You are here
Platform Paper 38
Tertiary music education is commonly understood to be about preparing students for a career as a performer. This conception fails to address fundamental shifts in the ways most of us now encounter music in our lives; nor does it acknowledge the diminishing funding base that supports traditional modes of performance teaching. So argues Peter Tregear, who in July 2012 was appointed to lead a major reform of the School of Music at the Australian National University amidst intense public debate. As a result, music faculties in Australia have arrived at a point of crisis without a clear sense of how to move beyond it, aside from demanding more funding from an already stressed university system and public purse. Instead, the core problem faced by such schools, Tregear suggests, is not financial, but ethical. His response at ANU has been not to undermine the need to teach students core competencies, nor to undervalue performance excellence per se, but to change the emphasis on what the ultimate purpose of that commitment to excellence should be. The case must start, he argues, with traditional conservatories finally reconciling themselves to their host universities and participating in the broader mission of sustaining civil society.
You must be logged in to read this full article. Please click here to sign in or join the Currency House website
We are not selling new subscriptions at this time.
Please purchase hard copies through Currency Press.
To view online copies, please login. Online copies are not downloadable and are only viewable online.
Tertiary music education in Australia is in crisis. Indeed it has been for some time—so much so that this seems a rather prosaic observation.1 Since returning to Australia in 2006, I have witnessed problems of often existential proportion emerge in several of our major tertiary-level teaching institutions.
Dr Michael Hooper is an ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Music at the University of New South Wales.
Peter Tregear opens his paper with an overarching claim: 'Music education in Australia is in crisis'. And whilst I recognise some of the problems that he cites, the extent to which one identifies these problems as crises depends on the degree to which they are a structural part of either the sector or a particular institution.
Tregear isolates some of the shared problems, many of which are a result of the flexibility in the Australian (para) academic situation: of the necessary flexibility that comes from few non-government sources of funding for music; of the few stabilizing organizations (a role elsewhere performed by orchestras, opera companies, festivals, and publishers, for example). Both are indicative of a widely-shared appetite for change that takes little notice of past practice. The era is one of fewer risks and more distributed approaches to mitigate the impacts of change.
Understandably, much of what Tregear writes is about the changes that he has made at ANU. His paper presents a vision of broad education, of online learning across old boundaries, highly networked environments and self-directed learning. It also continues to support one-to-one teaching, specialist knowledge delivered in personal response to student abilities and interests. One-to-one lessons have recently been a site of considerable discussion internationally and Tregear repeats some of these criticisms. There remains no solid foundation for a better approach (which is why it is still offered at ANU). One-to-one teaching is still the best way of achieving high standards of performance, and since Australia has an ongoing need for accomplished performers, its teaching ought to remain a vital part of the process. Since there is no perfect education method, understanding an approach's weaknesses makes an approach more, not less, useful.
The limit of Tregear's vision, or perhaps of ANU's situation, is that it is focussed on performance students, and neither composition nor musicology figure in the argument. Both have flourished in Australian universities in recent past decades. Ignoring these aspects tends to isolate 'the performance student,' when many students move fluidly across disciplines, especially as undergraduates.
In Australia almost all the (historically) performance-focussed conservatoires now operate within a university system (this took place at ANU well before the most current undergraduates were born). Given that the vestiges of Australia's conservatoires are on a trajectory of further integration within their universities, it is difficult to make international comparisons, and it is important to recognise that most of the world's best known conservatoires are in major international cities with thriving musical scenes. They employ instrumental teachers who prize part-time, flexible teaching because this helps them maintain busy performing careers. Similarly, since one learns performance by performing, ideally students are based in a locality with opportunities to perform. Ernest Llewellyn's idea of the Canberra School of Music as an Australian Juilliard was always going to be difficult to achieve without bringing New York, too.
One of the challenges for Australia is sustaining various institutions that all offer broad programs that are more-or-less populated by students who are in their home city. Too few 18-year olds move state to learn from a particular teacher, or to pursue a particular avenue of research. This problem is amplified in Canberra, which has fewer local students on which to draw, and fewer resident professional musicians to teach performance.
One of the big differences between Australia and elsewhere is the degree to which institutions are differentiated according to their particular expertise. The UK's conservatoires, for example, each have well-known specialities. And with almost all students travelling away from home to attend these institutions (indeed, throughout Europe) there is real choice about which institution one attends. The institutions work hard to differentiate themselves from others.
