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<p>James Braund</p>

James Braund

The Australian Youth Orchestra in flight

Please Don’t Stop The Music, Mr Newman

The Queensland government is axing amazingly successful youth music programs. As renowned conductor Simone Young prepares to lead the Australian Youth Orchestra in Brisbane this weekend, she brings down her baton on Campbell Newman’s cuts.

When leading Australian music conductor Simone Young looks out across the Australian Youth Orchestra at Brisbane's Queensland Performing Arts Centre on Saturday night, a significant number of the bright young faces looking back at her will be from Queensland.

Better known for its coal, Queensland is also a big exporter of wonderful music. The excellent Queensland Conservatorium sends its graduates out to the world's great orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic. And there's so much musical talent in Queensland schools that Queenslanders (population 4.5 million) are over-represented in the Australian Youth Orchestra: they make up 23 per cent of places, across all programs, compared with 22 per cent from Victoria (population 5.5 million).

“It would be tragic for Queensland, if the state government failed to continue supporting school and youth music activities, because that's where it all begins.”

It doesn't happen by accident. A significant number of those young Queenslanders will have come through one or both of two state school music programs. Fanfare is a biennial festival for school orchestras and ensembles, and MOST (Musically Outstanding Students) is a biennial scholarship program that provides intensive training for musically gifted students.

But now, after running concurrently for 30 years and providing crucial pathways for aspiring musicians that they wouldn't get anywhere else, the Newman state Liberal National Party (LNP) government is planning to axe both the Fanfare and MOST programs as part of an overall $23-million cut in funding for school education.

Education minister John-Paul Langbroek confirmed that the Fanfare festival would be axed last week, claiming that the cuts were needed to rein-in a budget deficit inherited from the previous Labor government. Speaking on local Brisbane radio he said that he did not believe the cuts would discourage school children from learning musical instruments.

But the budgetary savings from cutting the Fanfare and MOST programs are so tiny as to be insignificant. MOST costs taxpayers a mere $86,000 per annum, while Fanfare is worth $88,000 per annum. Queensland's Labor Opposition leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has described the decision to axe the programs as "just plain mean".

Ahead of her Brisbane appearance this weekend, Simone Young told The Global Mail: "It would be tragic for Queensland, if the state government failed to continue supporting school and youth music activities, because that's where it all begins."

The premier they call "Can-do Campbell" says he doesn't like "process", but in this case the process seems pretty clear. There's a pipeline running through Queensland state schools, feeding the Conservatorium and flowing out to the rest of the world. If you cut the pipeline the kids will stop coming through.

Simone Young says the excitement the AYO has generated by its presence in Brisbane this week has been palpable. "They are extraordinary young people and marvellous ambassadors for Australia and Australian music. This is what happens when music education is supported and flourishes."

<p>Klaus Lefebvre</p>

Klaus Lefebvre

Simone Young, who will conduct the AYO in Brisbane this weekend

Young has spent the past decade as the chief executive of the Hamburg State Opera and chief conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and this is the first time she has worked with the AYO. Here she is on YouTube discussing her forthcoming appearance with the AYO.

But the former schoolteacher is quick to point out that her AYO musicians are performing at the elite end of the youth music spectrum. There's also the question of what you do about music education at the grassroots level. "It's all about engaging young people in creative activity," she says, "and that has to be a good thing".

Young says she is grateful to the Queensland Government for supporting the visit of the Hamburg State Opera, Hamburg Philharmonic and Hamburg Ballet next month. "That's great for Brisbane. Queensland is doing so many great things in the arts — the Queensland Conservatorium of Music is going from strength to strength, and support for arts tourism is fantastic in this state.

"But there has to be continuing support for youth music activities, because it goes to the humanity of our kids," Young adds. "When governments are facing difficult financial decisions, it is easy to imagine that you can cut programs like these and possibly bring them back in a couple of years," says Simone Young, "But experience shows that when they're taken away they are gone forever."

“ The Queensland Government is more Philistine than Delilah and the electorate couldn’t give a 4X.”

The Newman Government is quickly earning a reputation for cutting arts programs with tiny budgets. One of the first things the new premier did after winning office was to announce the axing of the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, to save just $244,000.

The latest cuts have attracted international attention. Leading British music journalist Norman Lebrecht has weighed in this week from London, commenting on his website that: "The state government is more Philistine than Delilah and the electorate couldn't give a 4X."

The backlash from the public is also building in intensity. A Facebook campaign, Save Fanfare and MOST, has attracted more than 9,000 supporters in its first week, and an online petition to the Queensland parliament had garnered more than 6,000 signatures by this morning. Campaign organisers are also planning a novel protest in the form of a scratch orchestra of up to a thousand players who will perform outside Parliament House in Brisbane, to draw attention to their talents and their cause.

