Music funds out of tune

March 13, 1998

TEACHING standards at music colleges are at risk if the present "under-funded status quo" persists, says a report out this week.

A review commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England of four of the conservatoires it funds warns "the current cost base may already be too close to the minimum for comfort".

The extra training demands of broader markets in music and the downsizing and under-resourcing of conservatoires are creating problems and causing many principals to call for top-up fees, it says.

To improve flexibility and competitiveness, the report suggests more collaboration between institutions although it says overall student numbers are "about right".

The report is from a group led by John Tooley, former head of the Royal Opera House. It says the profession is changing, with more musicians taking a "mixed portfolio" approach to careers: spending part of their time performing, part composing and part teaching.

In addition, standards of instrumental playing are rising, and markets for musicians growing. Musicals, film, improvisation and cabaret all offer possible openings.

This means conservatoires now focus on "the provision of more rounded and versatile musicians," the report says. "The old approach to training for one specific task is declining, and the modernised curricula adopted in the conservatoires are attracting international attention and admiration."

But it warns against overloading students, which could limit their artistic development.

And it stresses that the role of the conservatoires is distinct from that of university music departments. "While universities deliver all-round musical education, the conservatoires are training people to enter the performing profession", which universities are not usually able to do.

It says conservatoires should lead the way in an urgent examination of training and teaching performance skills to solve a national shortage of high-quality instrumental teachers.

The report concludes that conservatoires are effective in educating and training students for performance and in fulfilling a public role by offering concerts and preserving a musical culture.

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