For the purposes of this document, classical music includes all extant music from the Western tradition going back to plainchant and forward to its diverse present-day heirs including those in which it mixes with other genres and those created with new technologies. There will always be arguments at the fringe for inclusion/exclusion but they can be conducted elsewhere. The term ‘classical music’ is increasingly out of favour, but it has not really been supplanted by another as precise. ‘Art music’ contends, but includes jazz, some developments of contemporary and popular music and forms from many other cultures.

Even so, this is an extensive and complex field and an analysis could take volumes. How to manage to provide useful information and thought within this more contained format?

Firstly, it should be noted that on this Knowledge Base there are articles which map out various aspects of classical music activity and others which take up specific issues – for instance, mapping articles such as that on orchestras, or issues articles which look at the funding of university music education. So there is detail there to a level which would simply be overwhelming in a SWOT analysis.  Also, there are SWOT analyses of professional orchestras, youth orchestras, opera, school music etc in more detail, perhaps, than should be expected in this broad overview. (See links at the bottom of this section and the factual introductions to following sections.)

We do nevertheless take up some of these areas because they are indispensable to a discussion of classical music. This SWOT conveys the impressions of this writer and differences with the other possibly better-informed presentations may give cause for further thought.

Given that this is an overview, what should it take in? These are the areas we will include.

  • Childhood education in classical music
  • Tertiary and professional education in classical music
  • Composition
  • Performance:
    • Solo
    • Choral
    • Chamber music
    • Orchestral
    • Opera
  • Recording
  • Media – broadcast, online

For the full list of SWOT analyses on the Knowledge Base, go here:



This can be delivered through schools or through studio lessons or through community based programs.


Schools fall into one of three categories: government schools, educating about 70% of children; Catholic Diocesan schools, about 18%; ‘independent’ or private schools, about 11%.

Government schools are run by the state governments. They have these similarities: except in Queensland, official responsibility for music education in primary schools falls mainly on classroom teachers with very little music education, in secondary schools on specialist music teachers. In Queensland, primary schools are taught by salaried specialist music teachers. To varying degrees, primary school principals may be able to hire part-time specialist music teachers. Government primary schools in affluent areas often have after-school music programs, non-curricular, paid for by parents.

Diocesan schools. Catholic schools are organised at the diocese level and there is said to be great variability between dioceses in provision of music education. Generally, they probably follow the same pattern as government schools. However, surveys of successful orchestral and contemporary musicians (which are published on the Knowledge Base) show that very few attended Catholic schools. This suggests a serious inattention to music education.

Independent schools. Many are very wealthy and offer rich music education programs even at primary school level, housed in purpose built facilities and including individual instrumental instruction. A disproportionate percentage of successful musicians have attended independent schools.

Studio lessons

These are of course fundamental to the passing on of the tradition. They are a central part of the program of well supported schools and tertiary music institutions.

However, in this context, we refer to the ‘private’ music teachers who have their own personal practices offering lessons and paid directly by the hour by the students or their parents. Some thousands of people are offering this service, including as a source of supplementary income in a performance career.

It is unregulated. The tradition is based in classical music but in recent decades there is an increase in the number of teachers offering instruction in other genres.

Some structure is provided by the activities of the Australian Music Examinations Board, which is offers syllabi, sheet music for collections of recommended works at various grade levels, and annual examinations for achievement at the grade levels. The normal expectation is that students will advance by one level per year. Beyond the numbered levels students can sit for an Associate or Diploma qualification. There are other similar music examinations organisations on a smaller scale.


There are youth orchestras which at the highest level serve as a normal part of the preparation for those intending to become professional musicians. The Australian Youth Orchestra is the national orchestra, meeting annually in a music camp setting. Each capital city has a substantial organisation – Sydney Youth Orchestra, for instance, manages 12 orchestras. There are others in cities and regional centres.

There are also high level youth choirs in each capital city and at least two national youth choirs.

Music education is offered at community level through a variety of continuing or ad hoc offerings, serving adults or children. In NSW, 17 ‘regional conservatoriums’ offer instrumental and vocal instruction and various forms of performing and other opportunities. Some local governments offer various forms of arts education workshops or continuing classes.

For Knowledge Base papers on school music education, go to this list: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to School Music Education, choose papers of interest.

For the full list of SWOT analyses on the Knowledge Base, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to SWOT Analyses.


Childhood education in classical music


  1. Pedagogy. Highly developed pedagogical traditions
  2. Extensive research into pedagogies and into instrumental benefits of a well-devised and executed music education
  3. There is now an endorsed national curriculum in music.
  4. Studio. Good quality studio music education available from a substantial number of practitioners.
  5. The music examinations system offers structure and a reason for persistence for individual students.
  6. School access. High quality education in classical music is available from probably the majority of independent schools
  7. High quality music education is available from a small proportion of government primary schools. Music education in primary schools in Queensland delivered by specialist music teachers.
  8. Music education is available as an after-school option in many government primary schools in affluent areas, paid for by parents.
  9. High quality music education is available from a small number of specialist government schools especially at secondary level.
  10. Music education is available from specialist music teachers at most secondary schools in all systems.
  11. Music education, sometimes to a very high level, is available on a voluntary basis through community youth orchestras and choirs
  12. Music education is available through other community programs ranging from the semi-formal regional conservatoriums in NSW to informal programs offered by community organisations or eg local councils.


