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Music school chief told to take leave

Prof Adrian Walter
THE head of the ANU School of  Music, Prof Adrian Walter, has been instructed to take leave forthwith and to consider his options very carefully, staff members from the school have told “CityNews”.

However the ANU has denied that Prof Walter was “instructed” to take leave or to “consider his options”.

“Prof Walter has been under a very considerable quantity of pressure in recent days and months. He has taken leave, with the support of the University,” an ANU spokeswoman said.

According to School of Music staff, the instructions from the ANU came at 5pm yesterday and followed a day of waiting after an early morning letter from Prof Walter to the Chancery in which he expressed his preference to take leave because it had become difficult for him to work with the university over the issue of sackings and restructurings.

It is understood that the university has indicated to the professor that his return to work would be contingent upon his agreeing to implement the changes announced last week that will see all professional and general staff stood down and their positions re-advertised.

Staffers, including some who had previously been critical of Prof Walter’s apparent endorsement of the ANU’s cuts, suggested that now, far from having been “the bad guy”, he was in fact “the good guy”, who had bent over backwards to accommodate the University, purely in order to save the school.

“If it hadn’t been for Adrian,” one lecturer said, “there mightn’t even be a school of music this week.”

Prof Walter has declined to take phone calls.

The ANU spokeswoman said the decision to take leave was made following a cordial meeting between university officers and the professor.

Today’s events come at the end of a week of heightened tensions in the music community. Before a Canberra Symphony Orchestra concert at Llewellyn Hall this evening, the CSO Chairman, Prof Deane Terrell, urged those present to get involved either by addressing a letter directly to the Chancery or by subscribing to a petition that has already seen more than 8000 Canberrans protest the university’s treatment of music studies.

In a rare show of bipartisan support, both sides of the house in the ACT Legislative Assembly supported a motion by opposition arts spokesperson, Vicki Dunne, expressing support for the School of Music and recognition of its contribution to the Canberra community as well as the local, national and international music industries.


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6 Responses to Music school chief told to take leave

Jaakko Kuusisto says: May 10, 2012 at 6:22 pm

The fundamental requirement behind learning to play an instrument at the highest level is to focus your time and mind on that particular instrument. The hours of practice required are such that dividing your time between a number of musical genres or instruments simply does not add up. It never has, and it never will. It has to be understood that in the world of professional music-making, there is very little room for individuals who play a large number of instruments at a mediocre artistic level. If you play the violin very well, you will find work. If you play the piano very well, you will find work, etc. If you play violin, bagpipe, accordion, and clarinet, and none of them extremely well, after not having taken the time to learn any of them properly – where will you work?

Also, it apparently needs to be pointed out – once again – that one-on-one instruction is the key element in music education. Teachers don’t just pass on their technical instructions and musical thoughts, but a whole array of history and culture. This requires time, and attention. There simply is no substitute for it, and to think otherwise is to cheat yourself. Of course it is an expensive way to educate people. But for music, there is no alternative.

John Ma says: May 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm

One of the primary reasons given in support of the voucher system, as opposed to the focussed one-on-one system that is currently in place is that it would give the student a greater variety of choice in which teachers to have lessons from. As I will address later on, this reason is a red herring and based upon faulty assumptions, however, let us proceed with the assumption that this particular argument stands on firm foundations.

The learning of a musical instrument is a study that is comparable to a old trade profession. The study is still loosely based upon a Master/Apprentice model, and this model is a complete package of learning over a number of years (ideally the number of years is flexible, depending on the progress of learning). The choice of which Master to learn from is a one that you take seriously at the beginning of your course, as it is this person who will guide and shape your development throughout your developing years. It is a slow and long term process that should not be subjected to the whim of a moment, as sometimes a difficult period is neccessary in order to learn deeper understanding (both musically and technically). However, if the relationship between the student and the teacher is not workiong, then the student is always free to leave and seek a new teacher, and thus the concept of choice is still available at all times.
The idea of a voucher system for lessons can be compared to a voucher system for books or compositions. The idea that instead of buying into a complete system or package, that you would pay the author or composer only for a single page at a time and that perhaps your might ask someone else to write every second page or even someone different to write every different page is completely ludicrous. It would also be ludicrous to suggest that any other course in the university have each individual lecture be delivered by a different lecturer of each individual student’s choosing.

However, I have been generous so far. The principal advantage that the voucher system purports to hold over the existing system is the illusion of choice. As alluded to perviously, the idea of choice is an advantage, however, it comes at the cost of breaking the concept of sustained and foccussed learning if this choice is excercised constantly. If the choice is not excercised constantly, then you have the same existing system udner a different name.
But more importantly, the arguement is based upon the fallacy that there is currently NO ability to gain lessons from different teachers. I know from experience that this is not try, during my time at the CSM, I had one main teacher for Violin, a second teacher for my minor topic in Viola and in addition, I was always free to have lessons from anyone in the faculty without paying extra fees (the advantage of salaried teachers, rather than clock-in, clock out teaching). And, if this was not flexible enough, I was able to receive lessons from visiting teachers and masters (without extra charge), and if I wanted to cover the lesson fee I was able to study lessons with teachers with no formal connection to the School both within Australia and overseas. If this is not a surfeit of choice then I am not sure what would qualify as choice, and all of this was in ADDITION to a long-term sustained and foccussed one-on-one apprenticeship with my chosen teacher.

The idea that face to face teaching could be replaced by video-conferencing and such technologies is not really viable. First of all, after living overseas for a while, I can attest to the fact that Australian internet speed is a joke, and to run video lessons (with such a high bandwidth required for quality video and audito, in addition to the procurement costs of such a setup for multiple students) on a regular basis to the rest of the world is just a pipe-dream. But more importantly, during the early years of a Bachelor (apprentice) degree, a teacher needs to make physical contact with the student to assist in the development of technique. Something that can be done with a few minutes of physical contact and explaination would require hours of talking and would still result in misunderstanding. This is not really an economical use of time and resources.

Gill says: May 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm

John’s last point is very important and has largely been missed in the wider discussion: music performance is a physical activity and requires teaching that is literally hands-on in order to learn and improve.

Kirsten Anker says: May 11, 2012 at 7:49 am

Why do you want to get credit for activities outside of the course? So you can get by with less work? Students already get involved with activities outside of the course – part of the fuss is about how those community activities will suffer from this decision – because with music, more is always better and people aren’t doing this course just to pass but because they want to become better musicians. So currently people WILL engage with community groups AND rehearse for hours – as you remark. They will do it for experience in the real world – and the other reasons you mention. But they do it to supplement the work that is done during the degree and not in place of it.
And in my book, anyone who uses “dynamic” 3 times in 2 paragraphs is either quoting from a script or hiding their lack of content behind trendy language.


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