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INXS songwriter Andrew Farriss composing at ANU

It is not every day your music class gets to play an iconic international rock ballad with the man who wrote it.

But Australian National University School of Music students Hugo Lee, Alec Brinsmead and Rosemarie Costi did just that when they played Never Tear us Apart with INXS songwriter and keyboardist Andrew Farriss.

"Never did I ever imagine my degree would include performing that song with Andrew Farriss. It's still kind of hard to believe," said Mr Lee.

The performance took place at the 50th anniversary of the ANU's HC Coombs Creative Arts Fellowship with Farriss named this year's Coombs fellow and undertaking a residence in Canberra to mentor and teach new generations of musicians.

Farriss admits he has never worked from a formal "office" before, but can now be found in an airy room off an upstairs corridor, with a window onto Civic, an Andy Warhol Velvet Underground poster pinned above his piano and Dave Brubeck on the stereo.

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While he was a little nervous prior to starting the year about the sort of value he could deliver to students through the fellowship, Farriss is now immersed in his new academic life.

And his students adore him.

"He's really approachable, he seems just like a normal guy and you almost forget who he is," said 21-year-old drummer Mr Brinsmead.

"Until he mentions that time he was hanging with the Rolling Stones, or playing with Ray Charles, and then it sinks in just what sort of an impact INXS actually had. Then it feels a little weird to be just hanging out with him."

For 21-year-old singer Rosemarie, watching Farriss compose and refine a song in front of her has had a profound impact on how she will approach her own songwriting.

"He was working on a song King and Thrones and he would play parts over and over again and you could see his mind ticking over as he analysed every single note. It made me look at my own methods and creation process," she said.

Acting head of school and former punk rocker turned music technology academic Dr Samantha Bennett said securing Farriss was not only a coup for the ANU, but signalled to the wider community that the School of Music was changing from a conservatorium to a music school with a strong focus on contemporary performance and production.

"Of course it's been really tough moving from having a high profile in the classical domain to forging a presence in pop and digital music and music technology. But in a sense it is a liberating experience because there is no precedent," Dr Bennett said.

A $250,000 grant to refit their recording studios and a number of high profile conferences on modern music will be rolled out later this year in line with the new aspirations.

Meanwhile, Dr Bennett is also preparing to "share Andrew Farriss with the community."

"We know there is huge interest in seeing him and, more to the point, hearing him."

A concert event is being scheduled for October 24, when Farriss and his young charges, will take the stage to play some original compositions.

His current trio is also keen for a shot at the magic of playing 'Never tear us apart' with him one more time.