Funding for the Australian National Academy of Music is being cut in an effort to move the private academy into Melbourne University. If trends continue as they are in other institutions, this is simply a way to erode elite music into oblivion. The cuts raise a much broader issue – to what extent can you take a practical craft like music, and fit it into a university structure?

It is tantamount to moving the Australian Institute of Sport into a university. It would be an uncomfortable fit at best. Arts schools that have amalgamated with universities are rapidly becoming defunct – dying from salami-sliced budgets while trying to bid for credibility in a language that academe cannot comprehend. What on earth makes Minister Garrett think that the same will not happen with an elite music school – at a time when conservatoriums across the country are cutting back staff, courses and students in an effort to survive. Ben Clapton makes the point that the amount currently given by the Government to the Australian Institute of Sport for one year would keep ANAM alive for 65 years at 2005 funding levels.

As with drama, circus, sport, fine arts or elite music the objective is to develop extraordinary skill in a particular activity. It doesn’t sit well in an institution based on publications or research. Skills-based training is about hours of practice in perfecting a skill – whether training the body to run fast, translate eye into hand into image or play a musical instrument extraordinarily well – these things cannot be achieved with a bit of cramming for an exam.

Academic training is philosophically more about answering questions than asking them – and this is the diametric opposite of what art institutions are about. The logic seems to fail at every level.

The net result will be that elite musicians will go overseas – probably to stay – and the quality of Australian musicianship will deteriorate – or we’ll have to spend much more to recruit our orchestral soloists from overseas, rather than grow our own.

Australia needs performance-based music institutions, not more paper factories.

Ok rant over…