  1. Music education training for teachers. Early childhood music education is optional and haphazard. There is no requirement that early childhood teachers be competent in music education.
  2. Probably, most parents do not sing to children.
  3. The mandatory music education given in preservice education for primary school classroom teachers is tokenistic and could not equip them to deliver a credible music curriculum, even though in most government and Catholic schools, they are assigned this responsibility.
  4. While principals in government primary schools may choose to hire a casual teacher to teach music, a good thing, in most cases these teachers need no formal qualification and there are questions of competency. Also, since most systems do not provide a market for specialist primary school music teachers, they are not trained, there is scarcity and principals may not be able to find or may not seek to hire one.
  5. Unavailability. A consequence of the lack of primary school teacher music competency is that music is not offered in probably the great majority of government and Catholic primary school classrooms. While the Diocesan organisation of the Catholic system makes it difficult to know the level of musical activity, there is circumstantial evidence in the lack of successful Catholic classical musicians that music is not taught.
  6. An education in classical music is available by various means to the children of affluent families and supported by the education of the parents. This is a strength, but is counterbalanced by the effective exclusion of other children by lack of opportunity and inclination.
  7. There has been a long shift in schools away from education in classical music and towards other more popular genres.
  8. Studio teaching. There is no regulation to ensure the competency of studio music teachers and anyone can self-identify as a teacher and in some cases cause damage.
  9. There have long been criticisms of the examinations systems used especially by studio teachers: that they serve as a crutch for inadequately trained or motivated teachers and lock students into practising for exams rather than gaining a deeper and more diverse understanding.
  10. Quality. Opinions as to the quality of the national music curriculum vary. State authorities are adapting it in various ways to unknown effect. At the primary level, teachers are not equipped to teach a satisfactory curriculum and there is a temptation to weaken the curriculum rather than strengthen the teachers.
  11. The curriculum purportedly requires the teaching of five creative arts subjects which means that music has more competition but we do not know how the states intend to make such a program possible or how quality education in each subject can be achieved.
  12. A lot of music teaching is uninspiring.
  13. In classical music, the tradition is more to teach performance and understanding of the existing repertoire than to encourage musical creation.
  14. Political will. Education bureaucracies and relevant politicians sometimes know the arguments for the value of music education but rarely show the commitment necessary to ensure its provision to an acceptable level.
  15. The music teacher profession is unskilled in advocacy and does not show commitment and persistence in advocating the case for universal music education.
  16. The community sources of music education struggle to gain or sustain material support.


  1. Early childhood. Mandate adequate inclusion of music education in preservice courses for early childhood teachers. If they know how to teach music, most will do so.
  2. Offer broad opportunities for parents to learn lullabies and children’s songs to to make music with their children.
  3. Achievement benchmarks. Normal children are capable of significant musical achievement. While this may not be apparent in the great majority of government and Catholic schools, it can be seen and heard in high level community programs such as youth choirs and orchestras and adequately resourced school programs. These should be the benchmarks, not the achievements of school programs starved of expertise and resources.
  4. Specialist music teachers. Provide competent, exciting specialist music teachers to all primary school classrooms. This would require provision of adequate preservice degree courses, requirements for provision of school courses, and regulations and funds to employ the teachers.
  5. The Catholic schools should review their provision of music education and apply resources to lift it to a satisfactory level.
  6. Curriculum. Include classical music in the preservice curricula.
  7. Include singing in music curricula throughout the school years.
  8. Include opportunities for instrumental instruction at least as an option.
  9. Engender interest of the profession in developing new approaches to curriculum and education that are innovate and exciting and promote music creation as well as performance of the existing repertoire.
  10. Devise school or regional or system-wide exciting classical music events to intrigue and captivate school students and young people generally.
  11. Advocacy. Music education professional associations such as ASME develop and implement effective continuing advocacy programs in support of music in schools and support advocacy by industry associations such as Music Australia.
  12. Professional associations promote the addition of the arts to STEM curricula (STEAM).
  13. Advocacy to put pressure on state governments and education bureaucracies to engage with the practical issues around provision of education in five art forms to a satisfactory level.
  14. Research. Australian music education researchers apply themselves to big questions of music education and its provision and effects so that there is LOCAL evidence.
  15. Alternatives. Develop and implement strategies to strengthen community alternatives for offering music education to children that are not hostage to the lack of interest by education departments. These programs should be directed especially to children other than those from affluent families. There are exemplars in Australia and widespread services in Europe such as the subsidised municipal music schools.


  1. Continuing or increased lack of provision of music education requirements and resources by governments and/or departments of education.
  2. Possible decline of interest in classical music in the general population resulting in decline in interest in teaching it in schools.



Tertiary music schools are mostly departments or schools within universities. There is a small number of degree-granting private music schools. There are also music programs among TAFE institutions, offering certificate, diploma or bachelor degrees. Music preparation of primary school teachers is customarily provided through university schools of education.

TAFE institutions rarely offer professional education in classical music.

The university schools or departments of music can be roughly divided into those offering studio-based instruction – i.e. one on one instruction in voice or instrumental performance, and those based mostly in class instruction. The former are among the more expensive courses for universities to provide.

The purpose of these schools traditionally has been the training of performers, composers and academics in classical music. In recent decades there has been some diversification, with the addition of jazz and later, ‘contemporary’ musical genres and even some non-Western genres such as Indonesian gamelan.

Faculty members of the music schools, as of other university disciplines, are expected to undertake research projects.

There is an ever-increasing number of postgraduate students and their programs require them to undertake research. Performers may design the research to inform performance.

The Australian National Academy of Music is the one ‘national’ school of classical music and from doubtful beginnings, has built into an effective school at a high level. It does not offer a degree and escapes from many normal but sometimes obstructive academic requirements.

All six state concert orchestras and the ACO offer some form of high level pre-professional courses for instrumentalists or conductors. The SSO offers stipends and year-round Fellowships to around 15 musicians. The ACO Collective is a second chamber orchestra of young players with its own concert program and touring.

