Opinion: Bullying is ‘breathtaking’, says music teacher

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By LINDY REKSTEN, sessional teacher at the ANU School of Music teaching in the pre-tertiary area

I AM one of the cohort of sessional staff in the pre-tertiary and tertiary area who, according to ANU vice-chancellor Prof Ian Young, won’t be affected by his changes to the ANU School of Music.

It is true that I won’t be losing a full-time salaried position, but like all sessional staff members, my work and the future of young musicians in Canberra will be monumentally affected by the demise of a conservatorium model school of music.

The “Implementation Plan” announced by Prof Young is simply a reworded version of the proposal put to staff on May 3. Nothing has changed. Instrumental teaching is to be outsourced, leading to the departure from Canberra of many fine musicians. There will be nothing to attract high-quality instrumental teaching staff to Canberra in the future.

Despite the 700 submissions and 25,000 petition signatures, Prof Young and colleagues have simply gone ahead as planned. Contrary to the statement made by Prof Young about the minimal impact on the CSO and other music organisations in the ACT, those of us actually involved in music performance and teaching in the ACT know that the impact will be profound.

Could the outcome have been different?

Yes, it certainly could have. If Prof Young had chosen to meet School of Music performance staff, members of the business community and other interested parties six months ago to look at all possibilities in a spirit of co-operation. Rather than confrontation, we could have been well on the way to having a model for a sustainable music school.

There is no reason why a university style music department catering for non-performance students could not exist alongside a conservatorium. The will, imagination and the vision just have to be there. The lack of respect for the staff and students and the bullying method used by the ANU to implement these changes at the School of Music is breathtaking.


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  1. First let me make it clear that this is a personal opinion which in no way reflects the opinions of any music institution I may have worked for, or may currently work for.
    I can only second Lindy Reksten’s expression of concern over the effect the changes to music education at the ANU School of Music will have on the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in particular, and the wider music community in general.
    Prof Young’s focus is without doubt the creation of an academic music department and the elimination of the “conservatoire” model at the ANU. In order to achieve that, hightly qualified specialist staff will be replaced by, as yet unknown, generalist music educators and the emphasis of the new degrees will shift away from music practice to music research and administration.
    As for Prof Young’s reassurance that these changes will not effect the CSO, this does not reflect the true long-term scenario. Prospective tertiary music students who are serious about making the performance and/or teaching of music their career will go to whichever insitiution their preferred teacher is employed by and they will want a course that is practice and performance based, not one which is “academic”.
    Next year’s intake will be in the process of making their decisions now and, frankly, if I was in their position I would already have crossed the ANU off my list as being too unpredictable in both staffing and course content and, depending on the resolution of the current changes, this may hold true for several years.
    It is these serious performance students who, in their second or third year, make up the back desks of the string sections of the CSO and the second, third and/or fourth positions in wind, brass and percussion.
    If, with less focus on performance in the new model, these students do not reach a level of proficiency suitable to CSO audition requirements in their time at the School of Music, then one of two things will happen; either CSO’s standards will have to drop to accommodate these students, or the CSO will be forced to employ more “fly-in, fly-out” players to make up section numbers.
    Either way, this will effect the CSO’s ability to produce consistently good ensemble playing and may also have serious consequences for the orchestra’s bottom line.
    If you take into account the loss of current music staff who not only fill principal player positions with the orchestra but also devote extra curricula time to working with their senior students in order to help them prepare for CSO auditions and subsequent performance opportunities, then it must be clear to even the most limited intellect that the orcestra will be affected.
    This is of course, not Prof Young’s concern, but it is mine and I imagine some of the other 25,000 signatories on the petition against this course of action being implemented by the ANU.

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