led by Keith Humble from Melbourne.  One of his mates was Don Banks.  We set up an experimental studio for Don in our rented space at the Jewish Memorial Centre in 1975 and the genre took off.  The connection between composition, electronics and the classics was on its way.

The then new building had the second largest stage in Australia, measuring 72 feet long and being divided by the sound screen which cut the stage into two allowing two full size orchestras to do their stuff with no sound leakage in either direction. The auditorium, now the Llewellyn Hall, was the first “tuned” auditorium in Australia.  The TV and Audio recording studios were state of the art.

It was also here that the recruitment of the first music librarian was effected. She was a specialist music librarian and the school had a wonderful collection aimed at both performance and musicianship.  The School branched into ethnomusicology.

But the skies were dark. The location in Acton was uncomfortable for Ernest.  He had done the hard yards in achieving degree status for the School and he could see the talons of the ANU posed to absorb the School into its fold.

Ernest said to me that any takeover by the ANU should be resisted because it would spell the end of the School as we knew it. He said the accent would drift into the academic aspects of musicology and research at the expense of world class concert performing. He resisted all overtures in the time I worked for him, until mid-1978.

How true the prediction.

The amalgamation went through without fanfare. It was not welcomed by many in this town. The ugly truth of Ernest’s warnings became fact.

I left the School and went on my way, and didn’t really keep my connections going until entering the Legislative Assembly where I witnessed the withdrawal of financial support to the School by the then Liberal Government. The ACT government contributed $1.4million to the running of the school and the then Government’s attitude was that the School was a federal activity coming now under the ANU Act and so was not to be funded from ACT revenue. I joined the then Director Nicolette Fraillon in a march to seek the restoration of that funding.  When Labor took office, the funding was restored.  But the ANU’s intention was clear.

They were not going to prop up an institution which did not conform to their structures and approaches to academic achievement. They did not believe that the performance aspect of the School’s imprimatur was sustainable.

What we are seeing being played out is the ANU’s long standing attitude towards the School of Music and the School of Arts. They believe that the role of the ANU is to produce academics not performers and artists. They just don’t get it!

The Schools of Music and Arts have had a leading place within Canberra for the production of performance, artistic and academic excellence since 1965. The Schools have given life to the development of the arts in not only Canberra but in Australia and overseas. Our graduates have world reputations and we had begun to reverse the brain and talent drain which forced our talented young people overseas in the search for opportunity and significant mentorship.

The destruction of the School of Music, long time a plan of the ANU, is an act of artistic bastardry the world will recognise and condemn.

The solution, for me, is for the ACT Government to seek to have the Schools returned to their roots. To absorb them into the University of Canberra and to continue the vision of Ernest Llewelyn.

The other possibility I would canvass is the separation of both Schools from the ANU, and under the auspices of the University of Canberra, the setting up of a separate degree awarding institution of the Arts within the ACT. This would attract fee paying overseas students and continue to give our own home grown performers the opportunities they deserve.

What’s Your opinion?


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7 Responses to
School of Music: history and solution
John Hargreaves 11:27 am 24 Oct 15

markb said :

Couldn’t agree more! I was a student of guitar under Sadie Bishop in the Manuka location and then the new building. It was in the new building that I was profoundly influenced by David Parker and Marie Van Hove. Whilst I didn’t complete my degree I benefitted from these outstanding people and to this day credit them with my achievements in life and professional areas. In their memory and for the cause of uncompromised quality in music composition, performance and development, I think it is time to take the SoM away from ANU. Give it a stand alone status where the true purpose of music (performance and listening) can be expressed.

Names which bring a pleasant memory. How many people know that the little road which comes off Childers Street into the entrance of the School was called William Herbert Place? Bill was the Voice lecturer at Manuka (his place being taken by David Parker) and when he died, we sought to have his memory enshrined by that little road.

I don’t know of any caveats on the use of the buildings but wouldn’t image in any because the main building was purpose built. Interesting to note that the building between the main building and Uni Ave, Was supposed to be twice its size, and have a concert theatre with 5,000 seats. the building with the crank shaft outside was supposed to be stage one and have a walk way across Marcus Clarke Street into the carpark (which has also gone), but the NCDC ran out of money.

Llewellyn Hall was supposed to have 1500 seats but the Fire brigade didn’t like the layout and insisted on changes which saw the number shrink to 1442 when it was built.