The national and state opera companies offer artist residencies to a small number of exceptionally talented singers.

Most promising opera singers seek further training abroad, often leading to professional employment abroad. There is an array of singing competitions, many offering winners financial support for overseas study.

The National Association of Tertiary Music Schools, the consultative and advocacy body, has recently disappeared with neither a bang nor a whimper.

For Knowledge Base papers on post-secondary music education in Australia, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Post-Secondary Education, choose papers of interest.

For the full list of SWOT analyses on the Knowledge Base, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to SWOT Analyses.


”’Tertiary and professional education in classical music ”’


  1. Quality. Overall, courses and outcomes are of good quality, with instances of world class achievement.
  2. Support of hosts. Despite the financial pressures and the dissatisfaction of university programs in other disciplines that contribute to internal cross-subsidisation of music schools, host universities are by and large supportive of their music schools.
  3. Role and adequacy. The tertiary music schools are essential to the survival and development of classical music practice in Australia, in part because they provide access to government loans to pay for study; they also bring together Australia’s future professional musicians in a mutually supportive and reinforcing environment.
  4. The number of tertiary graduates is probably sufficient to maintain the professional classical music sector in Australia.
  5. Research. Tertiary music institutions are the main locations for the conduct of research into classical music, related pedagogies, related technologies, and its place in society and the economy.
  6. Some research by faculty members has world impact.
  7. Post-tertiary. The work of post-tertiary training programs in orchestral music appears to be of very high quality.
  8. Young artist programs with national and state opera companies provide an important opportunity for a small number of potential opera soloists.
  9. Locally supported competitions for singers which provide winners with support for international study provide an important stepping stone to operatic careers.


  1. Under-funding. Tertiary music schools mostly are underfunded by government and therefore depend upon cross-subsidy by their university hosts. These funds are taken from other disciplines. Consequently, universities pressure them to reduce their expenditures which they do by reducing their programs.
  2. Consequences. Because of the high cost of individual instruction, the music schools are vulnerable to pressure to reduce the length or frequency of lessons or similar instruction such as coaching, even though these lessons are traditionally recognised as the core of performer education. Contact hours have contracted by more than half in some institutions since they were merged into universities.
  3. Their programs then offer less than their international competitors, which inter alia would reduce their attractiveness to fee-paying international students – a vicious circle.
  4. Although music faculty members are required as a core responsibility to engage in research, the shortage of funds results in an increased teaching load, not officially balanced by a reduction in research.
  5. The shortage of funds also results in a reduction in administrative support and an increase in administrative responsibilities of faculty members.
  6. The shortage of funds results in a reduction in permanent positions and an increase in casual appointments, with various negative consequences.
  7. These circumstances reduce the attractiveness of Australian institutions to potential foreign faculty members, probably with consequences for standards.
  8. Universities as hosts. Some universities appear to lack comprehension of the purposes, requirements and costs of music education to train professional classical practitioners and lack commitment to them; and their programs suffer or even disappear.
  9. The customs and values of a university are not necessarily well suited to education of artists. For instance, some artists who are very talented performers may have difficulty in meeting academic requirements and see potential careers cut off before, in other circumstances, they would go on to possibly brilliant success.
  10. Curricula. Education in performance of the music of our time is patchy and probably mostly left to the discretion of individual faculty members.
  11. In these days of the portfolio career, some observe that the tertiary schools do not prepare students for the prospect of flexible application of their musical skills, nor with skills such as business or marketing skills to pursue their musical careers.
  12. Conductor training in Australia is insufficient.
  13. Choral music is often accorded lower status in the tertiary institutions, a situation perpetuated in the larger society.
  14. Opera. University opera performance programs are very expensive but are starved of funds. The costs limit the scope of the programs.
  15. There consequently are very limited opportunities for student singers to gain experience in singing roles in staged productions, and even more limited opportunities for graduates to do so prior to gaining employment with professional companies.
  16. Opportunities in Australia for young singers to gain positions in artist in resident programs with professional companies are very limited.
  17. Overseas study. The support for overseas study available from private sources to voice students through competitions is less available to instrumentalists, conductors, composers.


  1. Earning funds. Some tertiary music schools could attempt to gain more income by following the demonstrably successful model of providing music courses of interest to large numbers of non-music-majors. An example is the Melbourne Conservatorium’s course in music and psychology.
  2. Escaping the academy. Some tertiary music schools could attempt to shake off the routine and traditional university program structures and invent new, inventive, inspiring programs of artistic rigour that emphasise the production of dynamic, imaginative graduates. (Choose your own adjectives.) ANAM is doing this. It does not award degrees.
  3. Some tertiary music schools could seek to leave universities and stand alone as autonomous but still government-supported institutions, with the freedom to develop the programs most effective in producing successful musical artists. This was the situation of many music institutions before 1990.
  4. Sectoral cohesion. Increase sector-wide consultation, collaboration and advocacy, perhaps based upon successful models in other countries or regions such as the Association of European Conservatoires.
  5. Increase collaborations and mutual support with the professional performance organisations such as the orchestras.
  6. Career options. Give students adequate preparation in managing their careers.
  7. Increase emphasis on building musical creativity in performers as well as composers.
  8. Increase opportunities for composition students to have their works performed.
  9. Encourage and train composition students to produce performances of their and others’ works, cover costs and draw audiences.
  10. Find ways to create post-tertiary pre-professional performance opportunities especially in areas where costs can be beyond those manageable by people not yet professionally established.
  11. There is a great unmet need for pre-professional opera production companies that provide the opportunity for graduates to perform roles in fully if economically staged operas.
  12. Increase opportunities for students to work in and with communities.
  13. International. Increase international collaborations with student and faculty exchanges.
  14. Recruit more fee-paying international students, but maintain high standards for their admission and achievement.


