Notes: (1) Since individuals move on and journals and other media are commenced or discontinued, we always welcome comments and suggestions for change.
By far the majority of journalistic music criticism in Australia takes place in the print media. Reviews of live performances and commercial recordings regularly appear in the major city dailies, the street press, and a small number of dedicated music magazines. A few tertiary music schools offer electives or units in journalistic music criticism, or courses in which this forms a part.
In compiling this survey, many publication editors and staff of tertiary music institutions have generously provided information. Their assistance is gratefully acknowledged.
Print Media Criticism
Despite the prodigious growth of internet resources and electronic publications over the last two decades, newspapers continue to be the standard-bearer for music criticism. Nearly all of Australia’s mass circulation dailies (except The Australian Financial Review) regularly review live performances and CD recordings, although the musical styles they review and the amount of reviewing they carry both vary considerably. The style of reviewing generally depends on whether it takes place in ‘arts’ or ‘entertainment’ sections of a newspaper: those publications with self-standing arts sections generally offer more serious, thoroughgoing criticism over a wider range of musical styles.
The Australian (national) is the only mass print media outlet that seeks a comprehensive national coverage of the arts. Like The Sydney Morning Herald, it offers the arts section a high profile, placing its regular weekly arts page nearer the front of the paper than other papers. The arts editor is Matthew Westwood. Its arts page carries in-depth articles written by staff journalists and longer than usual reviews, normally running to 400 words, written by critics stationed in each of the main capital cities. Music critics include Polly Coufos, Patrick Emery, Murray Black, Lynden Barber, Eamonn Kelly, Peter Burch, Gillian Wills, Vincent Plush, Mark Coughlan, John McBeath and Graham Strahle. The Weekend Australian has a lifestyle magazine lift-out that contains a CD review section edited by Iain Sheddon.
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) also offers high profile, serious arts coverage. Its arts section occurs nearer the front of the paper than other papers, like The Australian. The SMH has an ‘Arts & entertainment’ section and, in the weekend edition, a ‘Spectrum’ section that deals with popular entertainment and lifestyle topics. Music critics are Peter McCallum (classical), Bernard Zuel (popular), Bruce Elder (popular), John Shand (jazz), and for many previous years Roger Covell (classical). After a brief stint in Melbourne’s The Herald, Neville Cardus was the SMH’s main music critic through most of the 1940s. Currently Richard Jinman is the arts editor.
The Age (VIC) has an ‘Arts & Culture’ section in the main part of the paper and a ‘Summerage’ or ‘Entertainment Guide’ lift-out that includes arts reviews. The Saturday edition has an ‘A2′ Culture and Life’ liftout which includes concert previews and a section called ‘The Critics’ which carries in-depth arts-related articles although no music reviews. Principal critics are Clive O’Connell (classical), Jessica Nicholas (jazz) and John Slavin (opera). Ray Gill is The Age’s arts editor.
The Courier-Mail (QLD) has a ‘Today’ section that carries television and arts related stories. The weekend edition has a lifestyle lift-out called ‘Etc’ which covers entertainment, travel and culture topics; it also carries arts articles of extended content. The Courier-Mail’s music critics include Patricia Kelly (classical) and Ben Eltham (contemporary). Susanna Clarke is arts editor.
The Advertiser (SA) regularly carries arts stories and reviews its weekly editions. Its Advertiser Review Saturday lift-out often carries larger arts stories. Music critics are Elizabeth Silsbury, Rodney Smith, Stephen Whittington and Ewart Shaw. Patrick McDonald is arts editor.
The West Australian (WA) has a ‘Today’ lift-out that carries arts reviews including music. Sometimes there is a separate section in this lift-out dealing with music, edited by Simon Collins. Music critics include Neville Cohn, Rosalind Appleby and William Yeoman. Stephen Bevis is the paper’s arts editor.
The Mercury (TAS) has a ‘Stage & Screen’ section in the Friday edition and an ‘Inside Stories’ lift-out on Saturdays (also called ‘Mercury Magazine’) which includes CD reviews. A section called Pulse covers rock, dance and roots, and a section called ‘Bravo’ deals with concerts and theatre.
http://www.dailytelegraph.news.com.au/ The Daily Telegraph] (NSW) has a ‘Sydney live’ lift-out with movie reviews, gig guide and CD reviews. The paper’s ‘www.weekend’ lift-out includes reviews of rock and contemporary bands. Music editor is Kathy McCabe.
The Herald Sun (Vic) has an ‘Entertainment’ section that covers visual arts, dance, theatre, music and film. Alison Barclay is the arts editor.
Newspapers are understandably not always forthcoming in explaining publicly their editorial policies. However, Ben Langford, who is the entertainment editor at the Northern Territory News is forthcoming about how this paper approaches music reviewing. He says that CD reviewing takes in the areas of rock, country, hip-hop, some electronica, pop and jazz, but not classical due to the shortage of classical CDs submitted. The priorities for albums are new work and Australian content, and to a lesser extent artists who are widely known.
Langford explains that concert reviewing covers a variety of styles and genres but concentrates on more unusual larger events: “often [it will] include the kind of innovative or radical shows you will see at the Darwin Festival. Depends on who plays live here – often big country acts”. The priority for concert reviewing is that “it’s usually a very big gig that thousands go to, or something particularly innovative that makes for good news and reading”.
The Northern Territory News usually runs three or four music reviews on Wednesdays, mainly written by Langford with occasional contributions by other staff writers. For touring artists it often carries reviews from other News Ltd papers from around the country. Page lead reviews are usually about 350 or more words long, down-page reviews are about 100.
Dozens of smaller circulation newspapers serving city, regional and community populations carry reviews of recordings and/or performances on a regular or semi-regular basis. Typically, reviews in these are shorter and lighter in weight than those in the major city dailies. The following newspapers are exceptions for different reasons.
RealTime (national) is a free bi-monthly paper devoted to new arts practice in Australia. It reviews live performance of contemporary music, music theatre and multimedia works involving music (though it does not extend to world music, rock, pop or rap). It regularly covers festivals including Totally Huge and the Queensland Music Festival, and from time to time events such as the Australian Computer Music Conference. CDs are reviewed occasionally in the Earbash section of its website (under ‘Features’); the focus of these reviews is primarily on sound art.
Managing editor Keith Gallasch explains Real Time’s reviewing priorities: “Our focus is on innovation, especially Australian eg composers/groups that experiment formally but also with inventive approaches to site/media, cross artform experimentation etc. We have a strong interest in music theatre and progressive opera. The music/sound art divide is constantly addressed. We review sound art performances all over Australia, festivals like Liquid Architecture and we interview artists. We attempt to give music and sound art roughly equivalent space.”
RealTime has six music writer-critics: two in Sydney, one each in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. They also write about sound art but are supplemented on occasion by sound art writers (two both in Sydney and Brisbane and one each in Adelaide and Melbourne). Music reviews are 750 or 1,000 words, but festival reviews and interviews often run longer, to 1,250-1,500 words. Features on music and sound art features are allocated 3,000-4,000 words per edition. Each August there is a focus on education in the arts with a survey article written by a leading commentator.
RealTime adopts in many ways a unique approach to criticism. At the International Music Critics’ Symposium, Brisbane 2004, one of its principal writers on multi-disciplinary artworks, Gail Priest, described RealTime’s approach as one of ‘sustained criticism’, in which reviewing seeks to be constructive, artist-supportive and interpretational in nature. Its critics frequently write from the perspective of personal knowledge and experience in the same field in which the artist works.
Gallasch comments that a major problem in Australia is the lack of younger people entering reviewing: “We are acutely aware of a shortage of emerging reviewers. The only way music reviewing will develop in Australia is through mentorship, exposure and payment! To date there’s been a fantasy that new reviewers will just turn up and a lot of grouchiness when they don’t!” To address this problem, Realtime has started a mentoring program in Sydney and plans to follow this with another in Melbourne, in partnership with Aphids and the Myer Foundation.
The Adelaide Review (SA) is free fortnightly newspaper that addresses the political life and culture relating to Adelaide and South Australia. For its small size, it carries a proportionately large arts review section. Following the paper’s founding in 1979 and under the editorship of Christopher Pearson, its arts review section expanded to become a major focus of the paper. The Adelaide Review has undergone many changes since Spanish media proprietor Javier Moll acquired it in 2002. It continues to run a large ‘Arts & Entertainment’ section with reviews and arts stories across the main sectors. Lachlan Colquhoun became editor in chief in 2007. Music writers are Graham Strahle and Michael Morley.
