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Australia completes the purge of classical music teaching from its national university

There was uproar five months ago when the vice-chancellor announced an end of classical teaching in Canberra. The former head of faculty high-tailed it off to Hong Kong, there were protests in Parliament and the university appeared to back down.

It didn’t, and it hasn’t. ANU’s (why do I place the apostrophe with such care?) musical hatchet man, Professor Ian Young, has got his way.

Here’s an exclusive report sent to Slipped Disc from inside the (former) School of Music. It goes some way further than local media reports.

The “Purge” of classical staff from the school was complete yesterday with the dismissal of the last three remaining teachers: Tor Fromhyr, harp teacher Alice Giles and Head of Keyboard Arnan Wiesel.

Of the 23 music staff in mid 2012 only 4 remain: 1 jazz sax player, 1 Jazz keyboard, 1 Jazz percussion and one musicologist. The irony of this is the Jazz course had been totally removed from the program and a ‘new’ curriculum has yet to be written.
Enrolments are expected to be down by 80% and the community of the national capital of Australia and musicians and educators around Australia are outraged. Personally I am shocked, completely devastated and totally bewildered by the finality of this brutal and unjustified action by those who can now only be considered cultural criminals who have betrayed the students, staff and community in which they pretend to exist.

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  1. Catherine Carby says:

    This is a real disgrace and a shame. The School of Music was once a place of excellence. Many students chose places there in preference to studying closer to home because of its excellent reputation, myself included. How it can now justify calling itself a “school of music” is beyond me. I do not understand the complete contempt and disregard which has been shown to music education in this instance.

  2. David Banney says:

    It should speak volumes to the ANU hierarchy that Norman Lebrecht has taken the time to address this issue. It is a national disgrace.

  3. Robyn Thurston says:

    Not only very sad, but a national disgrace! For what reasoning has this massacre of music pedagogy occurred??

  4. The dumbing down of the ANU has begun. It’s farcical and it’s pretty obvious that it’s a taster for the rest of the uni. I did a Visual Arts degree there in the late 90s. I don’t like the chances of the Canberra School of Art remaining unaffected over the next few years. It is interesting that all this has been justified by saying that they are making the School of Music courses more vocationally oriented. This dumbing down will just totally devalue the degrees of future students in the eyes of employers so that arguement just doesn’t make any sense. I doubt I’ll ever consider going back to the ANU to study again.

  5. “culture of criminals”!!

    Hilarious. You’ve actually made my day.

    I didn’t get around to absorbing any factual content that may have been present as I was too busy laughing. Nothing beats a good ‘sensationalized’ Friday news story.

    Are we sure that ‘Norman Lebrecht’ isn’t just a pseudonym of Andrew Bolt?

    • Tor Fromyhr says:

      Tim, your miss-quote is quite funny however unfortunately not so funny to the community, students and staff of ANUSoM. If it brings you some joy, miss-quote away. Accurate interpretation of music and text is something that was once taught at this institution.

  6. Rob Gladstones says:

    As a former Canberra School of Music student (82-85) it saddens me to see the systematic dismantling of what was one of the leading tertiary music institutions in Australia. Since universities have swallowed up the independent music schools the ignorance and lack of understanding displayed by the upper echelons of university faculties has been incredible. These people are academics. They try to run music schools like an economics department. A quote from a faculty meeting at a well respected Australian university… “Why do they need individual lessons? Why can’t they have a lecture like everybody else…….?”

    What saddens me more is the devastating effect it will have on the musical life of Canberra, Australia’s capital city. The availability of high standard teaching will be severely short. During my student days I and my fellow students taught many private students and passed our best students on to our teachers as ‘single studies’ scholarship and preparatory course (yr 11 & 12) enrolments. Many of these former students of CSM students are now respected professionals around the world.

    With the predicted drop in enrolments and the lack of full-time instrumental performance teachers at university level this leaves the teaching of instrumental music to amateur players with little or no high level performing skills. (I include music education majors here as they are mostly not of professional performing standard and usually only have 2 years of instrumental study post secondary school.)

    While there are many wonderful and very keen amateur musicians who will do their best to fill the void it will be to the detriment of any talented young musicians who will miss out on the training they will need to succeed. I see this as a sessional teacher at another institution. Many of the students that audition for entry have had less than good teaching and need much rehabilitation and retraining to reach their potential.