The Queensland Government is clearly feeling some heat, because on Wednesday, education minister John-Paul Langbroek released a statement acknowledging the "overwhelming support from the wider community" and suggesting the Fanfare program might be saved if a private sponsor could be found.

<p>James Braund</p>

James Braund

No mention was made of saving the MOST music-scholarship program, the future of which is under budgetary review.

Campaign organiser Dianne Gittins says it is clear that Fanfare and MOST have not been saved and that she believes the minister's statement was nothing more than an attempt to silence the protestors.

"By throwing Fanfare's fate to the whim of a corporate sponsorship, the LNP [has shown it] has no interest in guaranteeing the stability of music competition and advancement for Queensland's kids," she says.

Meanwhile, Simone Young says the standard of the Australian Youth Orchestra during rehearsals for Saturday night's concert has been "fabulous, absolutely stunning. These kids are wonderful musicians, they're open, fresh, listening, and they have a tremendous sense of fun. And it's wonderful to see these young musicians so full of hope and expectation that they will have success in what is, after all, quite an uncertain career path."

“These kids are wonderful musicians, they’re open, fresh, listening, and they have a tremendous sense of fun. And it’s wonderful to see these young musicians so full of hope and expectation that they will have success in what is, after all, quite an uncertain career path.”

The Brisbane concert will have special significance for another reason. Queensland-born Lisa Gasteen, 54, one of the world's great Wagnerian sopranos, will be returning to the concert stage to sing with the orchestra after a four-year absence caused by a chronic neck injury. She's standing in at the last moment for soprano Emma Matthews who was forced to pull out last Monday due to illness.

"I had been talking to Lisa only the day before, so I just rang her up," says Young. "And she said, 'Sure, I could do Brünnhilde's immolation scene' [from Wagner's opera Götterdämmerung]. And I can't tell you how thrilled the AYO's young musicians are."

At the time of her injury, Gasteen was one of the world's leading Wagnerian sopranos, in huge demand in opera houses and concert halls around the world. Young says the injury was "a disaster for her and for music internationally. She should be the Isolde and Brünnhilde of her generation."

Since sustaining her injury Gasteen has devoted herself to teaching. Last year, she founded the Lisa Gasteen National Opera School, based at Griffith University.

Asked to comment on the state of Gasteen's voice after her four-year break, Young says it has been 16 months since she last heard Gasteen sing.

"At that time the magnificent voice was still there, but what wasn't there was the muscle support and the breathing. Now that's all back. But it's also very emotionally stressful to be out there singing long stretches from memory after being away from it for so long. Think of sports people who miss two years from injury or illness. It's very rare for them to come back at the peak of their old form."

Young says she and Gasteen have been close friends for years. They've done a Wagner Ring cycle in Vienna, Tristan und Isolde, Strauss's Die Frau Ohne Schatten and concerts all over the world. "It's always special making music with someone you're so close to," she says. "But the kids were also a big factor in her decision to do this concert with the AYO. She's so committed to music education."

Read more of Stephen Crittenden’s arts coverage, from the changing face of opera in Australia to the Shakespearean backstabbing at NIDA.

13 comments on this story
by John

The cuts to arts organisations feeds into so many assumptions and beliefs about conservative politicians in Queensland. As do the pro-development policies.

July 28, 2012 @ 6:29pm
by Sally Arnold

As a former musician, arts sponsorship manager what a blow these cuts are to music for youth. And there was Queensland leading Australia in turning out terrific musicians and singers.
However I would encourage those heading music education in Queensland to quickly look at potential sponsors to save and perhaps develop the program further. There are some companies in Queensland that could utilise the exposure to develop their brand and also save music education.
If I had not discovered music as a child I believe my life could have been unfulfilled.

July 30, 2012 @ 8:38am
by Gabrielle

My daughter is performing in the finals this week and the grand final at the Concert Hall of QPAC promises to be an interesting prospect for the Minister who traditionally makes a speech. The question will be, how loud will the crowd boo him next Thursday? I hope they really give him a taste of their opinions as emotions are running high.

July 30, 2012 @ 11:03am
by Alan

The Qld LNP appears to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

July 30, 2012 @ 12:48pm
by Harley

Unfortunately the voters will have to bear the brunt of their own decisions. A shame that the relatively progressive views of the Brisbane populace get dragged down by the rednecks.

July 30, 2012 @ 7:31pm
by Scruffy

Joh Mk 2 is in office.

July 31, 2012 @ 6:39pm
by fiona pugh

I am a product of the QLD Instrumental Music Programs of the 1970's in Townsville and I now teach strings in Victoria! I was given the OPPORTUNITY to learn the cello and how that has changed my life and many others that I have touched with my music since!