The Subiaco Post (WA) is a community paper in Perth that has a comprehensive reviewing section covering opera, ballet, movies and theatre. Its arts writer and editoor is Sarah McNeil.
The term ‘street press’ refers loosely to free tabloid publications devoted to contemporary, rock and popular music. Reviewing takes a prominent role in their pages, and many have large fleets of reviewers – far larger indeed than any of the mainstream press. Typically, street press publications pride themselves on their independence and their role as active contributors to the culture of contemporary music in their local community.
As in the main press, reviewers in the street press are mainly freelancers, although staff writers may also contribute reviews. Freelancers are not usually paid, but they get to keep the discs they review or are given complimentary admission to gigs.
Beat Magazine (VIC) reviews CDs (albums and EPs Singles), DVDs, films, comedy performances, some arts and theatre events, as well as live gigs (both bands and solo performers). It currently has about 60 writers, some of whom write more regularly than others.
Music Editor Nick Snelling explains Beat’s approach to reviewing: “Music reviews (ie live and album) are selected mainly by my writers – they choose what they wish to review, and I assign them accordingly, depending on who I think will do the best job. I base that decision upon the quality of their previous writing, their time with us, the genre of music they are most suited to, and sometimes, on who asks first.”
On average Beat carries about 14-15 album reviews per week, each running from 250 to 500 words, sometimes more if it is Album of the Week. Snelling explains how the latter is chosen: “The decision to as to what release will be Album of the Week is based on the enthusiasm of the writer for the album, and often the ‘profile’ of the act being reviewed. That said, many unknown or independent artists get Album of the Week simply on the strength of their music.”
Beat includes about 5-7 reviews of live performances each week, of around 300-600 words each.
3D World Magazine (NSW) is a free weekly dance music magazine. The music it reviews generally falls under the electronica banner. It runs 6-10 album reviews per week, each of 150-200 words each, plus 2-3 reviews of singles. It also runs 2-3 event reviews per issue. A team of about a dozen regular freelance contributors write the reviews. Nick Jarvis is 3D World’s editor.
Tsunami Music Magazine (QLD) is a monthly with around 20-30 critics who review both recordings and concerts. In each issue around 45 CDs, 4-8 EPs/singles and 2-4 DVDs are reviewed. Normally, CD and DVD reviews run to 150-200 words, while single and EP reviews are 50-80 words.
Editor Gavin Britton describes how CDs are selected for reviewing: “We have a monthly journo meeting at the start of the month and all CDs/DVDs received during the past month are made available to the journalists. A note is made of what they have taken and then reviews are selected based on a number of different factors: 1) Popular artists such as Powderfinger will be reviewed no matter what the score out of 10 is; 2) Negative reviews of unknown artists will not be run as we feel it is not beneficial for the artists or our readers to run such reviews; and 3) When selecting reviews to run we think about what our readers would like to read about.”
For concert reviewing, Britton says that each month his journalists request concerts to attend and that those gigs usually form the bulk of Tsunami’s monthly gig reviews. “Sometimes we will be contacted by a publicist requesting us to send a journo to review a concert. If we can find a journalist that is interested then we’ll send them along to review the show.”
Live reviews are usually around 300 words. Festivals reviews sometimes run to around 700 words or even 1400 words depending on the festival and quality of photos.
Rave Magazine (QLD) reviews major label album releases, independent releases, singles, EPs, and music DVDs. It also reviews live shows, both local and interstate or international touring artists. It has approximately 30 contributors on staff who review music and movie releases.
Editor Chris Harms describes Rave’s approach to reviewing CD releases and live gigs: “We try to review as much as possible each week, depending on the volume of product/number of gigs up for review. Major CD reviews are 250-300 words. Independent CDs are 150-200 words. Singles and EPs are 200 words each. Live reviews are written up at 200, 300, or 500 words depending on the profile of the show.”
With 15 critics, Time Off (QLD) runs weekly live performance and CD reviews. In each edition, it reviews 12-15 albums, and 10 singles and EPs, and 4-6 concerts. Album reviews run to 100-150 words, single/EP reviews to 50 words, and live reviews to 300-350 words.
