Talks have stalled between the ACT government and the Australian National University over the future of a prestigious music extension program, with each institution pointing the finger at the other for a decision to pull funding by the end of the year.
For more than three decades, the "H Course" as it is now known has been offering about 60 Year 11 and 12 students a year free tuition and scholarship alongside professional musicians at the ANU's School of Music.
Canberra Symphony Orchestra clarinetist Eloise Fisher is one of a host of acclaimed musicians to credit the program with laying the foundations for their careers. Now, she is gearing up to teach its final semester, as government funding is redirected to community music programs beyond schools.
Education Minister Yvette Berry told an ACT inquiry on Tuesday that the music course was one of several extension programs delivered by the ANU through $120,000 in annual government funding and decisions about which subjects to offer rested with the university.
But the bulk of money for the music program, which like other models interstate includes ensemble work and weekly individual lessons, has long come from artsACT.
Arts Minister Gordan Ramsay said the call to axe that funding beyond 2019 was made because the money was never intended to supplement education costs. It hadn't been sprung on the ANU, he said - talks had begun in late 2016 to bring the music funding more into line with the intention of the grants.
[It would be] a complete breakdown in the ecosystem that produces these musicians.Eloise Fisher, Canberra Symphony Orchestra
While Ms Berry said the university had not requested more money from the education directorate, the ANU said it had told officials it needed $275,000 each year to make up the shortfall and had exhausted all other options.
The university has repeatedly resisted government suggestions to phase out one-on-one instruction, which, while expensive, is considered essential to elite practice.
Ms Berry said the government wanted to see the program continue but was still waiting on the university to send it a viable proposal.
On Tuesday, Dr Fisher called the axing of the course "short-sighted and misinformed".
She has joined a growing chorus of Canberra artists now warning the end of the program could be a circuit-breaker for the capital's music ecosystem, as less students access the elite training necessary to compete for conservatory places and join the discipline professionally.
"It's like polluting the river at its source," Dr Fisher said.
"In a generation, Canberra will not have sufficient musicians to teach [students]."
Dr Fisher noted that when the ANU's commitment to the School of Music plummeted, after brutal funding cuts in 2012, the amount of quality music teachers in the ACT fell to about a third of their former number and was only now beginning to recover.
"It will be the same but worse because there will be no way to get to that level anymore," she said.
The music hasn't stopped. This is not Footloose!Yvette Berry, Education Minister
While the ACT government had pointed to other general music programs running in schools, as well as the symphony's own work, as alternative pathways for students, Dr Fisher said that was akin to saying an elite athlete didn't need extra training because they already had a PE class.
She backed the new focus from artsACT on community music programs for people from minority groups or disadvantage, but stressed neither the symphony nor any other organisation in Canberra gave gifted students the training equivalent of the H Course.
The government said the number of students enrolled each year in the program, which requires an audition, was minimal. But teachers and musicians have told the inquiry the program is beloved for a reason - it links up students with Canberra's expert music community without the expense of running a separate junior conservatory program.
Of last year's 28 year 12 graduates, 13 were already enrolled in tertiary music studies, according to the ANU.
Once enrolled in the program herself, Dr Fisher recalling waking up at 5.30am each morning to sneak in three hours of practice before school.
Dedication and talent were essential, but music was also a discipline that required opportunities, she said. With the end of the program, musicians now warn there is a real danger less advantaged students could be priced out of the art.
Mr Ramsay said he didn't think the H Course's demise spelled doom for Canberra's music scene and the government had injected a record $10 million into the arts in this year's budget.