  1. Funding. Further reduction in direct government support to music schools through the tiered system of funding which is supposed to fund in accordance with the costs of offering an internationally credible program but in the case of music, does not. This is not at present an active threat but a possibility.
  2. In the continuing need to cross-subsidise their music schools, there is always the random possibility that a university will demand reduction of costs therefore program, terminate an aspect of a program, or close the school (e.g. LaTrobe).
  3. Universities focussed on grant funding of research may penalise music schools that do not bring in a high level of grant income even if their teaching programs excel.
  4. If the government consensus on funding classical music waned, and given that classical music is of interest to only a small percentage of the population, government or university could decide to terminate funding.
  5. If that consensus failed, funding might be terminated to professional orchestras or opera companies, the main employers of graduates of tertiary classical music schools, and the schools are made more or less redundant.



Australia has produced many fine composers although no living composer with the fame of e.g. a Boulez or John Adams.

Virtually all classical music composers trained in the formal tertiary music institutions.

Very few living composers earn their income entirely from composing. They mostly are obliged to have portfolio careers.

The work of Australian composers is to an extent funded by government funding bodies, which pay the costs of commissions by, mainly, performers. Some commissions are created and funded by private individuals

The work of over 500 selected Australian composers and sound artists is supported by the Australian Music Centre, an organisation partly funded by governments and partly by the Australasian Performing Right Association. The Centre collects works, makes musical scores accessible and to an extent, promotes the works in Australia and internationally.

For Knowledge Base papers on music composition in Australia, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Composition, choose papers of interest.

For the full list of SWOT analyses on the Knowledge Base, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to SWOT Analyses.




  1. Number and quality. The number of talented and accomplished Australian composers.
  2. Education. Effective educational institutions – the music schools of some universities – to train professional composers, employ some composers, provide opportunities for performance of their work.
  3. Support. The existence of a funded and committed organisation to collect, make available and promote the works of Australian composers – the Australian Music Centre.
  4. An effective and reliable royalty collection agency, the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)
  5. The commitment of many Australian performing groups, especially small ensembles and to a lesser extent some choirs, orchestras, opera companies, to the commissioning and performance of works by Australian works.
  6. The existence of a number of “new music” chamber ensembles with the special purpose of performing new works, especially Australian works, and commissioning and working with composers.
  7. The special commitment of many individual performers to the performance of new music and especially the work of Australian composers.
  8. The special efforts of some community orchestras to commission and perform the works of Australian composers.
  9. The special support given to Australian composition by a number of government funding bodies, although this has been weakening.
  10. Ecology. The freedom of Australian composers to compose in whatever ways attract them, as compared with the constraints of tradition on European composers.


  1. Support. Commercial publishers have largely withdrawn support for “serious” composers and therefore no longer promote them or provide scores.
  2. Financial viability. Generally speaking, the works of living composers including Australia composers do not draw sufficiently large audiences to provide the income to pay for the performances and then to pay the composer for the time spent composing. Many works receive only a single performance and so composition costs cannot be amortised over many performances.
  3. There is a consequent heavy dependence upon subsidy – at a time when arts subsidy has become unfashionable.
  4. Financially, success is not identified with the ability to draw an audience so much as the ability to attract subsidy. That ability depends upon artistic assessment by peers or bureaucrats.
  5. Large companies, especially orchestras and opera companies, risk financial loss through the presentation of unfamiliar works including those by Australian composers, and so are inactive or only modestly active in programming them.
  6. Quality. Some have perceived some lack of rigour in the training and work of Australian composers. This may be a result of the imposition of an inappropriate aesthetic from eg Europe.
  7. Performance opportunities. The opportunities to achieve performances of orchestral works probably have declined since the orchestras formerly managed by the ABC became independent and since with the formation of the Major Performing Arts Board, the funding body ceased its requirements for the performance of Australian works.
  8. There are few opportunities to develop skills in writing opera or music theatre and even fewer to achieve performances.
  9. The opportunities for performance of choral works are found mainly with some choirs that make a special commitment, including some children’s choirs. (One of the largest choirs remembered the 100-year anniversary of Anzac Day with a program of foreign works, an event itself worthy of special remembrance.)


  1. Funding. Renew the commitment of government funding bodies to financial support to Australian composers.
  2. Funding bodies should recognise that performance of new music is unlikely to be financially self-supporting. Governments should recognise that requirements for achievement of financial viability for musical innovation are in the main futile and counterproductive.
  3. On the other hand, funding bodies could be open to supporting a small number of large scale spectacular productions of works by Australian composers as a way to build more intense public interest and pride and thereby improve financial viability more broadly.
  4. Support and inclusion. Renew the expectation of funding bodies that subsidy to performers comes with an appropriate level of expectation of support to Australian composition.
  5. Build on the existing commitment of performers, performance organisations, broadcasters, record labels, to Australian music, fill the gaps.
  6. Encourage the inclusion of Australian works in the programs of music festivals.
  7. Inclusion in education. Renew the commitment of education departments to the inclusion of Australian composition in school music education curricula. Ensure a flow of curricular resources such as those offered by the Australian Music Centre.
  8. Create an expectation that tertiary music institutions will where appropriate offer programs to train composers, will expect that performers are taught to perform new music including new music by Australian composers, and that these will be adequately represented in performance programs.
  9. International projection. Mount a vigorous, skilled, well supported international promotion of the work of Australian composers to increase the market and establish the idea, probably through the recognition of a very small number of composers, that Australia can be the source of remarkable new music. This might be supported by APRA as a parallel effort, different music, different market, to its Music Australia promotion.


  1. Commitment by the Australia Council to the support of classical composers has weakened in favour of distribution of essentially an unchanged pool of subsidy funds across a wider array of musical genres, in many of which success can result in financial viability or even better. Support to individual artists has always been an optional responsibility of state funding authorities.
  2. We have an impression that there is an assumption in Europe and the UK that Australia is culturally a sort of province from which it cannot be expected that really accomplished art can emerge. If so, this could mean that the work of Australian composers is prejudged and international success is constrained. (Since this is a general impression, it could be our own cringe talking.)



This area is very complex and especially in this section, it is suggested that readers look at SWOTS prepared for particular areas such as professional orchestras, opera, chamber music, choral music, historically informed performance and others as they may be added.

The large professional organisations – the orchestras and opera companies – draw most of the audience and provide most of the employment. They therefore also justify the existence of tertiary music schools that train classical musicians and composers.

There are nine full time professional orchestras: concert orchestras in the six state capital cities, pit orchestras in Sydney and Melbourne and a chamber orchestra in Sydney. There are part time professional orchestras with full time management, including the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (early music) and the Canberra Symphony, and others with part time management. Then there are pro-am orchestras, community orchestras, youth orchestras at national, major city and community level.

The members of the professional orchestras constitute most of the salaried musicians in Australia. Since they have regular employment, the terms of that employment can still be negotiated, a situation no longer possible for musicians in other genres who abandoned their negotiating power by not joining their union. There is a special section of the Media and Entertainment and Arts Alliance devoted to the 500 or so orchestral members.

There is a national full time opera company based in Sydney, professional part time ‘state’ opera companies with full time managements in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane, and two specialist companies in Sydney (for early music and new music). There is a small number of other part time professional or pro-am companies and amateur companies.

Opera Australia is the only opera company that offers continuing employment to singers – a chorus and a small and declining number of principals. The only other classical vocal ensemble to offer full time employment is the a cappella ensemble of six singer, The Song Company.

Musica Viva Australia is the major organisation presenting chamber music, with national tours of foreign and to a lesser extent, Australian ensembles. It also commissions works, and organises a large music in schools program presenting Australian chamber ensembles (including vocal ensembles). There are three chamber ensembles with continuing support through ‘residencies’ in Australian universities. Pianist Kathryn Selby organises an annual series of national tours featuring herself and a changing cast of musicians; the Australian String Quartet and The Song Company also have annual national touring programs. Most chamber ensembles self-present locally, some in annual concert series. There is a subset of ensembles specialising in new music. Music in Australia Knowledge Base has a list of some 70 Australian chamber ensembles.

Few chamber musicians earn a living from performance. They have ‘portfolio’ careers, mostly including teaching in conservatoriums or privately. Despite the small size of chamber groups, by and large they require subsidy or donated services for financial viability.

There are choirs with full time management but very few in which singers are paid, even as casuals. Decades ago, the ABC employed choirs but when that ceased, there were only unpaid choirs – amateur, although some performed at a professional level. In the 1990s, some professional chamber choirs appeared, notably Cantillation in Sydney, and they achieved very high quality. The top choirs pay their conductors and management, present their own series, and perform with the professional orchestras.

Solo performers mostly would not survive on earnings from performances. A number of classical singers have engagements as soloists in oratorio performances or opera roles. Instrumentalists might have occasional engagements with orchestras, in solo concerts, as soloists with small ensembles or as accompanists. This information is impressionistic and probably there are no real data. One full symphony orchestra (Adelaide) has an Australian as principal conductor, some others employ Australians at a second-tier level.

There are specialists in historically informed performance including the well-established although part time Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, and some part time professional baroque orchestras and ensembles, some offering their own annual series. Funding bodies have tended to prefer supporting new music rather than old music because by definition, there is no Australian repertoire from the Baroque period. Occasionally, we find early music groups commissioning Australian works, perhaps because of the implicit pressure to participate in support of Australian composers.

Some papers on classical music performance, to be found on this Music in Australia Knowledge Base.

List of Australian chamber music ensembles: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Chamber Music. The first two papers give the list and a statistical analysis.

Lists of Australian music festivals: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Music Festivals. The first two papers give the list and a statistical analysis.

A few Knowledge Base articles on choral music: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Choral Music. The article on community choirs is very informative.

Knowledge Base articles on opera in Australia: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Opera.

Knowledge Base articles on orchestras in Australia: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Orchestral Music.

Broadcasting: a potential dynamic role for ABC Classic FM: If you have trouble with this link, paste the URL into the address slot.

For the full list of SWOT analyses on the Knowledge Base, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to SWOT Analyses.