DB Magazine (SA) writes about a wide gamut of contemporary music in SA. Editor Alex Wheaton explains how this paper was started in 1991 “largely because the Adelaide arts and entertainment scene was not being covered adequately by anyone else. Simple really. Live reviews were almost non existent and music reviews (records, then CDs) were of the 120 word “it was great” variety. Music reviewing, and to an extent, theatre, visual arts, contemporary dance is our raison d’etre. It’s fair to say that everything else including cinema reviews comes second to promoting local events and practitioners and live performance, and we employ no particular yardstick in that. Hence you’ll see ASO reviews alongside Death Metal and hip hop along the ASQ with Leigh Warren… Basically seeking to cover the gamut, though if it came down to a choice between Mariah Carey’s new CD and a release from local band Meanwell College the latter would always win because it’s local and Mariah is likely to be covered by mainstream media”.
For CD reviewing, DB Magazine has around 25-30 reviewers, and reviews are about 300-400 words. Wheaton describes how CDs are selected for review: “Generally the contemporary music reviewers select what they are going to review, whether by asking in advance for things they are interested in, or by being directed by the Music & Games Editor, or by coming in and perusing the new releases shelves here in the office.”
Rip It Up (SA) has a review which takes in CDs, films, DVDs and ongoing theatre shows. Normally there are three short ‘At A Glance’ reviews (most often a summary of Various Artists CDs), one highlighted ‘Best CD’ review, eight general reviews and five single reviews. The inclusion of the Global Beats column every fortnight usually means less reviews are covered. CD reviews are up to 300 words in length.
Up to 10 freelance reviewers and four staff write music reviews for any one issue. Editor Scott McLennan explains that freelancers “are generally chosen in relation to their areas of expertise (whether it be heavy metal, British pop, Australian rock, etc) and CDs are issued to them in accordance with their tastes. Generally the music companies send CDs to me and I distribute them to the appropriate writers. CDs are generally reviewed democratically (no reviewers are pressured to review something that doesn’t excite them) and we prefer to run positive rather than negative reviews”.
Live concert reviewing takes a lower priority, says McLennan, because “we’d prefer to cover upcoming shows and events rather than reserving editorial for gigs that have already passed – we’d prefer to promote them in advance rather than adding a postscript once the show has already occurred.”
Other street press music publications are: Drum Media, The Brag and BMA Magazine (NSW/ACT), Inpress Magazine, Forte Magazine and Buzz Magazine (VIC), Scene Magazine and Barfly Magazine (QLD), and X-Press and Zebra Magazine (WA).
Music Magazines and Journals
Australia has a small number of high circulation and high profile music periodicals that take a serious approach to criticism. Formerly called 24 Hours, Limelight is a monthly magazine mainly devoted mainly to classical music. It is published under licence from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by Haymarket Media and contains a guide to ABC radio programs.
Limelight carries an extensive review section. Up to 80 CDs are reviewed in each edition, by around 18 music critics. The majority of discs are classical, in line with the magazine’s classical music focus, but world music and jazz CDs are also reviewed. Reviews are given ratings out of five stars.
Editor Katarina Kroslakova explains the magazine’s priorities and how CDs are selected for review: “The important thing for us is to have a balance… this means a range of historic re-releases, new releases, as much Australian content as possible, contemporary, opera, DVDs etc. There is no real area of preference – they are all treated as equal. As far as Australian work or Australian labels are concerned, we try to profile the better quality ones (and supplement that with a quick Q & A or feature pic for more prominence) but just because something is local, that doesn’t guarantee automatic placement.”
Limelight’s reviews range from 100 to 300 words. Kroslakova explains: “100 is short, 220 is the most common (standard) and 300 is double-length, normally with feature pic.”
Music Forum is a quarterly magazine published by the Music Council of Australia, the peak advocacy body for Australian music. As of 2000, it began a large review section which exclusively reviews discs of Australian compositions or performers. Around two dozen discs are reviewed in each edition, across the categories of classical, new (classical) composition, contemporary (popular forms), jazz and improvisation, and world music. Music Forum has 16 CD reviewers, although this numbers varies with each edition. The reviewers themselves decide what CDs they want to review, selecting from a list of CDs received by the magazine.
