Requiem: drastic cuts to the ANU School of Music degree

Dispensing with one-on-one lessons in a music course is not unlike getting rid of the practical component in the training of a surgeon.

They say it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated work to become an expert. I would argue that many classical musicians bring this level of commitment to their craft before they even begin university studies. For the majority, studying music at university is an opportunity to refine skills, immerse oneself in rigorous practice schemes and transform from being “that kid who played music at school” to being a musician with creative vision, ideas and the skills to make a difference in the community.

Integral to this stage of developing a young musician’s career is their instrumental teacher - someone who provides inspiration, guidance, musical expertise and often an approach to performing that has been handed down from one generation to the next.


It was with great sadness that I read this morning on a flight from London about the severe cuts the Australian National University is making to its revered School of Music. Flying in the face of logic, a decision to remove one-on-one tuition seems to me to be taking away the most essential and important aspect of a classical musician’s training. It’s not unlike removing the practical component in the training of a surgeon. A decision of this magnitude sends a destructive message that we no longer value the study of classical music enough to invest in it for future Australian students.


My own cello teacher in Sydney, Georg Pedersen, had an enormous impact on my career, not just as a musician but as a mentor. He instilled in me an approach to performance that could be traced back through generations of cellists throughout Europe and the close contact I had with him is irreplaceable. The importance of one-on-one tuition for music students is undeniable and goes to the very fabric of the artform.


While I understand the inherent constraints and difficulties in trying to fit the study of music into a university-style curriculum, to conform to a "one style fits all” approach is taking away the individuality that is so incredibly important in music. With the one-on-one tuition and dedicated theory classes being cut, the Head of School, Professor Adrian Walter is offering so-called compensation in the form of a “professional development allowance” which can go towards external private lessons or, even less immediate, lessons via video conferencing. All this is somewhat inadequate, covering only half of the vital training a student would have received prior to these changes.


Lastly, I send my condolences to the staff and students of the School of Music. Not only does this decision send a strongly negative message about the university’s approach to classical music, but it undermines the efforts of those dedicated people who have enriched the faculty over the years. I have many fond memories spending time at the ANU School of Music as a member of the Australian Youth Orchestra and at various National Music Camps. Many of the finest Australian musicians who I admire, and in some cases am lucky enough to call my colleagues, received excellent training in Canberra from distinguished instrumental teachers. It’s disappointing that future generations may now not receive such opportunities in our nation's capital.

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Mathisha Panagoda
Mathisha Panagoda is a cellist and founder of the Sydney Camerata. A passionate chamber and orchestral musician, he loves to travel, put on concerts and look for interesting opportunities to collaborate with like-minded people. His experiences are diverse and this blog seeks to reflect his journey as a traveling cellist, chamber musician and concert enthusiast.
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