‘ Performance


  1. Orchestras. The quality of the professional orchestras ranges from high to exceptional and this can be heard via recordings and broadcasts as well as live.
  2. A further indication of strength is that it is now possible also to form high quality pick-up orchestras for concert or pit performance.
  3. The formation of the Australian World Orchestra, which assembles gifted Australian orchestral musicians from around the world into an orchestra of exceptional quality, has been a great source of pride and a demonstration of Australian capability which might not otherwise have been suspected.
  4. The orchestras are undertaking international tours increasingly regularly. These tours require additional funding since they do not cover costs, and the funding has come mostly from private sources. They lift Australia’s cultural profile internationally and also are invigorating to orchestra members.
  5. Youth orchestras. At the top level, there are wonderful youth orchestras lending to both general cultural enrichment and the preparation of professional players.
  6. Opera companies. The opera companies are by and large accessible only live and so it is less possible to broadly assess quality. Opera Australia at its best is excellent as are the two other Sydney companies, Pinchgut and Sydney Chamber. The writer has also seen excellent productions by the Victorian and South Australian companies.
  7. Chamber ensembles. There is a good number of very fine chamber ensembles performing early music repertoire, mainstream repertoire, and new music in a great range of styles.
  8. Solo performers, especially singers (for whom perhaps there is more opportunity), are successful internationally as well as domestically.
  9. Historically informed performance. While there is still a case for specialists in historically informed performance, there also is increasing integration into the performance of non-specialist performers.
  10. Choirs at the top level continue at strength. At a very modest level, professional choral performance seems to be a settled aspect of the classical music scene.
  11. There are some magnificent children’s choirs which would contribute to high level preparation of young singers, and instrumentalists as well.
  12. Education. In a survey of the members of three professional orchestras, many respondents were complimentary about their secondary school music programs. Probably a good proportion were in schools that had special commitments to music education.
  13. Tasmanian Symphony offers annual pre-professional workshops for composers and for conductors, making the orchestra available.
  14. Collaborations. There are strong collaborations between some of the major organisations. In each capital city, the large choir performs with the concert orchestra. The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, owned by Opera Australia, performs for The Australian Ballet on its Sydney tours; Orchestra Victoria, owned by The Australian Ballet, performs for Opera Australia in Melbourne. The West Australian, Adelaide and Queensland Symphonies support their respective state opera companies in the pit. Through a forum called the Opera Conference, the larger opera companies collaborate each year in a joint production which is then loaned to each one. Some companies also co-produce with foreign companies. Opera Australia gives production support to Pinchgut Opera and Sydney Chamber Opera. The latter has just completed a joint production with the Victorian Opera.
  15. Management standards. Musica Viva continues as an effective manager of a large national chamber music program. The managements of the large companies are monitored by the Australia Council and are seen as strong and competent, although the recent National Review of Opera proposed advances in the management of the state and national opera companies.
  16. Audiences and earnings. There is evidence here of both strength and underlying weakness. Classical Music experienced an increase in revenue of 36.1% and an increase in attendance of 22.7% from 2015 to 2016, the highest revenue since 2008 and highest attendance since 2012. This is also the first year of growth in the Classical Music category following year on year declines in revenue each year since 2013 and in attendance each year since 2012. The increase is due especially to a tour by Andre Rieu. The data otherwise come from the full time professional orchestras and Musica Viva, accounting for two thirds of the activity. Presumably the remainder comes from large choral organisations and some small ensemble activity.
  17. Opera audience and revenue for the major companies have more or less been on a plateau since a big drop from 2007 to 2008. These numbers come from the major companies excluding Victorian Opera, which account for 90% of the activity as measured by Live Performance Australia, most of it in Sydney and Melbourne.
  18. Broadcast. There is steady support from radio broadcast, especially ABC Classic FM which is said to be maintaining its reach. We have no data from the community stations. The strength of Classic FM could be a factor in maintaining live audiences. In the US, classical radio has declined and it is possible that this contributes to the parallel decline in live audiences.
  19. Music festivals and large multi-arts festivals with a substantial musical component have funds and ambience that enable them to program music more dangerously than regular presenters and so provide opportunities for musically adventurous performers and producers. They can bring resources that enable large companies to mount projects that are not viable in their regular programming. They also can bring momentary richness to the musical life of regional centres in part because they can attract more distant audiences to add to the box office.
  20. Live performances for young people. All the major orchestras and opera companies, Musica Viva and a good number of chamber ensembles present live performances for school children in schools or in performing venues. These are intended of course to be educational, but also to begin a process resulting in attendance as adults.


  1. Subsidy levels do not keep up with the actual rate of inflation for arts companies, which is higher than CPI because of greater dependence upon labour than technological efficiencies.
  2. There is a lack of funding support for professional choirs. The opportunities for professional singers are mostly confined to opera.
  3. Funding for the most part supports survival but not artistic risk.
  4. But there is a question as to whether music organisations choose to spend available funds on expansion of safe choices rather than artistic daring and also whether the zeitgeist of funding bodies encourages this.
  5. The Major Performing Arts Panel/Board exists mainly to monitor the financial viability of its clients, including the major music organisations, and does not assess the quality of artistic outcomes. That would suit governments very well since the last thing they want is for major companies to face financial crises requiring government rescue. This must encourage artistic caution.
  6. Musical competencies in funding bodies. Low musical competence in the staff of some government arts funding agencies results sometimes in uninformed policies or funding decisions.
  7. Repertoire timidity. The large companies need large audiences to cover costs. They cannot achieve large audiences with unfamiliar music, including by definition new music, do not have sufficient subsidies to cover the losses and so are cautious about programming it.
  8. Orchestras are increasingly programming popular music, presumably in an endeavour to increase earned income and broaden the audience. This is on one view a strength. On another, this repertoire is not intrinsic to the purpose or achievement of orchestras, does not exercise the talents of the players. The key orchestral repertoire cannot exist without orchestras whereas this popular repertoire exists already in the other forms for which it was created. This strategy is an understandable but not necessarily a strong or judicious response to the difficulties of sustaining the orchestral audience.
  9. The large companies do not appear, generally speaking, to have a vigorous strategy to develop an audience for orchestral or operatic music of our time. If their programs are seen by younger generations as irrelevant to their interests, there is a longer term risk to survival.
  10. This is especially a problem for Opera Australia, which is following a policy of concentrating on a small repertoire of very popular operas; the Victorian Opera and South Australian State Opera have purposeful policies for commissioning and producing new opera and managing the financial risk.
  11. Young audiences. Classical music overall is not attracting a young audience. While in recent decades, the audience has been replaced by older people, there is a risk that this will weaken if younger people do not already have some experience of and interest in the music. The young audience is thin for live performances of classical music.
  12. The young also are missing from the classical music radio audience.
  13. Opera employment. For some years Opera Australia, the only provider of full time employment to Australian opera singers, has pursued a policy of increasing engagements for foreign singers, paid for by halving the number of leading roles for Australian and reducing the size of the permanent chorus. This has been widely criticised. It weakens OA’s main argument for being the supposed ‘national opera company’. It makes it almost impossible for high level opera singers to live in Australia.
  14. Broadcasts. ABC Classic FM has been a rich source of broadcasts and recordings of live performances by Australian musicians but in the face of funding cuts, has reduced this activity. It claims that while the number of recordings has been reduced, the number broadcast has not, but we wonder whether further cuts would reduce the number of broadcasts also.
  15. Performances by Australian opera companies are rarely broadcast due to the cost of broadcast fees.
  16. Recordings. There is a significant decline in the amount of recording of Australian classical music compositions and performances, especially of the orchestras and opera companies where the costs are higher. This will have a knock-on effect in reach to audiences.
  17. Shift away from classical music in schools. Primary school classroom teachers as non-specialists in music can be expected to share the musical preferences of the population at large, which mostly do not include classical music. Even some specialist music teachers who are educated in classical music find it more difficult to interest children in classical music that popular music. So there has been a decline in the teaching of classical music in schools, especially from non-affluent communities, and a shift towards popular music. This may contribute to the decline in the younger audience.


  1. Funding for excellence and daring, not survival.
  2. Major companies publicly support increased funding for small companies and individual artists, both on its policy merits and as protection against the widely held opinion that they receive too much of the available funding.
  3. Audience building. Major companies and classical music radio could collaborate in developing and implementing a strategy to strengthen classical music’s future by building a large audience for music of integrity and of our time.
  4. Cause appropriate inclusion of classical music in school music education at all levels.
  5. There is American research showing that the musical experience that produces a ticket-buying adult is not attending live professional performances but participating in a course of music-making. The performance organisations that now provide live performances might consider whether they could a) bring pressure to bear on education departments and governments to teach music performance in schools and b) in some way, make a positive decision more likely by offering to assist in those programs.
  6. Opera. Reorganise the funding of major opera companies so that the companies in cities other than Sydney are stronger, more active and operatic life in Australia is more accessible, vigorous and progressive.
  7. Strengthen employment policies of opera companies, especially Opera Australia, that give reasonable preference to Australian singers including those working abroad.
  8. Set up and fund a program of commissioning and development of small scale opera so that creators can gain experience and create and produce successfully for the opera stage.
  9. Composition and innovation. Increase the opportunities for composers to compose and workshop works for orchestra.
  10. Explore opportunities for increased collaboration with festivals to create and present innovative projects.
  11. National/international. Through additional funding and audience building, make it feasible for successful Australian artists, a good number of whom live abroad, to live and work in Australia.
  12. Develop, fund and implement a vigorous and expert strategy for successful international promotion of Australian compositions and performers.
  13. Lift the game. Foster the concept in government and the populace that Australia is a powerhouse of musical excellence and innovation in a wide range of musical genres, including the various forms of art music. It warrants more subsidy and would repay vigorous international promotion.


  1. Financial. Restriction of funding to classical music for whatever reason, including its loss of status and the fact that it consumes much of the public arts dollar in a society in which it is an interest of a small minority.
  2. Broad withdrawal of subsidies to the arts, here and/or abroad.
  3. Costs which increase beyond the rate of inflation because of high dependence on labour and low benefit from new technologies.
  4. Political interference with artistic choices; censorship.
  5. Technology. Damaging developments in technology, affecting creation, dissemination, public attitudes.



The number of Australian recording companies recording Australian classical musicians has decreased.

Those with fairly regular releases remaining are ABC Classics, Move Records and Tall Poppies. ABC Classics and Tall Poppies activity is much reduced.

There is an increasing number of releases by the artists themselves.

There is a smattering of releases from other labels including overseas labels.

It is probably safe to say that most releases lose money and that so far as the artists are concerned, the purpose is no longer to secure income from sale of the recordings or royalties so much as to use the recording in promotion to achieve liver performances, or for archival purposes.

Technological developments have made video recording more feasible and practice in contemporary music has long made the music video near essential to promotion and sales. There has not been comparable commercial production of videos for less popular genres but promotional videos, not produced for commercial release, are beginning to become routine for classical musicians who take an active role in building their own opportunities.

ABC Classics used to release recordings of the former ABC orchestras. This activity has almost disappeared and such recordings as occasionally appear tend to be released by the orchestras themselves. ABC Classics does release recordings of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. It has released DVDs of Opera Australia productions in the Handa Opera on the Harbour series and occasional audio discs.

The fact that in an overview, we report in this detail is an indication of how little there is to report.

Knowledge Base papers on the recording industry:

Knowledge Base articles on opera in Australia: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Recording Industry.

For the full list of SWOT analyses on the Knowledge Base, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to SWOT Analyses.


”’Recording ”’


  1. Commitment of the remaining labels in the face of financial stringency.
  2. Resourcefulness. ABC Classics, facing difficulties of financial viability, appears to cross-subsidise more serious releases with releases that will appeal to a larger audience. (This is an option more available to a large, high profile organisation than small labels.)
  3. Self-reliance. Ability of performers to produce and release their own recordings.
  4. Audience reach. Opportunities in a digital world to reach audiences across the world at low cost.
  5. Promotion. The value of recordings, once produced, as promotional tools in securing performances and audiences in Australia and internationally.
  6. Video. Artists are increasingly using video as a tool in self-promotion.
  7. There are occasional commercial video releases of Australian performances, especially in opera.
  8. There is an enormous resource of repertoire and performers available on YouTube.