Editor Richard Letts explains that while Music Forum does review contemporary discs – mainly hip-hop, rock and electronica – it does not encourage the major record labels to send discs for review because of the extremely large volume of releases in this category and the fact that the street press or major newspapers already review many of these.
Length of reviews is normally up to 500 words for single CD albums, but Letts says this is flexible, again depending on reviewers’ wishes: “they can exceed this if they think there is good reason. There is also an option to write a short review of up to 150 words, generally for discs seen as of lesser importance, the purpose being to get a larger number of reviews into the available space without reducing the space available for more important reviews.”
The Australian edition of Rolling Stone is a high circulation monthly magazine published by Next Media in Sydney. The editor is Dan Lander. The magazine has a large review section of around 15 pages covering new CDs, re-issues, downloads, DVDs and live performances. CD reviews take up the majority of the review section: there are around three dozen new CDs and 20 downloads reviewed in each edition. Length of reviews is typically around 120-150 words although lead reviews are longer and download reviews shorter. Recordings are given ratings out of five stars.Also published by Next Media, Australian Guitar is Australia’s largest guitar magazine and regularly contains reviews.
Country Update is a magazine devoted to Australian country music. The editor is Bob Anthony Jr, and it has a review section run by Rosie Adsett of around 10 pages, in which around 20-25 CD reviews including some DVD reviews are published. Length of reviews is around 200 words, although the feature review is longer at 250-300 words.
Until recently Opera-Opera was an independent monthly publication devoted to opera in Australasia. Reviewing featured prominently, with a stable of eight critics contributing around 10 reviews to each edition. David E. Gyger was editor and manager. It ceased publication in December 2007, but it still operates as a website providing calendar information and brief performance updates on opera productions and opera-related activity around Australia and New Zealand.
Such is the primacy of print music criticism that reviewing in the electronic media takes a distant second place. This flies in the face of earlier predictions that the print media might disappear altogether with the advent of the internet. Electronic journals and information sites are by their nature a volatile medium. While many print media outlets maintain websites that hold recently printed material, few attempts at starting dedicated arts-based websites have succeeded.
The notable exception was State of the Arts Online.Until its recent demise this online magazine claimed to be “Australia’s leading publisher of arts information, with more than 16 years experience in providing cultural content for print and online”. It produced news stories, articles and reviews on a full range of performing arts in Australia: theatre, music, dance, design, books, film, festivals and art. Music reviews were weighted towards classical and new classical music, and opera. Reviews were around 500-600 words in length. It also distributed a free email newsletter to 10,000 people in Australia and overseas.
An initiative of Sydney-based Tess Dryza web-developer, fuel-4-arts was an online international network for artists and arts professionals, including in the music sector. It operated in close association with the Australian Council until the latter’s decision to withdraw. Many of its resources were subsequently transferred to the Australia Council‘s own website.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission regularly broadcasts a range of music programs on ABC Radio. However, none are currently geared towards formal music criticism.
The Dues is a website operated by the Musicians’ Union of Australia that regularly includes reviews of concerts, music festivals and CDs. The review section included an entertaining ‘Review the Reviewer’ comment, pieces that discuss concert reviews in th mainstream press.
The Classical Source is an online publication based in the UK that carries concert reviews and CD revises of classical music performances from around the world. Amongst its Australian writers is William Yeoman, who covers the concert scene in Perth.
Run from New Zealand, the online publication The Opera Critic carries news stories and reviews of opera productions from around the world. Its Australian reviewers include Sandra Bowdler and Rosalind Appleby. The editor is Michael Sinclair.
Consumer reviewing on the internet is a rapidly growing area. Separate from formal professional reviewing, it represents an interesting new development in reviewing.
Teaching of Music Criticism
There are few opportunities to learn or study music criticism in Australia. Written and verbal communication skills are increasingly recognised as an important part of making a professional career in music. However, the generally accepted view is that the large knowledge base and experience expected of a music critic cannot be acquired during the relatively short span of a music degree or other qualification.
So while several universities and conservatoriums teach musicological-type criticism, and while critical enquiry generally underpins all higher education, there are currently no institutions that teach music criticism in the journalistic sense. However, a small number of universities have introduced electives or subjects that do include some review writing. The National Music Camp’s ‘Words and Music’ course is another avenue for learning music criticism.
The Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, offers an upper level undergraduate elective course called Writing Skills for Music Professions. Run over one semester, it contains a 2-3 week unit on music criticism. The course’s aim is to broaden music students’ written communication skills and critical thinking, and to develop research and writing skills for preparing program notes, liner notes, concert or CD reviews, and short articles. It is usually taken in third year as a pre-requisite for honours. Sydney Conservatorium also teaches four units of music philosophy and cultural criticism centring on the writings of Theodor Adorno. These are Adorno 101, Adorno 201, Adorno 301 and Adorno (honours).
At The University of Melbourne, Kerry Murphy has been teaching a course on music criticism for two decades. It is not confined to journalistic criticism but covers academic criticism, history of criticism and journalistic criticism. For the journalistic criticism component, students are requited to regularly collect reviews and in the last week participate in a group review of a lunchtime concert and discuss criticism generally in Melbourne. Clive O’Connell (critic from The Age) comes in to talk with the students. The University’s Music library has in its rare book collection a series of newspaper clippings compiled from 1906 onwards (most consistently from the 1920s) which students use to prepare an essay that looks at a 6-month period in the history of Melbourne’s musical life (repertoire performed, major concert venues and major personalities).
The Queensland Conservatorium (Griffith University) runs a first year Music Literature course that currently includes an assessment requirement for students to write a concert review. It is compulsory course for all students (classical, jazz, music technology, arts). As a ‘foundation’ course, its thrust is more to develop academic writing styles, but the concert review component is aimed at drawing attention to the widely different styles of writing required for newspaper/magazine reviews. Additionally, all performance students are required to write reviews of 10 concerts a year to be submitted in conjunction with their major study. Two undergraduate elective units are offered in Musicology that include various types of research regarding styles of writing about music.
The University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium of Music has recently included components on music criticism in its third-year and Preliminary Honours coursework. Second-year students also gain exposure to music criticism through a CD reviewing assignment they undertake as part of the course.
In its Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong has introduced an elective subject as part of its new Bachelor of Journalism. Called JOUR 233 (Arts Journalism), it provides students with critiquing skills across a number of subjects including music, theatre, television and the visual arts. The subject’s aim is to develop the skills that enable students to produce critical reviews for newspapers, magazines, radio, television and online audiences.
Until recently, the University of Western Australia used to run a unit on journalistic music criticism. At present there is no unit taught in this area, but it is hoped that an elective may be reintroduced some time in the future. There are no immediate plans as yet.
Although music criticism is not taught in the contemporary popular degree course in the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Southern Cross University, writing critiques forms part of students’ assessment. They provide critical feedback to their peers on their performances, compositions or productions, according to criteria provided by the lecturers. Elsewhere in the course, such as in popular music history and world music units, students are required to review 10 or more CDs, again according to guidelines about what aspects of the music to address. However, the intention is not to train the students to be critics or music journalists.
The Melba Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne provides instruction in, and requires the submission of, concert reviews in several units of study in its Diploma of Music and Bachelor of Music courses. These units are Music Materials (History & Analysis component), which cover historical perspectives from the Renaissance to 20th century. Study content comprises reflective journal and intelligent listening exercises with guided points for discussion of the students’ own performances. Students in BMus 3 also complete a unit of study in Aesthetics, which deals with musicological criticism.
The University of Western Sydney does not offer subjects on music reviewing on the journalistic variety, but it does offer units dealing with a post-Adorno criticism, on topics that are located in what has loosely come to be known as critical or new musicology. It also incorporates elements of review-reflection on music in its practical units in performance and composition.
Victoria’s Box Hill Institute, a TAFE college, requires students to attend concerts and write reviews as part of the Music Language Studies subject in its Bachelor of Applied Music curriculum
The Australian Youth Orchestra’s annual National Music Camp includes a ‘Words and Music’ course designed to assist young musicians gain career experience in writing and speaking about classical music. The specific career areas it targets are music journalism, broadcasting, publishing and arts administration. The course engages tutors who are professionals in these areas. Activities include writing program notes of National Music Camp concerts, giving pre-concert talks, developing interview techniques, enhancing research skills and writing reviews.