Money talks and theNCDC clammed up. Vale Stage 2.

creative_canberran 10:58 pm 23 Oct 15

violinist said :

HI John,
what IS the story with the building? is is said that the ANU must continue to run a music school to keep the building. Is that true? New signage at the School says that the Music School is only on level 6. This would appear to be a token nod to a Music School and massive fraud on the part of the university.

The SoM is spread over more than one building. The ANU owns Llewellyn Hall.

markb 1:14 pm 23 Oct 15

Couldn’t agree more! I was a student of guitar under Sadie Bishop in the Manuka location and then the new building. It was in the new building that I was profoundly influenced by David Parker and Marie Van Hove. Whilst I didn’t complete my degree I benefitted from these outstanding people and to this day credit them with my achievements in life and professional areas. In their memory and for the cause of uncompromised quality in music composition, performance and development, I think it is time to take the SoM away from ANU. Give it a stand alone status where the true purpose of music (performance and listening) can be expressed.

violinist 10:52 am 23 Oct 15

HI John,
what IS the story with the building? is is said that the ANU must continue to run a music school to keep the building. Is that true? New signage at the School says that the Music School is only on level 6. This would appear to be a token nod to a Music School and massive fraud on the part of the university.

Steven Bailey 1:53 pm 22 Oct 15

Nice piece John. I agree that it would be ideal for the Canberra School of Music to be independent, but I suppose for that to happen it would require the federal parliament to act. I think there are many possible solutions. We’ve barely heard a whisper from Canberra’s politicians over the past few years on the issue.

That ‘managers’ are completely ignorant of the cultural impact of such neglect is sad; that politicians are just as ignorant is a reprehensible national disgrace. It’s clear to me that the movement for the Canberra School of Music will develop into an election issue.

I also think it’s time to scrutinise the personal decisions that have contributed to the School’s demise – going back to Chubb’s time. I suspect the same mindset by the same people has also contributed to the demise of the Humanities.

John Hargreaves 11:13 am 19 Oct 15

Paul Costigan said :

Dear John,

I basically agree. I have always thought that both the School of Art and the School of Music should have remained autonomous – and that there should have been stronger resistance to their absorption into the ANU.

Back then the arguments for the amalgamation were always up against those within wanting new status within the ANU. It was also a time of many amalgamations of tertiary institutions around the country.

Yes – the predictions have proven true – as you say – eventually the highly paid managers of the university have done serious damage to world class institutions that they clearly do not appreciate. The arts are important to the whole society but have always been a low priority to the university bean counters.

Not sure about linking them to another university and therefore to the whims of another Vice Chancellor and academic board. They need independence – possibly together as The Canberra School of Music and the Arts – whatever it is – given the current devastations – at least well away from the clutches of the ANU.

Do you think that there is anyone in the current ACT Government has the creative intellect to understand the problems and to seek out solutions?

Paul. I agree entirely with you. My preferred position is an autonomous organisation dispensing its own degrees. Similar to other music institutions in Oz except modelled on the Julliard School.

Do I think anyone in the Government has the creative intellect to understand the problems together with the will to seek out solutions? No I don’t, unfortunately and neither do I see anyone in the Opposition or Greens.

The Chief Minister I served with understood the value of the static arts but I’m not sure he or any successor or predecessor Chief (or otherwise) Minister understood the value of the performing and creative arts. I did, but then I was taught by Ernest Llewellyn who was passionate about being independent and being the conduit for the arts into the community.

He also saw the value of a connection with the schools in Canberra and the CSOM. I mourn his passing.

Paul Costigan 8:44 am 19 Oct 15

Dear John,

I basically agree. I have always thought that both the School of Art and the School of Music should have remained autonomous – and that there should have been stronger resistance to their absorption into the ANU.

Back then the arguments for the amalgamation were always up against those within wanting new status within the ANU. It was also a time of many amalgamations of tertiary institutions around the country.

Yes – the predictions have proven true – as you say – eventually the highly paid managers of the university have done serious damage to world class institutions that they clearly do not appreciate. The arts are important to the whole society but have always been a low priority to the university bean counters.

Not sure about linking them to another university and therefore to the whims of another Vice Chancellor and academic board. They need independence – possibly together as The Canberra School of Music and the Arts – whatever it is – given the current devastations – at least well away from the clutches of the ANU.

Do you think that there is anyone in the current ACT Government has the creative intellect to understand the problems and to seek out solutions?

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