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Study Music in Australia

Australian Music Education

Chris Palmer Conservatorium of Music University of Newcastle

Australian music education is very healthy. Early this century, there were established both Conservatoria and University departments of Music devoted to the Western Art Music tradition. In 1989 the Australian Federal Government, the main funding-body for post-secondary education, required smaller tertiary education institutions to amalgamate with their larger counterparts. As Conservatoria were in the main relatively small, they were absorbed into the University culture.

This has brought change with new Faculties of Music being created and/or University Colleges of Music. What has not changed is the diversity and depth of music education available, in fact the amalgamation process has pro-  vided greater access to performance degrees and diplomas at recognised University standards for prospective students at both the undergraduate and post-graduate level.

There are 23 Conservatoria, Faculties, Colleges, Schools or Departments of Music in Australia into which prospec- tive students may aspire to enter. Most of these teaching institutions require their prospective students to audition prior to entry and audition standards are similar across all institutions.

As a guide for prospective students, the institutions recommend applicants to have certain pre-requisite musical knowledge and/or performance skills.

To assist prospective students gain this pre-requisite skill, there are three main methods:

1. Private music tuition

2. High School Music tuition (Year 12 Higher School Certificate )

3. Sit examinations set by the Austral- ian Music  Examination Board (AMEB)

The private music tuition referred to above is provided in the community by graduates of our music schools. Of course not all students of music see music as a career option and simply participate in music tuition as a cultural pursuit in itself. However, many if not most music students enrolled in Australian Universities took their first musical steps with the aid of a private music professional.

Music is also vigourously pursued at High School by many people. Music is highly regarded as a serious academic pursuit and is accorded the same credit as language, science, mathematics etc.

Many High School students continue with their private tuition and also are involved in bands or orchestras at schools and/or with sub-tertiary music education offered by our National Music Schools.

The AMEB is a national body recognised by professional musicians and music teachers as an appropriate body through which music students can be examined to confirm their musical skills. It carries out exams of both a practical and theoretical nature.

The AMEB has equivalence with the British Trinity College (London) sys- tem and Australian Universities use both sets of qualifications as appropriate pre-requisite guides for Students to determine their competitiveness in gaining a place in music degrees/diplomas at University level.

The higher AMEB and/or Trinity exams are usually attempted by University undergraduates during their training as professional musicians.

western Art Music is the main thrust of most institutions training. However, certain Departments and/or sections within the institutions are also deeply involved in ethnomusicology, particularly Australian Aboriginal music.

Musicology also has a strong tradition, particularly in some pre-amalgamated University Music Departments. It was the Conservatoria who were in the main associated with performance and composition, but the amalgamation of institutions (1989) has brought a merger of these two aspects of music not previously experienced. That is to say Conservatoria did not teach musicology or University Music Departments performance, or composition,  prior to 1989, in fact they did and continue to do so, simply there is now a much closer link between all aspects of tertiary music education in Australia not previously experienced.

Evidence of these links has been the formation of a National Council of Heads of Tertiary Music  Schools, whose raison d'etre is to:

  • . disseminate information relevant to the advancement of music education and training in Australia
  • meet to address issues of national importance in relation to music education and to share information regularly  liaise with key arts organisations and funding bodies .
  • foster the incorporation of technological advances in music maintain an interface in the music industry

The older and  larger Conservatoria are also involved in pre-tertiary music education, providing High School education with a compulsory music component

Also some Conservatoria offer non- award tuition for the general public which if linked AMEB or Trinity exams can lead to tertiary enrollment Or is a music education an experience of its own reward.

Music training programs for the very young (3-8 years) also fonI1S part of the music education scene in  Australia, and are very popular with parents who may wish to expose their children to serious music study from an early age.

Tertiary music institutions in Australia provide the training ground for most if not all aspiring professional  orchestral performers. The Australian Youth Orchestra being perhaps the pinnacle for young graduates to aspire towards, as recognition in this arena may bring interest from the professional orchestras situated in the main population centres (or State capital cities).

Similarly solo performers who emanate from Australian Music Schools and can audition for places in Opera Companies for singers or for solo instrumentalists, embark upon their performance careers both nationally and internationally. Post-graduate courses in performance and musicology also play an important part in the role of Australian tertiary music education. Graduates of these degrees compete for both performance/composition opportunities along with Bachelor graduates but are also advancing musicological knowledge through performance based and/or pure  research based study.

Most of the Australian Music Schools use perfom1ance as a compulsory element in the syllabus of instruction for their students. To this end students and staff perform regularly both in camera and in public. Additionally this concert activity is extended to invitation of professional musicians (national and international) to perform publicly in the auditoria of our Music Schools.

These concert performances are a vital and essential cultural link to the Communities the Music Schools service. As conservators of western art music, all our Music Schools are engaged in and actively encouraging and expanding the level of interest of the Australian Community in our cultural music tradition

Similarly the introduction of new Australian Music is encouraged and a very vigorous and enthusiastic  composition culture works right across and through all our Music Schools.

Various Music Schools throughout Australia act as accreditation bodies for Community Music Teachers. This action provides a reference point for music graduates in maintaining their teaching and performance skills at a high level, thereby ensuring music teaching is monitored and hence kept healthy and aware of current teaching issues and criteria.

Australia's international reputation as a country which produces quality musicians is second to none. Australia is a cultural centre for the arts, particularly music, and our Australian Music Schools contribute greatly towards the cultural heritage of our nation.



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