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Death knell sounds for music school

Date

Jenna Cave

Since the announcement of the restructuring of the Bachelor of Music course at the ANU School of Music, my Facebook news feed has been filled with posts on the topic. One former student, Jack Beeche, now a professional musician living in Melbourne, summed up what most of us ex-students are feeling when he wrote, ''We wouldn't be who we are or where we are without this school''.

My peers from my time as a tertiary and pre-tertiary high school student at the school of music have achieved some amazing things. Various trailblazers on the Australian jazz scene spring to mind: guitarist Ben Hauptmann (winner of the 2010 Freedman Fellowship); pianist Marc Hannaford, bass player Leigh Barker and outstanding vocalist Gian Slater (a former pre-tertiary student); classical musicians such as flautist Lina Andonovska and guitarist Harold Gretton have made their mark internationally; former classmate, pianist Michael Azzopardi, is touring Australia and NZ as a Musical Director of Jersey Boys … just to name a few.

I completed my BMus at the school in 2006, and earlier, while in years 11 and 12 at Narrabundah College, I undertook the pre-tertiary jazz course, studying with some of the best musicians in the country from the age of 16 including Eric Ajaye (former bass player in the Freddie Hubbard Quartet and Barry White's band) and saxophonist John Mackey.

Personally, there is no way I would be doing what I'm doing now - carving out a career as a composer - without the fantastic music school and world-class jazz faculty headed by guitarist Mike Price. I had the privilege of studying jazz composition one-on-one for three years with Miroslav Bukovsky, an inspirational teacher both in composition and trumpet, and an outstanding musician. No amount of group lessons or trans-world links by internet can possibly measure up to this kind of personal mentorship and education.

There is absolutely no doubt that the ''restructuring'' of the BMus course, particularly with the reduction in one-on-one tuition and the loss of many of its teaching staff, is going to lower the standard of musical training at the school. There will be one less excellent music institution to train and foster the talent of the next generation of Australian musicians, which is a loss for us all.

At ANU, I found a progressive and flexible school which catered to the individual strengths of its students, and in doing so making a genuine contribution to the quality of music in our local and national communities. On a local scale, what is this going to mean for the young musicians of Canberra? When I was there the jazz course attracted students from all over, and about 50 per cent of them were from Canberra.

If that school had not been there in our community I doubt that I would have imagined that studying to become a professional musician was a possibility. Not to mention the fact that my first saxophone teacher, when I was 11 years old, was a top student at the school - Con Campbell, a winner of the James Morrison award.

For Canberra high school students who may still have the opportunity to prepare for a tertiary education in music without a top class facility in their town, how many will be able to afford to travel interstate to attend other music institutions?

Despite its academic successes and Nobel prizes, the ANU struggled for many years to find its place as a contributing participant in the local community. Music has perhaps been its most successful link.

The miracle is that the ANU School of Music has been able to produce such excellence for so long with so few resources. It was cut to the bone a long time ago.

With the further blows announced this week, the only way forward is mediocrity at best. This is a sad reflection on the attitude towards music education from a university that prides itself on its international reputation.

Jenna Cave is a jazz and film composer whose works have been commissioned and performed by ensembles around Australia. In 2006 she was awarded the Peter and Lena Karmel Anniversary Award and the Bernhard Neumann Memorial Prize for the most outstanding graduate of the ANU School of Music.

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