School of Music transitions to virtual learning (COVID-19 precautions)

School of Music transitions to virtual learning (COVID-19 precautions)
Tuesday 17 March 2020

To our dear students, staff and community of musicians and friends,

In light of the rapid events concerning the COVID-19 (also known as CO-VID19 and COVID 19) pandemic on Friday; and as part of the University’s comprehensive response to this complex issues, the ANU School of Music (ANU SoM), has decided to move into a virtual learning space from tomorrow, Wednesday March 18, 2020.

On Friday last week (March 13), the ANU School of Music and Llewellyn Hall cancelled all public events for the foreseeable future in line with developments across the country. This includes the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, our long planned ANU School of Music Bushfire Benefit concert and a series of collaborations with the Canberra International Music Festival. On the weekend the Directors of most of the music schools in Australia made contact with each other in a spirit of cooperation and support. The consensus was strong, that music schools and musicians have a vital role to play in the times ahead and that teaching music in our changing environment will take a great deal of care.

While we acknowledge that a virtual music school is not required right now, it is likely that it will be required very soon.

In light of this climate we are taking one clear action now to provide our students and staff with certainty. On Monday March 16 ANU School of Music Academic and Professional staff were joined by the superb team at Llewellyn Hall to discuss our immediate plans. Today (Tuesday March 17), we met with our students to communicate a clear and achievable plan that will see our students looked after as they should be; as well as a solution that also allows us to support the community of musicians who work here at ANU. This is vital.

Teaching at the ANU School of Music is the last job standing for many ACT musicians. Other teaching contracts have been cancelled and all live performances, regardless of style or genre have been cancelled. Our musician / scholar / teachers are extremely vulnerable at this time and we are proud to state that ANU will be paying all of our casual sessional staff through this difficult period.

Becoming a virtual music school is quite a task. Some of our subjects require a high level of supervision such as Principal Studies, and our ensembles program. Other subjects can move relatively easily into a virtual environment.

The following will inform our pedagogy:

1. Standard lectures and tutorials are going to work both in an asynchronous and in a synchronous mode. This means that in most cases students can take a virtual version of their class by logging onto the Zoom platform, which allows multiple participants and dialogue where needed, as well as access to a recording of that learning event. Assessments will be evaluated both within the School of Music and ANU to make sure that there is no disadvantage. We are also monitoring staff and student access to the Internet as the situation develops. Some subjects such as harmony and aural will need additional software to enable virtual study. The ANU School of Music is committed to providing these resources for students.

2. One on one lessons will be conducted in several formats. We are setting up a video conferencing grand piano for the pianists. This means that while the campus is open students will be able to log onto a ‘zoom’ lesson with their teacher. Additional video conferencing facilities will allow a staff member to adjust camera angles and optical zoom to allow best practice in one on one teaching. This was tested by us last week and the results were quite impressive. As the COVID–19 crisis progresses we will move to a decentralised model utilising phone based technology with plug in microphones that connect via a lightning jack to offer a surprisingly resilient mobile method of one on one teaching.

3. Concert practice will have a short term, interim mode of having students perform within ACT Government and ANU guidelines in an audience free, non-confined space, with the concurrent and later option of students recording an unedited performance on their phone and submitting it for assessment by the teaching panel.

4. Ensembles will not be able to run as they do presently, as it is impossible to have large numbers of musicians in an enclosed space playing together. The ANU SoM will run a project week when we are able that offers an integrated experience that allows sustained embodied learning for students.

5. Our Honours, Masters and PhD programs will continue without interruption and our research seminar series will continue in a virtual capacity every Thursday afternoon.

6. Our Open School of Music is working with artsACT to facilitate our community programs into the future. We will take advantage of technological innovations that will allow our significant suite of music programs to run in a virtual environment. These will allow the core values of artsACT to be delivered by ANU. These programs will remain inclusive, community focused and excellent.

7. Our research will continue, and there is an exciting suite of research going on right now. Professor Samantha Bennet is making a significant work this semester. We have submitted two Australian research Council applications in the last year and will apply for two more this year. Late this year we will launch our music, health and the creative arts research hub, led by Professor Eckart Altenumüller, which will focus a great deal of our research, including the fine work of music as a definable health methodology in Africa, undertaken Dr Bonnie McConnell. Our research into Indigenous music is significant and will continue. Ngarra Burria, our Indigenous composers program led by Dr Chris Sainsbury launched its fourth year this week, and a number of Ngarra Burria composers, including Chris have recently been commissioned by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Murray Island Song master Joe Geia has been with us this week, and Jen Newsome is forming Australia’s first School of Music Indigenous Advisory Group as we speak. Other projects involve Dr Alec Hunter working with the ANU Fenner School on the acoustic and physical ecologies of the Murray River, Dr Thomas Laue is coordinating 50 new pieces for the national carillon. We also have collaborations on ARC projects including the Magic Lantern project led by A Professor Martin Jolly, the early music project of Dr Erin Helyard, our significant collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey, and a suite of amazing partnerships with NIDA, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the Canberra International Music Festival as well as many research and teaching schools within ANU.

Although this is a difficult time I would like to briefly reflect on the wonderful position the ANU School of Music is presently in. We have 317 students enrolled at our music school, with many undertaking Flexible Double Degrees or Double Majors. 2020 saw an intake of 107, something that is quite astounding when you consider that our ATAR of 80 is the highest in the country. Our 2020 intake includes our largest ever Honours cohort of 15, who have been inspired by their undergraduate education to pursue serious music research. We also welcomed a record of 7 students who were successful in winning the highly competitive ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences Higher Degree scholarships, making our PhD cohort of over 20 both strong and diverse. Our numbers symbolise the qualities of our students. We are teaching a generation of environmentally and socially aware, scholar / musicians here at the ANU, as well as providing a whole of life musical hub in Canberra.

Dear friends and music lovers. In this very difficult time I ask you to not lose hope in the transformational power of music making and of music itself. I will finish with a thought that we shared together in our all School of Music meeting today. As we move into a more physically isolated space it is important that we remain connected to others to make sure that we or they do not become socially isolated. It is a time to care for others and to be cared for, to prepare ourselves for the difficulties ahead by having greater faith in our humanity and compassion.

My warmest wishes,

Kim Cunio


Updated:  24 March 2020/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications