08 February 2008

Woes at ANU School of Music

Sadly, the financial woes of the ANU School of Music came to a head this week. Apparently the Vice Chancellor, Ian Chubb, spoke to staff about their parlous state, and offered a few options for the future. The Jazz School is in bumptious good health, with a surplus of students wishing to enter each year. Sadly, the classical school is not so robust: it’s suffering from an widespread, international drop in students wishing to study Western fine music.

The classical school was considered perhaps the top music school in Australia in its early days It was set up to cater for all orchestral instruments, and there lies its greatest threat. It seems that some areas are bringing in the students (Keyboard Institute, Jazz School and some others), but some teachers have only one or two students. I can understand the financial woes here, given each teacher is funded for a full workload. The options offered were to have teachers paid by student load (presumably meaning the departure of some teachers and contract work for many others), or to specialise in successful areas of study, including jazz and keyboards.

This also has implications for our local professional orchestra, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO). Apparently the teachers at the school are the mainstay of this orchestra, so dropping support for the full range of instruments will limit the CSO’s ability to access players of a good standard. Our orchestra does not get the government support of professional orchestras interstate (which admittedly serve larger cities, and presumably larger audiences). So both the Music School and the CSO are currently being subsidised by the ANU, and thus other faculties.

The future is looking bleak for the range and quality of music in Canberra, even if our branch, jazz, is thriving.

  • ANU School of Music
  • Online article at Canberra Times

    Anonymous said...

    I'm all for doing whatever it takes to keep the whole of the orchestral school alive, but why would the idea of paying teachers by student load be such a devastating thing? What's the point of paying someone a full-time salary to teach the honkerschpielen if only one person signs up to learn it? Pay them a contract rate and let them get another job in the public service for the rest of the time - we're probably one of the few places in the world where this would actually work, especially given the current skills shortage. If more people decide they want to learn the honkerschpielen, just increase the contract hours.

    I do believe it would be devastating to see the School concentrate only on those areas it knew would be popular. That's only a way to compound the lack of knowledge. If no-one can study honkerschpielen then no one can play or teach it, and eventualy the honkerschpielen disappears from the face of the earth, like ancient languages which are completely lost to us. It's the dawn of a new Dark Ages. (Seriously, it is).

    But as a taxpayer as well as someone who is passionate about music of both the orchestral/classical and jazz varieties, I don't have a problem with the idea of paying instrument teachers only for those hours they actually have to work. And especially so if that what it takes to keep the School running and still offering the whole suite of orchestral instruments.

    Derek Williams said...

    This attrition was in part caused by education instrumentalities' decision to throw the baby out with the bath water, abolishing grammar et al. from the curriculum along with discipline and respect for teachers, and teaching teachers to 'learn from their students'. In the process they have to treat every response from a student as 'correct' in some way for fear of offending this or that sensibility. Standards were shamelessly lowered to inflate the pass rate for political advantage.

    One could do a lot worse than to adopt a version of the El Systema model in Venezuela as a way of bringing back the arts from the derelictions of apologists.