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 soloists, chamber and orchestral musicians, Llewellyn set about transforming Australian attitudes to music; 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 the Australian National University.

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 now, a powerful and attractive model to emulate.

Llewellyn retired in 1980, and by 1988 the School joined with the neighbouring School of Art and Design 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.

Across the other side of Canberra a jazz campus flourished in Manuka, catering to many students. Jazz campus alumni played at festivals around the world and recorded in a number of genres, including pop. 

In 2012 the School was restructured, directed to aim more intently on music research and education. Yet it has continued to prosper in the areas of performance, composition, and music technology.

The School of Music remains committed to building on the artistic and creative vision of Llewellyn. It continues to offer a curriculum that best enables students to take a leading role in shaping Australia’s musical future.

Updated:  5 November 2022/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications