It’s a bond that’s shared across Canberra’s homegrown music scene, from teachers and orchestra stars to administrators and band members.
They almost all did the 'H Course', a prestigious music program for Year 11 and 12 students run by the Australian National University’s School of Music and funded by the ACT government.
But now, to the bewilderment of many of its alumni, the course is being discontinued after 2019, as the ACT government looks to disperse funding for music programs beyond just high schools.
The decision, announced in February, came as part of a a new three-year funding agreement for the ANU’s Community Outreach Program, designed to “provide significant opportunities for all members of the Canberra community to engage with the School of Music and the ANU School of Art and Design”.
But for those who have had anything to do with the course during its 35-year run, the decision marks the end of a priceless opportunity for pre-uni students to kick-start their musical careers, get an early taste of university life and, above all, be exposed to the kind of rigorous training required for professional musicians.
Year 12 student at Dickson College Ella Tinney, who is currently completing the course with a specialisation in drumming, said she was disappointed to think younger students wouldn’t get the same opportunities.
“It's been around for so long, my parents actually did it,” she said, adding that her mother is a singer and her father plays the bass.
She attended a musical protest outside the Legislative Assembly offices in Civic on Wednesday, in a bid to convince Arts Minister Gordon Ramsey to reverse the decision.
An electronic petition asking for the funding to be restored, sponsored by Greens MLA Caroline le Couteur and sent out on Monday, had already received almost 600 signatures by the time of the protest.
A spokeswoman from the ANU said while the decision to defund the program, which had cost the ACT government around $275,000 a year, was disappointing, the university welcomed the ACT government’s “commitment to enhancing Canberra’s cultural sector”.
“We’re disappointed we won’t be able to continue delivering this fantastic program, but ANU has a world-leading tertiary music program, and ACT high school students are able to enhance their music education through the ANU Music Development Program,” she said.
ArtsACT will also be funding several new programs, including Girls Rock and Girls Jazz, both aimed at young girls, Community School of Rock, for all members of the community, and My Song, a mentorship program for Aboriginal youth.
But several H Course graduates pointed out that none of these were likely to emphasise the one-on-one tutoring that was so important for aspiring musicians.
Former H Course and School of Music student Mark Levers said he wouldn't be making a living from music, both playing and tutoring, if he hadn’t done the course back in 2007.
“When I heard that the government has defunded this program, I felt like someone in my family had passed away,” he said.
“I had been recently encouraging some of my more advanced teenage students to consider furthering their studies at this exact course, and now I have to tell them otherwise.
"It infuriates me that, yet again, music education and opportunities seem to be treated as a cultural outlier.”
Award-winning Canberra conductor Leonard Weiss, who completed the course in 2010 while a student at Canberra Grammar and now teaches H Course students in classical music, said the course had always attracted promising young musicians who often went on to illustrious careers.
“Looking back at my peers who went through the course with me, I know many of them are now overseas professionally, or who are working either in Canberra or interstate teaching music to a very high level. It definitely sets you up with a very essential skill set,” he said.
“It also puts us on par with other states and territories which have more selective music programs and special music colleges.”
A spokeswoman from ArtsACT said the new funding structure was “intended to provide broad access to all members of the community to musical opportunities”.
“The subsequent revisiting of the entire suite of ANU Community Outreach programs has resulted in a range of new music activities which have better reach into the wider community, including those experiencing financial disadvantage,” she said.
Mr Ramsey did not appear at the protest as he was away at a conference. ArtsACT declined to comment on whether the decision could be reversed.