Sometimes referred to as performance practice, period performance, or "authentic" performance, "historically informed performance" is an historical approach that seeks to uncover and decipher performing techniques of the past in order to better understand the musical culture and expectations of the time. The Australian National University hosts a rich history of academic and administrative staff, students and alumni whose fields of practice, interest and education celebrate historically informed performance – from harpsichord, to baroque trumpet.
You can find out more about our background in this field, as well as the trove of keyboard instruments the school has collected and inherited, through our Meet the Music 50th Anniversary podcast series, available on this website.
Distinguished Artist in Residence Anna Freeman on her time at ANU:
Lecturing in Canberra was a very productive time for me. I was fortunate to have had very competent colleagues that supported me and spurred me on to develop my skills. It was important for me to teach all students the baroque trumpet, which led to performances in various festivals interstate and opera projects with the ANU. I was very active with Austral Skies, a group of musicians that performed Australian music, and enjoyed conducting the Canberra Youth Orchestra Society Wind Ensemble, eventually becoming the society’s Musical Director. The Australian Chamber Orchestra adopted me as their principal trumpet and soloist with Christopher Hogwood, and the Hunter Orchestra invited me to play a duo concert with James Morrison in “Baroque meets Jazz”.
The first course on Indigenous Australian music was introduced at the School of Music in 1990, at approximately the same time that the first course on Asian music was introduced. Since that time such a course has been taught at least every second year, alternated in most years with the course on Asian music. Between them, these two courses have been the School of Music’s window to music outside the Western classical canon, to disciplines other than music, and to institutions outside the ANU. Usually approximately half the students enrolled in them majored in disciplines other than music, such as history, anthropology, linguistics, Australian studies and Asian studies. They forged links with the National Film and Sound Archive, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the National Library, and the National Folk Festival. Although gradually other non-Western music courses were added to the curriculum, the primacy of Australian Indigenous music has remained the bedrock of the musical diversity which has come to characterise the curriculum of the ANU School of Music.
For a long time Australian schools of music were founded on English-German music conservatory models and looked to these European traditions as formative in educating music students.
This has hidden the fact that from the early days of settlement there was a diverse and vibrant musical colonial culture; musicians came to Australia from Britain, America and Continental Europe often touring regionally, and many settled and built the foundations of choral music, opera, orchestral music and chamber music performance. From the 1840s, music publishers established important printing and retail houses, which disseminated all kinds of musical instruments and music from sentimental and popular songs through to piano and operatic music. They encouraged local composers such as Isaac Nathan, who not only began his own press, but went on to create some of the earliest European responses to Indigenous music.
Australian music and musical life has been inherently transnational. Not only have we imported musician and music traditions, but have, from the nineteenth century onwards, produced many remarkable musicians who have become internationally acclaimed from Dame Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger, F.S. Kelly, Eileen Joyce and Peter Dawson to Sir Charles Mackerras, Peter Sculthorpe, Simone Young, Paul Grabowski and Brett Dean.
Founded in the nation’s capital in 1965, riding on the wave of an emerging nationalism in the Australian arts, the then-Canberra School of Music played a central role in changing the nature of the conservatorium to an identifiably Australian model achieved in part by elevating and giving voice to Australian music in all its guises. From the outset, it employed distinguished Australian-educated musicians including Ernest Lewellyn, Larry Sitsky, and in the 1970s the expatriate composer, Don Banks.
The third Director, John Painter, was not only a visionary in the development of performance education and in the founding of key national music organisations including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, he also committed the School to promoting, generating, and disseminating Australian composition performed by the best Australian musicians. With Larry Sitsky, he created the Anthology of Australian Music on Disc as a bicentennial project. This substantial body of recorded sound stands as a living monument to the School’s guiding principles, to support the interaction between composition and musicology across classical, jazz and electro-acoustic music traditions.
In 1987, the Schools of Music and Art were brought together to become the National Institute of the Arts, which was amalgamated with the ANU in 1992. This facilitated the development of a research culture that was initially underpinned by the Anthology. The School, which had long enjoyed vibrant relationships with the Canberra and diplomatic communities and the music education sector, could now realize a wider engagement with national research and cultural institutions.
Robyn Holmes, as head of all music academic programmes between 1990 and 2000, was a key driver of Australian music research and infrastructure. Working with inspirational colleagues such as Larry Sitsky, John Painter, Nicolette Fraillon and Stephen Wild, Holmes created project and research infrastructure that operated at the university, national and international level.
Partnerships with the Australian Music Centre (AMC), the National Library of Australia (NLA) and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) were cultivated to establish strong links that supported the newly founded graduate programme and fostered a growing interest in Australian music, past and present. Exploiting the burgeoning potential of the web and related collaborative online networking, these new relationships resulted in important ventures such as the National Networked Facility for Research into Australian Music (NFRAM) and Music Australia.
Led by the School, NFRAM was a partnership comprising three other universities, the NLA, NFSA and the AMC. In 1995-96, it was awarded the largest ARC research infrastructure grant for the arts to that date. Ultimately this led to the development of Music Australia at the NLA. This model was to lead to the current search engine Trove still run out of the NLA. Trove is the nation’s key online research data service that has served as model for libraries across the world.
At the same time, the Australian Centre for the Arts and Technology (ACAT) under the direction of composer, David Worrall, drove innovative programs across music and the visual arts in computer animation, computer music and digital media, building on the electro-acoustic traditions established at the school during the 1970s by Don Banks. Banks, the first Chair of the Music Board of the Australia Council, also laid the ground for the establishment of the Jazz School, which flourished under Don Johnson to produce luminaries of the Australian jazz scene.
Other important avenues of music research developed under Holmes’s leadership, included the establishment of programmes in Aboriginal and Asian musics by Stephen Wild, Coralie Rockwell and Hazel Hall.
The recent structural and educational changes to the School provide an environment in which the School’s outstanding legacy in supporting and generating Australia music and Australian music research, in all its manifestations, can continue to flourish.