26 May 2012

Ian Young as John Kerr

John Kerr was a much reviled character after his putsch on Gough Whitlam in 1975 and he died miserable and perhaps alcoholic and unloved some years later. It’s an interesting parallel because Ian Young is just another Canberra tale. Nobody shot John Kerr, which may have been an outcome in more revolutionary places, but he suffered none-the-less. He was rejected by Whitlam’s supporters who maintained the rage and soon enough ignored by Fraser’s team. Australia continued, but with a gash in its democracy.

I’ve been surprised at the rapid and widespread response to Ian Young’s action on the School of Music. An online petition is past 23,800 when I last looked. A rally on a work day brought 1,000. Students organised a 24-hour marathon jam in a few days on the coldest night of the year to that date and a public concert drew the biggest crowd ever in Llewellyn. This is actually one to ponder as we enter the brave new world of Ian Young’s curriculum change with its intention to “develop skills across a range of music jobs”. These students weren’t educated for this new vision, but they organised a 24-hour jam in a few days and a 4-hour classical concert in a few weeks. It’s a typical managerialist conceit to value management over purpose. The purpose of a concert is the music made by the musicians. The various managers and promoters and the rest are mere enablers. There’s a whiff of fascist control in managerialism, in organising and bettering the malingering hoards. Ian Young’s decision with its blitzkrieg timing (is it three weeks yet since the announced intention to the death knell?) is out of the managerialist camp and informed by military planning. Unless some mining magnate or generous government appears in the wings, music in Canberra is doomed. How long will it take? Not long. Next year’s School of Music intake will take the first hit as promising musicians go elsewhere. Already we’ve lost Adrian Walter and within months we’ll lose other staff members. I expect a few will just retire and remain locally, so some reprieve. The Canberra International Music Festival is riddled with ANUSM staff, so maybe that dies a death. And our Canberra Symphony Orchestra will lose its subsidised musicians feed soon enough and its choices are probably amateur status or closure to retain its pride. Like many other musical activities, jazz will be reduced to small town status. All this on the eve of our brave Centenary of Canberra celebrations. Robyn Archer must be crying in her boudoir.

There’s logic in all this, of course. Music training is expensive. Airconditioning a generous building with delicate instruments is expensive. Balance sheets are blithely rational and they may claim to be value-free. But assumptions underlie markets. What you measure becomes what you value. Markets are level playing fields that advantage wealth and privilege. Civilisation and morality are of no import to markets: an oil spill is more wealth-creating than a parent’s love. In all this, Ian Young is just another cog. We don’t honour cogs and big cogs are often reviled.

For me, this is another painful injury. My abiding personal interests in life have been science through astronomy and the arts through music. The Canberra bushfire on 2003 destroyed most of Mount Stromlo Observatory. Now, ANU has delivered the death blows to the School of Music. It’s not the holocaust, but it’s painful.

On the eve of our glorious centennial, let Canberra return to the sheep dip. Maybe Robyn will invite Kylie to Stage 88 for our birthday. Let’s just forget that fuddy-duddy old Uncle Wolfgang, let alone the upstart cousin Sergei or embarrassing Miles.

Here’s the announcement from yesterday’s ANU Council meeting:

Dear Colleagues

ANU Council today fully discussed the proposed changes at the ANU School of Music.

Council expressed its full support for the change process that has been set in train, acknowledging that on both academic and budgetary grounds, the present curriculum and staffing arrangements were unsustainable.

Council was strongly of the view that the School of Music has been a wonderful resource not only for ANU, but for the Canberra community and indeed the whole nation, and that it was particularly important in this context that its performance teaching stream remained credible and viable.

Council acknowledged that Canberra was clearly underdone in terms of support for music performance, especially for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, by comparison with other capitals. While the University was prepared to continue contributing significantly to meeting this need, it was crucial that the ACT and Federal Governments as well as the philanthropic community, all played their part.

Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AO QC


Eric Pozza said...

How's this for debased change management?

From Marjorie Merryman vice president for Academics and Performance at Manhattan School of Music:

"We have had no knowledge of any restructuring at ANU; it was never discussed with us. We do not agree with their idea as an educational model; we support one-on-one live studio teaching. Educationally and philosophically, we could not endorse ANU’s new model for college-level music study. We have no arrangement with ANU to provide the services they describe. We strongly object to being associated with a plan that would eliminate faculty positions. We strongly object to our name being used or to any implication that we endorse this restructuring.

We are truly dismayed to be cited as partners in such a decision or supporters of such an action. We support our colleagues at ANU and the students there who deserve a first-rate education, provided by an on-site, professional faculty."

( http://citynews.com.au/2012/arts-entertainment/music/manhattan-school-of-music-enters-school-of-music-debate/ , viewed 27 May 2012 )

I'm dumbfounded. Can the ANU ahve sunk so low?

Eric Pozza said...

The comments by Marjorie Merryman made the front page of the Canberra Times, Mon 28 May 2012.