The peak of my Australia visit — I got back on Friday night — wasn’t the warm hospitality so many people offered me. Or how seriously people took what I had to say, when I spoke to two groups in Sydney, and one in Melbourne.
Or, for that matter, eating kangaroo, which I would have thought would be an absurd visitor’s stereotype, but which Australians really do, and highly recommend. (It’s leaner than beef, and kanagaroo feed has a lower carbon footprint than cattle feed. I found it on a Chinese takeout menu; it was tender and tasty.)
No, the high point was the event I was invited to Australia for, a classical music summit in Sydney at which I gave the keynote speech, and where classical music people from all over the country gathered to start a move for classical music change.
This isn’t to minimize my sessions with staff at the Australia Council for the Arts, or with a group of classical music people in Melbourne.
But the summit — at least in my knowledge and experience — was unique. A national classical music gathering to spark change. And not a gathering where people listened to speeches. Instead, the approximately 100 people there broke into working groups, to come up with usable ideas.
This was only a start, of course. Going further will depend on strong leadership, which I think will be there. Dick Letts, executive director of the Music Council of Australia, who sparked the summit, is a doer, not a talker. And Kim Walker, the dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (in the US, we’d say “conservatory”), gave a tough-minded closing speech, notably free of feel-good or self-serving boilerplate. The greatest danger, she bluntly said, was that nothing would happen. And so she was going to make sure that the strategy committee (to be chosen in the wake of the event) would meet regularly, in space she’ll make available at her school.
There might be some danger of frustration, in the short run, as people on fire with ideas they generated at the summit want something to happen right away. But anyone who feels that way should be encouraged to start work immediately, even on their own. (More in my next post on what they could start work doing.) And with any luck, they’ll find that the framework to be evolved will make their ideas and enthusiasm even stronger.
As I said, I don’t know of anything so ambitious — and grounded — being tried anywhere else, certainly not nationally or regionally in the US. Though I’d be happy to be wrong about this. Please tell me, if something comparable has happened elsewhere.
More in future posts about what happened, and about my other meetings. But you might want to go to the summit website, and scroll down to look at the preparatory documents offered to participants. I’ve never seen such a comprehensive and useful set of materials in advance of any conference. In fact, I’ve never seen anything that even came remotely close. Props for Dick Letts, who chose the reading (and whose personal hospitality to me warmed my heart).