I recently attended the National String Teachers Conference and met many string teachers from QLD and we are all products of the investment in music education that the QLD govt in the 1970's. We are examples of the positive outcome of Government funding/investment. Don't let QLD music state education lose its outstanding reputation! You need to set an example to Victoria!

August 1, 2012 @ 1:07pm
by Ethne Green

The Qld government funding of music education included educating classroom teachers in a developmental music program which reached multitudes of students in the 70's and 80's. This was a ground breaking program based on the philosophies of Zoltan Kodaly. By focussing on educating the primary school generalist teacher, it enabled hundreds of students to get a much better music education because it was integrated with all the other learning in the primary school classroom.
As a Victorian-trained Music Teacher working in both Victoria and NSW, I have continually marvelled at the results of this grassroots program which gives every student music literacy using the voice, the most inexpensive instrument we have. I believe this model provides much of the answer to producing a musically literate society and therefore deserves increases in funding to build on what has already been extremely successful. Don't throw away the investment already made by cutting funding!

December 4, 2012 @ 7:26am
by Carl

Campbell Newman followed his two very undistinguished parents into high political office. Culturally he is as myopic as Mr Magoo on steroids. The recent decision to allow cattle grazing in national parks is indicative of a government which is not interested in the state's future, but rather some sort of mythical bottom line. Politicians as diverse as Gough Whitlam and Jeff Kennett have realised the importance of the arts to the overall development of a clever, creative society, and how this flows into all aspects of corporate societal life, ranging from education to the economy. This simple fact seems to elude the philistine throwbacks which now run Queensland. Queensland's music program has been the envy of Australia; perhaps one day it will be again....

May 17, 2013 @ 4:14pm
by Carmel

The Fanfare and MOST programs probably have done a lot to help children in State Schools get into music but in times of great debt the government has to tighten the belt just as families have to do when expenses are greater than income. It is necessary to find out whether the cost of the programs really do reap the benefits. When my daughter commenced studies at the Qld Conservatorium she knew a majority of the 1st year students despite not having attended a Fanfare or MOST program. She knew them either from Qld Youth Orchestras or Catholic Colleges Music Festivals. We struggled to pay for all her music tuition and cost of performing in the orchestras on a limited income but we got there by chosing our priorities and giving up things we would have liked to do for many years so that we could pay for music tuition as well as the rest of education. Now our daughter is a highly respected musician and music teacher. She has also undertaken courses in the Kodaly Developmental Program but at her own expense and during her own time every January for several years. Maybe the govt has discovered that most of the high achieving musicians have come from families where parents have been prepared to pay their own way rather than expect all taxpayers to bear the costs.

May 27, 2013 @ 10:54pm
Show previous 10 comments
by jen

Dear Carmel
The self righteousness of your article makes me feel a little ill.
I think of all the students who have participated in these programs because a wonderful opportunity was presented to them.
They might not be the best musicians in the world but because of programs such as these they because involved in a wonderful world that would otherwise have eluded them.
I write this as I ponder upon the $50000 per annum salary increases that the LNP have awarded state parliamentarians "because they had to"
It would be good if they could have applied some of the "had to " to worthwhile community and health programs like these that have wide ranging and long lasting benefits for the wider community.

July 3, 2013 @ 9:58pm
by Ashleigh


I am 24 years old and a tax payer. I have no children and often reap no benefits from the tax I pay (apart from the roads I drive on) you however, receive far more bang for your buck with family tax benefit and I am assuming here the extra finding the government produces for your children's private school education. There is something I believe in life, and frankly I fear for the future generations with parents such as yourself, I believe everyone is entitled to the same treatment, and for those who can, we must help those who can't. You actually disgust me. Should I mistreat your children or deny them things simply because they were born into a close minded bigoted family? Isn't it the same as those who are born into a family who due to financial restraints can not offer them the same opportunities as the self righteous parent such as yourself? I will reiterate for you Carmel, I am 24 years old and I am proud that my tax dollars go to such wonderful and talented children, that my tax dollars can bring light into this increasingly depressing world, my dollars can create joy and music for children. You however Carmel do not think like this, you are selfish and petty. You believe the lies of a government. It's people like you Carmel that bring society down. I am scared for the future, I am worried that this is the petty crap you teach the you get generations. Well have a gold star Carmel, you deserve it. Poor Carmel, living in her middle class society. Poor little Carmel.

December 10, 2013 @ 11:54am
by Steve Wood

Please dont waste your time replaying to Carmel, its a set up, instead write to Campbell Newman and his cronies with your demands re funding you beautiful people, dont let them take the music out of QLD

YOU NEED TO Contact the Premier
Write to the Premier
By post:

PO Box 15185
City East
Queensland 4002
By email:
Contact the Premier’s office

Phone: 07 3224 4500


December 12, 2013 @ 12:49pm
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