History of the School of Music

Ernest Llewellyn
Ernest Llewellyn

Our history

It was a dream based on the world-famous Juilliard School in New York, where Australian conductor and violinist Ernest Llewellyn had studied.

With a hand-picked array of staff focused on the training of soloist, chamber and orchestral musicians, Llewellyn set about transforming Australian attitudes to music-and he wanted Canberra to be the nation’s musical hub.

As a result, the Canberra School of Music opened in 1965, in modest premises within a childcare centre in Manuka.  Llewellyn had recently left his position at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and relished the challenge to create a new school in Canberra.

Within a year, he had gathered outstanding teachers and performers, including violinist Vincent Edwards, tenor William Herbert and pianist and composer Larry Sitsky.He insisted it should aim for standards comparable with the high level of research and teaching already occurring at ANU.

Llewellyn’s vision for the School was based on the curriculum of the grand conservatories of the US and Europe.  It was then, and remains, a powerful and attractive model to emulate.

Llewellyn retired in 1980 and by 1988, the School joined with the neighbouring School of Art in a statutory authority known as the Canberra Institute of the Arts.  Shortly after the change, Federal Education Minister John Dawkins signalled his intention that the Institute should be amalgamated into the ANU, increasing the School’s focus on research.  In 1990 Robyn Holmes joined with a vision of creating a powerhouse of Australian music research.

Across the other side of Canberra, a jazz campus flourished.  Still in Manuka, it had up to 95 students at any one time, according to lecturer John Mackey.

Jazz campus alumni played at festivals around the world and recorded in a number of genres, including pop, alongside the likes of Jimmy Barnes and Silverchair. 

In 2012 the School restructured to focus more intently on music research and education.

“It was a big change to move from a conservatorium model to a university model,” Mackey says. “Jazz is taught on a much smaller scale but the courses we now offer give something extra to the students.”

Since then the School has continued to build on the artistic and creative vision of Llewellyn.  The School of Music continues to offer a curriculum that best enables students to take a leading role in shaping Australia’s musical future.

Want to learn more?

2015 marked the 50th Anniversary of the School of Music.  Since its opening in Manuka in 1965, the School has expanded, relocated and transformed as a musical institution contributing to and influencing the Canberra community.  Due to the great involvement in so many different events in the community, sources and materials from these events that hold great value, have been scattered across collecting institutions in Canberra making it difficult for all of the sources to be stored in one place. 

While the School of Music holds limited sources, below is a compiled list of the various institutions that hold materials relating to the School’s history, along with a brief explanation of where and how these collections can be accessed.

ANU School of Art and Music Library

National Film and Sound Archive

National Library of Australia

Menzies Library

ACT Heritage Library

ABC Radio Canberra

Directors and Heads of School

   -   Ernest Llewellyn             1965-1980

   -   John Winther                  1980-1985

   -   John Painter                   1985-1995

   -   William Hawkey               1995-1998

   -   Nicolette Fraillon             1998-2002

   -   John Luxton (acting)       2003

   -   Simone De Haan             2004

   -   Gary France                    2005

   -   John Luxton                    2006-2008

   -   Adrian Walters                2008-2012

   -   Peter Tregear                 2012-2015

   -   Royston Gustavson        2015-2016

   -   Malcolm Gillies                2016-2017

   -   Kenneth Laml                   2017-2019

   -   Kim Cunio                         2019-current


Former Staff:

   -   Larry Sitsky

   -   Brigid Burke

   -   Katia Tiutiunnik

   -   Andrew Harrison

   -   Ruth Lee Martin

   -   Nicholas Ng

   -   David Worrall

   -   Don Banks

   -   Edward Primrose (formerly Keith Wilson)

   -   Donald Hollier

   -   Judith Clingan

   -   Benjamin Thorn

   -   Judith Crispin

   -   Rohan Phillips

   -   Douglas Knehans

   -   Christopher Lyndon Gee

   -   Jim Cotter

   -   Miroslav Bukovsky

   -   Stephen Leek

Updated:  20 May 2020/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications