Sport versus the Arts

As a former student of the Canberra School of Music (CSM) I am saddened at the restructure of the Australian National University (ANU) School of Music. The ANU and its music school have had a somewhat turbulent relationship ever since the CSM became part of the ANU in 1992.

The ANU is identified as an elite university, and indeed it attracts some of the best people in their field as research academics. But I believe it has never considered its music school as vital, or important, as for example the sciences, where it has recently funded further construction of science buildings to the tune of some 60 million dollars.

Aside from the university’s attitude to the music school, the Australian culture also plays a major role in the music school’s current situation.

Australians love sport. Any sport—they play it, they watch it (in fact the vast majority watch rather than play), they read about it, they talk about it, and the most popular pay TV channel is—yes, you’re right—the sports channel. In extra-curricular school activities, sport is way ahead of anything else and youngsters from the age of five can play cricket, hockey, tennis, soccer, and various rugby codes up and down the country.

We have an elite Institute of Sport where the very best athletes of all time (so they tell us)  can run, jump, walk, swim, throw shot putts and javelins, turn cartwheels and twirl ribbons to their heart’s content, and all funded by government. It may surprise you to know that these elite athletes study at this Institute at our expense. They do not pay a HECS as do other students of higher education.

This elite institution has not been targeted for restructure. Coaches here have not been told their jobs will be spilled and they will have to reapply for them—ten less than there were originally. Though that may not be such a problem—they could initiate a program whereby the athletes could be coached online. That would be interesting, and certainly no more difficult than teaching someone to play a violin on line.

Should the Institute of Sport be treated like the ANU School of Music there would be an outcry. Newspapers would be inundated with protestations and the media would give it full coverage until someone, somewhere, decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all and things would return to the status quo.

Media too has its role. How many pages in your daily newspaper are devoted to sport? How many are devoted to the arts? It’s not rocket science to work out which is more important.

I feel for the students at the ANU School of Music whose face-to-face teaching will be seriously reduced, and it’s already only around one hour a week. And what will happen to the youth programs that take Canberra’s very talented youngsters and mentor them through to scholarship standard, giving them a head start on their instrument of choice?

Perhaps they will form an ANU School of Music Rugby Team instead.

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