Metaphor for music school’s troubled times

Share Canberra's trusted news:

THE powerfully conflicted music of Dmitri Shostakovich’s cello concerto, played by School of Music graduate Julian Smiles and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra last night, seemed the perfect metaphor for troubled times. 

Exit for violist Tor Fromhyr
For visible on stage at the concert were faces unlikely to be seen in Canberra for  much longer.

Already long gone from the ANU School of Music as full-time staff, but still playing for the CSO, were concertmaster Barbara Jane Gilby (violin/viola), Richard McIntyre (bassoon) and Max McBride (bass).

As well, there were staff who had recently taken the package, unable to compromise with the new structure proposed by the ANU since May – Susanne Powell (piano), Megan Billing (oboe), Virginia Taylor (flute) and Alan Vivian (clarinet.)

As if that weren’t bad enough, news had come to hand only hours before the concert that the distinguished violinist and violist, Tor Fromhyr, was one of five staffers who for professional and personal reasons (some have young families) wanted to be a part of the new structure, but whose applications were rejected yesterday by the school.

You began to wonder who will be left to perform, especially when it emerges that among the five to go were also Alice Giles (harp) and her pianist husband Arnan Wiesel.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the list of departures looks like a Who’s Who of Australian music (see below).

In fact the only classical performer left on staff was the all-purpose percussionist and enthusiast Gary France.

“CityNews” has been told that jazz saxophonist John Mackey remains, as well as educationist Susan West.

Among the names on yesterday’s list that have raised eyebrows are those of Ruth Lee Martin and Jonathan Powles, both lecturers in (theory/history).

Both have doctorates, contradicting the view that the ANU would accept staffers with Ph.Ds. Both, in differing degrees, supported changes to the music curriculum, though Lee Martin toned down her original reactions to the proposals made by the University.

Powles is a different case altogether. As chair of the Education Committee, he was deeply involved in planning the new curriculum and in June he argued at length in “The Canberra Times” that changes were needed to make the school less elitist, saying that the issue was “one of relevance”. He is widely regarded (including my members of the ANU Choral Society, which he conducts) as the architect of the changes which have now seen him rejected.

Last night Dr Powles was tweeting and Facebooking, openly blaming vice-chancellor Ian Young and chancellor Gareth Evans for the destruction of music at the ANU. Powles says this been re-tweeted  by ABC “Media Watch’s”  Jonathan  Holmes, among others.

The classical exodus list from the ANU School of Music from 2008 on, is as follows:

2008: Staff let go – Richard McIntyre (bassoon), Deborah Crisp (history/theory), Max McBride (‘bass) David Pereira (‘cello) , Barbara Jane Gilby (violin/viola), David Nuttall (oboe), Tom Burge (trombone) Steve Rosse (tuba)

2012: Voluntarily departed after changes announced – Susanne Powell (piano), Geoffrey Lancaster (keyboard), Virginia Taylor (flute), Alan Vivian (clarinet, Megan Billing (oboe), Alan Hicks (vocal coach), Christina Wilson (voice) Louise Page (voice), Olle Palmquist (aural teacher), Alistair Noble (music history/theory), Dominic Harvey (French horn) and Stephen Bennett (voice),  Jim Cotter (composition).

2012: Staff prepared to be a part of the new structure but who have not been given a position – Arnan Wiesel, (piano) Tor Fromhyr (violin/viola), Jonathan Powles (theory/history), Ruth Lee Martin (theory/history), Alice Giles (harp).


Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleKaleen newsagent robbed at gunpoint
Next articleHow Simon sees the reel world
Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor


  1. Benedict Lea (1st "Australian taught" musician to have ever been accepted as a full time violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra)

    An abomination for the capital city of Australia. The people responsible for this asinine decision are obviously unaware that they will not last but art and music will. Canberra’s youth needs such masters to maintain what is a world class reputation for this most important of international languages. Those responsible will not succeed in their goal of trying to make music obsolete and they will be surprised by what happens next. These masters are indispensable and even if it means privatisation and private subsidy (the interest and money is there!) the vibrant music scene of Canberra will survive. Music has nothing at all to do with politics and the responsible people involved in this ridiculous shut down will be remembered but not in a good way. The teachers, however, are already world renown and will be revered for decades, possibly even centuries to come. They are responsible for keeping Australia on the international artistic map and will succeed in their goal to survive. The simple explanation for this is that it is impossible to kill an eternal force. I wish all the magnificent teachers the very best of luck in the rebuilding of an institution. For the people who have caused this (small) hiccup, I wish nothing……

  2. You are of course forgetting that whilst staff have not been employed as full time academic teaching staff (academic being the key word), there is nothing stopping them from being instrumental teachers under the PDA.
    Also, having a Ph.D. wasn’t a guarantee of a job placement – if they didn’t fulfil the other criteria set in the job description, why would they get the job?

  3. This is indeed a ‘Who’s Who’ of Australian music, and the demise of instrumental music at the ANU School of Music should be a cause for a national day of sadness.

  4. Though I am far removed from the war zone for want of a better term, my heart and best wishes go out to each and every one of you involved in this catastrophe. Hope will win in the end, I am sure!

  5. The only good news in this article is that John Mackey will stay, and that at least his genius will not be lost to either ANU or Canberra.

  6. Thanks Helen. I think a sober assessment of this must also include the lack of a strategy to fight by the NTEU, the union involved. This defeat at the School of Music I fear has given confidence to a victorious neoliberal Vice Chancellor to attack other areas of the university in the name of ‘savings’. The enterpsie agreement and the jobs of the 150 he mooted some time ago as being surplus to requirements because of a fake Budget ‘crisis’ will be under close scrutiny.

    • I disagree. The NTEU mounted a very effective campaign to preserve the entitlements of the staff of the SOM, and the outcomes are far better than they might otherwise have been. Course structure and curriculum change are not matters for the NTEU, but are the responsibility of the ANU Faculty of Arts

  7. What an absolute tragedy – not just for Canberra, but for Australia’s reputation internationally. This latest act of vandalism spells the end of the School of Music. Just confirms that Australia is a nation of football-loving hoons. I hope all those exceptionally talented musicians and teachers get snapped up by appreciative overseas musical institutions, as they deserve.

  8. Bravo Helen. You are a shining light for musicians in this city and one of the few people who is not afraid to say it as it is. What has occurred at the ANU music school is nothing short of barbarism and betrayal. The university may never regain what it has lost through this brutal and inept decision. Surpluses rise and fall – but reputations must be built over a long time and maintained. The ill effects of the destruction of music at the ANU may not be fully appreciated for some time yet.

Leave a Reply