    The whole point of a tertiary music institution is to train the elite. It seems that the ANU doesn’t want that. Imagine if I fronted up to the Australian Institute of Sport wanting to be a 100m sprinter…. (I am somewhat portly (to put it politely) and unfit..) they would laugh at me. Why is it a negative to have an elite music training facility.

  7. “why do I place the apostrophe with such care?”

    To prevent further emanations from ANU’s administration?

  8. What a disgrace! Why are they pretending they have a music faculty at all? I am deeply, deeply grieved and my thoughts are with those staff and their families.

  9. Tim: nice misquote. The real quote was “cultural criminals”, I presume referring to the fact that they are against culture (in this case, music).

  10. Nathan Anderson says:

    Fact: The ANU has not been a leading music school in Australia for the last 10+ years. It scored a 3 out of 5 in the rankings of Australian music schools in 2011. It was one of the lowest ranked in the country. This ranking was given by major international experts.

    There needs to be less emotion and more consideration of the facts about Music at ANU.

    • Tor Fromyhr says:

      Before commenting, i will declare that I am one of the staff of this institution that has been displaced. Nathan, The ‘fact’ that you state so strongly is in fact totally incorrect. The 3 out of 5 is the rating the school received in ERA, an assessment of research and publications in areas of the academic community from medical research to environmental research. It is not a comparison of music schools. In fact most vocational music schools do not participate in ERA assessments. It is the rating that determines some of tge allocation of research funding. The 3 scored by ANUSoM was one of the highest of any music institution in the country. Such a high score for a vocational school was most unexpected and a feather in the cap of the school on a national basis. I can understand how this information can be easily misused or misinterpreted. May I suggest that you check facts before posting such inaccurate information.

  11. Whatever the issues regarding the tertairy study offered in music by ANU, the loser is the wider Canberra community.

    My involvement with the school began with brass, piano and musicianship study in the early seventies. At that time it was a small regional conservatorium, similar to those in Wollongong and Newcastle with a building in Manuka.

    With the expansion of the institution and the city came a move to a much larger building near the university The school began to draw the community in. Not only did they offer an excellent performing venue, but also encouraged community members to participate in choirs, orchestras and opera performances which could at the time were perceived to be by some as in direct competition with pre existing community organisations. It certainly established itself as a centre for the wider community, local orchestras and choirs.

    With the amalgamation of the School with the ANU, I believe the strong community ties continued through a very strong pre tertiary and single study program and the use of the performing space. The advantage of this is not just the single study of an instrument, but the ability to access a library, ensembles alongside the environment of busy music making.

    With the present changes, I presume that with the dismissal of the majority of the staff members, that the community has lost all this. This infrastructure is not easily replaced. Canberra would appear now to be well behind every other capital city and indeed many regional centres.

    I remember at the time hearing of the warnings of some community members about the potential risks involved in amalgamation with the university. I guess they have been proved right.

  12. Chris H. Smith says:

    I share most of the views expressed in these posts, but particularly the one by Nathan Anderson. Not knowing anything about music at ANU, it would be easy to get caught up in the emotional uproar and miss some of the facts of the situation. If the music school at ANU was not one of the best in Australia over the last several years then it is possible that closing it down is the right thing to do. Having said that, I feel that every effort should be made to keep it going. I suspect that this is not the situation in this case. It sounds as if this is another example of management making decisions that adversely affect musicians, similar to the situations with several orchestras in the United States that have folded or are dangerously close to folding. Of course there needs to be some business-like aspects to music-making, but when the business side takes over to the detriment of the music-making, the balance needs to be righted.

    • As far as I understand it, one of the major issues for the university is the comparative cost of educating a music student.

      It seems that many university administrators in Australia do not appreciate that a regular one to one lesson with a practical teacher is an essential part of training as a musician and are looking to construct different course models which exclude or minimise this component.

      As most of the all the Australian tertiary music schools were amalgamated with universities some years ago, they are all fighting this battle to some degree or other.

  13. So Sad to hear, but i guess this could happen anywhere. Idividual lessons by professional musicians will always be expensive but is essential to the development of the student.

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