With very few exceptions, no music critics in Australia are employed as staff, either at newspapers or at other media outlets. This is the typical situation in other countries too. Because critics work in a freelance capacity and invariably have to supplement their income with other work such as teaching, music criticism is not usually regarded as a profession as such. However, as with all arts criticism, it aspires to professional standards of knowledge, expertise and responsibility.
At present there is no professional body that serves or represents music critics in Australia. In 1975, the Australia Council for the Arts initiated a Critics Circle which operated successfully for some years. It provided opportunities for critics in all states to meet and attend performances. It also issued awards.
At the instigation of the Music Council of Australia, the Australian Music Commentators’ Circle was formed in 2002 and operated until 2004. It aimed to represent and further the work of music critics, journalists and broadcasters. Drawing from overseas models (the Finnish Critics’ Association and Music Critics Association of North America), it convened a meeting at the Music Council of Australia’s national assembly in Sydney in 2003. Active members included Ben Eltham, Andrew Ford, Peter McCallum, Miriam Cosic, Jeremy Eccles, Martin Ball, Richard Letts and Graham Strahle. An outcome of the Circle was to formulate a Code of Ethics Discussion Paper, published in Music Forum (Vol. 10 No. 1, Oct-Nov 2003).
A highly successful International Music Critics Symposium was staged as part of the Queensland Biennial Music Festival in 2002 and 2004. The initiative of Festival artistic director Lyndon Terracini, it brought together music critics from around the country for a stimulating series of panel discussions and public talks. Distinguished overseas critics Andrew Clements and Andrew Porter gave keynote addresses. Workshops were held for new and emerging writers.
Several Australian music critics hold academic positions within Australian tertiary music schools, and increasingly journalistic criticism is being recognised as an allied professional area to musicology. In response to this, the Musicological Society of Australia (MSA) has run two recent events on music criticism. A national Study Weekend on Music and Criticism was held in 2004 at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide. Speakers included John Deathridge (King’s College, University of London), and critic-musicologists Roger Covell, Joel Crotty and Johanna Selleck. A public forum, ‘Wagner, The Ring and Criticism’, was also held at his event, coinciding with that year’s Ring production in Adelaide.
In 2006, the MSA’s SA Chapter staged another public forum, ‘The Critics Speak’, in which a panel of critics and arts commentators discussed the music program of the 2006 Adelaide Festival of Arts. Participating critics were Elizabeth Silsbury, Murray Bramwell, Stephen Whittington and Graham Strahle.
How the professional interests of critics may be more directly served through institutional means, and whether this is a good idea at all, is debatable. Criticism is an autonomous, even ‘anarchic’ activity that values its independence very highly (‘without fear or favour’ is its maxim). And given the widely differing backgrounds and orientations of its practitioners, the idea of forming a professional body for critics might be less than compelling. However, ways of improving networking opportunities would appear to be very desirable given the typical solitariness of their work and the fact that they are deprived of the kind of day-to-day contact that staff journalists routinely enjoy.
There is one prize offered to arts critics in Australia. The annual Geraldine Pascall Prize for critical writing was founded in 1988 in memory of the journalist-critic Geraldine Pascall. Eligible is “any person currently and regularly engaged in the practice of writing or broadcasting critically about any branch of the arts”, and the winner is “someone contributing regularly to newspapers, radio, television or other broadcast media with a broad, non-specialist audience”. Offering a cash prize of $15,000, its recipients in music have included Roger Covell, Bruce Elder, Andrew Ford and Robert Forster.
Established in 1996, the Adelaide Critics Circle awards annual prizes to South Australian arts practitioners across the full range of performing arts including music. Currently it offers cash prizes and ACColade trophies in the categories of Group, Individual, Innovative, Emerging, and Lifetime. Nominations are made by the Circle’s approximately 20 members and voted on by the Circle ahead of a ceremony night at which a celebrity guest speaker presents the awards. Several music critics in Adelaide’s print media are amongst its members.
Two Australian music critics who have won Churchill Fellowships to gain professional experience overseas are Shirley Apthorp and Rosalind Appleby.
Disclosure: Graham Strahle writes for The Australian, The Adelaide Review and Music Forum, and is a member of the Musicological Society of Australia and Adelaide Critics Circle.
Acknowledgement: The author gratefully acknowledges additional information provided by Rosalind Appleby and William Yeoman in updating this article.
Dr Graham Strahle. Last updated 1 April 2009.