Tregear makes a solid case for providing those who might not become busy professional performers with a wealth of knowledge through a model that privileges intensive performance studies. There remain a good many who enter tertiary programs without delusion and for whom a specific degree need not be instrumental in securing employment. I would also suggest that there is an ethical duty to provide a rich environment for students without predetermining their career paths.
Tregear concludes with a list of suggestions for intra-institutional structural reform. I recognise many of the desirable outcomes from my own institution, such as making possible double-degrees with a wide range of disciplines.
Other items on the list make me more nervous, particularly the suggestion that 'all music schools should embrace philanthropy […] both as insurance against further reductions in government funding in higher education, and as one powerful benchmark tool against which to measure their effectiveness in promoting their ideas and ideals to society.' (57-8) What makes me nervous is the idea of giving philanthropists-those with the financial clout-a guiding role in benchmarking ideas and ideals. What philanthropy can provide is funding for more meeting places between performers and audiences, and there is still a need for building recital halls, funding ensembles and (perhaps most of all) subsidising ticket prices. The latter is needed to combat the growing association between wealth and particular art forms.
Tregear advocates a moderate path, blending ideas from various places. It may be that the technological changes that he has outlined are more radical than they currently seem, are less instrumental, and more able to mediate against long established patterns.
If there is something approaching a crisis in 'Music education in Australia' then larger structural questions about music education remain, and the degree to which institutions specialise needs to be carefully addressed.
Mezzo-soprano Angela Giblin has performed as an opera and concert soloist in Australia, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and other countries. She was on the staff of the Canberra (now ANU) School of Music from 1996 until 2004, when she resigned as Senior Lecturer and Head of Voice.
Professor Peter Tregear in his essay, Enlightenment or Entitlement: Rethinking tertiary music education, attempts to rationalise the ANU's 2012 decision made on economic grounds to cease funding the ANU's School of Music as a performance teaching institution. Now it has become essentially a musicology department. The performance teaching staff was replaced by about 15 academics whose primary field is musicology, that is, academic teaching and research. These academic staff may or may not have had professional music performance training and experience. The gap in professional training is supposed to be filled by students taking what are essentially outsourced private lessons from 'Performance Teaching Fellows' (PTFs).
In attempting to justify this situation Tregear makes the tenuous claim that it is a better way of training musicians than the former model. Essentially, he has two arguments. Firstly, he focusses on problems within the traditional conservatorium model, which to varying degrees require attention; secondly, he makes fanciful claims for the model he is putting in place at the ANU.
Tregear states that he has sought out colleagues to ask their opinion on one-on-one teaching using William Perry's Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development, and that their answer has 'invariably' been that, 'There are right/wrong answers, engraved on golden tablets in the sky, known to the authorities.' But these colleagues are neither named nor quoted, so Tregear's readers are unable to assess the validity of his point. The quotation implies that all current practising music teachers (ie one-on-one teachers) hold this view and thus must be breathtakingly arrogant. This is extraordinarily and gratuitously insulting, and all the more so because it is not based on evidence. The implication is a gross distortion which suggests that Tregear is out of touch with practising music performance teachers. Only the most appallingly incompetent music teacher would teach in the manner Tregear describes.
I have never met any classical musician who did not receive one-on-one teaching at some point, most commonly during the formative years. Nor do I know of any good classical musician who has not received competent, excellent one-on-one teaching. High-quality one-on-one teaching is an essential component for many, or even most, competent musicians, for sound pedagogical reasons which have nothing to do with a sense of entitlement by music teachers. The essential truth which Tregear does not acknowledge is that one-on-one and group teaching are complementary, not alternative.
Peter Tregear argues that the occurrence of abusive practices, such as the authoritarian behaviour of some one-on-one teachers in relation to students, and some cases of sexual abuse or harrassment of students, delegitimises one-on-one teaching per se. I suggest that better management procedures would be preferable. Abuses of power such as those previously cited do not occur only in conservatoriums. Recent abuses reported in the press have occurred during the training of apprentices, and also in primary and secondary schools, and even in charitable organisations. The best antidotes to these abuses are a strong code of ethics, excellent management, effective sexual harrassment policies and rigorous hiring procedures.
It appears that Tregear is trying to discredit and deny any validity in one-on-one teaching. It is therefore highly ironic that he simultaneously leads an institution in which one-on-one teaching is promoted and practised in an arm's length model, in which the ANU has no contractual relationship with performance teaching staff at all, no legal liability-and no quality control. But extraordinarily, the SoM's website prominently promotes opportunities for one-on-one teaching on its home page.
Turning to Tregear's assertion that tertiary music school staff hold a 'defensive position of entitlement', what is his evidence? A career in music is inherently risky in most countries I know, and there is almost never security of employment. The working lives of most musicians are a kaleidoscope of a thousand different gigs. You are only as good as your last performance. The only predictable employment for classical musicians in Australia exists in certain orchestras, in certain positions, and in those positions in the Opera Australia chorus which are full-time. Most musicians take the inherent insecurity of their musical lives as a given. Thus the musician who is convinced that she/ he is entitled to a job is most unusual. Except for a few specific performance organisations, some of the most secure employment in music in Australia is in university music departments and conservatoriums, but only for those in full-time positions.
In 2012 there was an intensive public debate about the changes to the ANU School of Music executed by Vice-Chancellor Ian Young. A few SoM staff participated in this, but the majority came from the wider musical community, ANU music students, and those from disciplines other than music. It is quite implausible that the Canberra community outside the SoM should feel a position of entitlement. On the contrary, most musicians, including tertiary music school staff, have experienced the intrinsic insecurity of a musician's life and many experience nothing but that. So Tregear's implication that the then SoM performance staff was protesting from a 'sense of entitlement' is simply misleading.
Tregear comments on the ANU School of Music's 'uncomfortable proximity to the rest of the ANU' in the past, and then states that the SoM is now 'comfortable playing a full part' in the ANU. This amounts to a rather breathtaking re-write of the history of the School, which was originally not a part of the ANU at all. It was absorbed into the ANU in a process beginning in 1992 with the Dawkins reforms, and completed in 2004. Tregear thus airbrushes out the indisputable and nationally recognised success of the School, first as an independent, and then as a semi-autonomous teaching institution, under the fine and widely-respected leadership of founding Director Ernest Llewellyn, and of subsequent Directors John Winther and John Painter. As to Tregear's proposition that the School now shares the common goals of the university, he does not articulate these goals, or what part of them may be held in common with a music school.
However one defines these common goals, the primary goal for a musician is to learn the skills necessary to the playing of their instrument. There are many other subsidiary goals, but this primary goal is the essential one. Research, advocacy, and entrepreneurship are all useful, and many musicians develop abilities in these areas. But they are not essential. The definition of 'research' has been a topic of endless discussion in Australia's university-integrated conservatoriums, and there has often been no clear resolution as to how research applies to the practice of music. This causes great confusion in Australian tertiary performance music curriculum design, which is often not focussed enough on the goal of performance music education.
The critical research of the musician is to study the musical work, and the outcome of the research is the performance, not an academic paper.
Tregear cites 'expressions of hostility from musicians towards the advent of research', (presumably meaning traditional academic-style research), but gives no instances of the same. Research is not an essential part of being a musician: some musicians are also scholars, but not all. In the history of music, there have been many great musicians who were not scholars. For many or most musicians, both during training and career, the best working hours of the day are required for performance-related work.
The public debate in 2012 about the SoM really expressed the community's sorrow and anger at losing the core of a once productive institution, which trained many wonderful musicians and composers both in jazz and classical music, as well as teachers in schools and private studios, and recording technicians and engineers, community musicians, etc. The SoM supported music education and performance and gave the music lovers of Canberra inspiring performances over many years, making a vital contribution to the capital's cultural life. The celebrated US writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag once wrote that 'high culture is being liquidated' but she remained loyal to Western culture because 'it's still what we have'. I would argue that in the contemporary context, her position has become more rather than less significant. It is disturbing that Peter Tregear seems willing to abandon structures and practices that support and develop our understanding of our cultural traditions, and with arguments that are often based on selective amnesia, on half-truths, or that are unsupported assertions.
Peter Tregear's conclusions are not supported by his arguments. It would be tragic for Australian music if his paper were to be used as a basis for further cutting the various conservatoriums now located within universities. Far from music teachers having some sort of unjustified 'entitlement', their work is essential to our musical and cultural development.
Professor Tregear responds:
I should say at the outset that I have never met Ms Giblin, nor, I note, has she chosen, as many others in the local community have profitably done, to talk through her concerns with the School since I arrived in Canberra in August 2012. I would have welcomed such an opportunity, and indeed still would.
Certainly, I could have quickly disabused her of numerous misconceptions asserted around the time of the announcements of the changes at ANU, many of which she also repeats here. The most egregious of these for me is the apparently (for her) damning claim that the ANU has 'become essentially a musicology department'. Not only would I reject the implication that the academic discipline of music is antagonistic towards the otherwise pure and true art of music performance (which must somehow be outside the realm of the intellect, one supposes) it also ignores the truly world-class performance careers that many of the new staff at the School have. But most of all, to repeat the key point I make in the paper itself-such an attitude is ruinous for the long-term future of music-making (and especially classical music making) in this country. As was lamented in the most recent issue of the BBC Classical Music magazine, music has largely 'slipped off the agenda' of our public life because there are no longer articulate advocates making the case for it in the broader community. If our University music schools are not going to promote this kind of advocacy, then who will?
A good university education also requires an author to be accountable for what she or he says. Thus, although, we may have to agree to disagree about particular interpretations on events, Ms Giblin can be assured that the conclusions I draw are strongly supported by evidence. She need not take my word for it, she need only follow the trail of footnotes I leave through the course of the paper.
Ms Giblin accuses me of an 'extraordinary' and 'gratuitously insulting' attack on one-to-one teaching, one moreover that is 'not based on evidence'. In fact I unambiguously state in the paper that '[a]ny of us who have been privileged to have such music tuition provided to us as a child will recognise the educative value and power of the mentor-protégé relationship.' Indeed, at its best 'it cannot be bettered', and that's why we offer at ANU more one-to-one teaching than any other comparable institution in the country. But, and it is an important 'but', I also quote evidence and professional opinion from prominent musicians arguing that the traditional culture that has supported one-to-one teaching needs urgent reform. Given the seriousness and systemic nature of the problems they raise, I find it hard to think why this should be a lonely or controversial opinion to hold.
Thus the ANU School of Music has instituted changes that help ensure students are much less at risk to the kinds of financial, pedagogical, or emotional abuse of the kind that has been reported. Sure such an arrangement may at the same time not be not so securely lucrative for the teacher, but it is without doubt a much better system for the student, and I-for one-make no apology for resolutely putting the student's interest first.
As for the School's relationship to the University, as Ms Giblin points out, the School was absorbed into the ANU from 1992 But that was almost a quarter of a century ago. By any reasonable standard, that was more than enough time for the School to have substantially reoriented its organisational culture and its sense of corporate responsibility to this new reality. But it did not do so, and-after four major reviews over the past decade-the University understandably lost its patience. Thus I fear it is not I who am attempting a 'rather breathtaking re-write of the history of the School'.
Lest there be any doubt, tenured tertiary music staff members, as they were before 2012, represented one of the most privileged, well paid, and securely employed cohorts in the arts. Having experienced first-hand the general response when this privilege came under reasonable questioning, I remain comfortable with the observation that a 'position of entitlement' was apparent. Indeed, as I note, while there were many prepared to defend the status quo in 2012, there were very few prepared to open their wallets and help pay for it.
I would agree with Ms Giblin that 'music teachers' work is essential to the musical and cultural development of Australia. In turn I would ask that this be not merely asserted by those who benefit materially by it, or placed above legitimate criticism or reform. but instead be robustly and honestly justified to the broader community. It is, after all, the community's money we're spending.
Finally, I underline the point I make in my paper that the underlying problems are not unique to Canberra. A quick search will reveal to anyone who cares to look that they indeed pertain to conservatoires and schools of music across Australia and overseas. I can also assure Ms Giblin that I did not come to Canberra or to the ANU to be, or become, a soulless bureaucratic factotum to further an 'economically rational' attack on tertiary music education. I came here because-like her, no doubt-I love and care deeply about music, and about Australia's musical future. I simply chose not to join the chorus of Hanrahans that circled the School in 2012, but instead helped secure its future and restore to due prominence an institution of national standing that deserves to be so regarded. As at May 2014, I can write with assuredness that this goal is being achieved and invite Ms Giblin to be a part of it.