  1. Financial. Above all, the difficulty in covering recording costs or securing a financial return from record production or sales.
  2. The scarcity of grant funding to cover losses from record production.
  3. Very few commercial releases of video recordings of Australian classical music or performers.
  4. Performers’ promotional videos often are informal with low production values.
  5. Recognition. Declining coverage of audio releases through reviews in the major print media.
  6. Loss of agency. The major streaming organisations are based in other countries and have no special interest in promoting Australian artists.
  7. International promotion and sales of physical recordings depends heavily upon involvement of the major record companies, which have no special interest in Australian classical artists and few Australian classical labels with which to partner.


  1. Unknown new technologies
  2. More effective international promotion of Australian classical composers and performers, increasing interest in sale and broadcast of recordings.
  3. Investment in the evolution of production, release, marketing and distribution of video recordings of Australian classical music and musicians.


  1. Unknown new technologies.
  2. Decline in audience interest in classical music.



Print media. Coverage of classical music in the major print media, especially through reviews, tends to be among the early casualties in the widespread cuts to reporting staff and other costs.

Some print classical music magazines survive, notably Limelight (also published online) and publications associated with community radio stations.

New Australian books on classical music rarely are published. (Loudmouth has reviewed virtually everything that has appeared: 18 print books in five years.)

Online publications. A number of online periodicals or regular blogs have appeared, devoted entirely to classical music or including it as a major area of interest. They tend to be free. Some newspapers publish online editions and these may contain more classical music coverage than the print editions.

The audience for the online publications may include a substantial international component. (For instance, about 30% of the Music Trust’s ezine, Loudmouth, is international.)

Broadcast. Classical music is broadcast by radio in Australia through ABC Classic FM and to a small extent, other ABC radio broadcasters, and specialist community radio stations, one in each major capital city.

There is no commercial radio station known to us that broadcasts classical music.

Classical music has minimal presence on Australian television excepting for very occasional and irregular appearances on ABC or SBS networks.

Internet. There is widespread presence of Australian classical music performances and information on the internet, much of it organised directly by the artists.

Knowledge Base papers on the media: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to Music Publishing, OR Broadcasting, OR Technology.

For the full list of SWOT analyses on the Knowledge Base, go here: >> BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES > scroll to SWOT Analyses.




  1. Specialist publications. The commitment of specialist print and online classical music publications, with little prospect of financial reward.
  2. Radio broadcasters. The commitment of ABC Classic FM in fulfilling its official purpose to broadcast classical music and especially to broadcast works of Australian composers and performances by Australian musicians.
  3. National accessibility of the ABC Classic FM programs, including in regions where there is little access to live performances.
  4. Responsiveness of Classic FM and ABC Radio more broadly to changing broadcast technologies
  5. Stability of the size of the Classic FM audience.
  6. The commitment of the specialist classical music community radio stations and their volunteer workers to the broadcast of classical music, especially Australian composers and performers, and their other related projects such as competitions for talented young musicians.
  7. Online media. Access to and use of online media to disseminate, discuss and promote classical music productions by Australian composers, performers, record labels and others.
  8. Accessibility to classical music via online music on demand or streaming services removes major impediments to classical music listening and can serve Australian artists and audiences.


  1. Viability. Marginal financial viability, at best, of media committed to classical music.
  2. Possible weakening of the volunteer support upon which community radio depends.
  3. Also, possibly, a weakening of donated operating income.
  4. Technological shifts. The shift in radio formats from AM to FM to digital and online may leave some older listeners behind. To the extent that classical music broadcasting depends upon AM or FM formats, it may elude younger listeners.
  5. Ages of audiences. The success of attempts to secure a young audience for classical music on digital media are unknown to us.
  6. The ageing of the classical music audience may be felt in traditional media as well as in live performance.


  1. Potential initiatives of broadcast media. The media especially committed to classical music could collaborate or work separately to take a leading role in diversifying and expanding its audience, and building an audience for new repertoire in all its forms. While there is financial risk for presenters of live performances in programming unfamiliar music, especially if innovative, this is not a problem for ABC Classic FM, which would simply be advancing work on an aspect of its responsibilities under the Charter.
  2. Community radio stations are more vulnerable than commercial stations to the consequences of offending the ears of their listeners since they depend importantly on direct financial support from listeners via subscriptions. Nevertheless, they can make a case for support to development of the artform which their listeners will understand.
  3. In the UK, the classical music radio broadcaster with the largest audience is a commercial station offering popular classics. Such a station might be established in Australia but there are risks as well as benefits and we would be cautious about promoting that idea.
  4. The specialist classical music media could also devise and implement a continuing strategy to build the audience of young people. This could seek mutual support from the major classical music performing organisations.
  5. Remuneration. It would be advantageous to discover and strengthen means by which talented writers and producers are satisfactorily remunerated for the contributions to the media supporting classical music.
  6. Strategies could be evolved to build income for artists through their exposure on the media.
  7. Classical music organisations should stay abreast of developments in copyright and ensure that classical writers and performers are remunerated for use of their work on recordings and the media.
  8. International. It would be possible to build the international audience for Australian classical compositions and performances through the internet but it requires a well conceived and tenaciously pursued strategy. Who might be the players and could they collaborate? Would the funding agencies give support?


  1. Technological innovations that undermine support for classical music.
  2. Loss of government funding for any aspect of classical music education or creation or production or dissemination.
  3. Further erosion of public interest in classical music.


Richard Letts Submitted on October 24, 2017

Dr Richard Letts AM is the founder and Director of The Music Trust, founder and former Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia (now Music Australia) and Past President of the International Music Council. He has held senior positions in music and culture in Australia and the United States, advocated for music and music education, conducted research, written policy documents, edited four periodicals, published four books and hundreds of articles.

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