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The wisdom of Our Ford

December 12, 2014

I have long regarded Andy Ford as one of the most deeply intelligent human beings I know, and one of the best. My admiration only grows when I read a transcript of his recent contribution to the Senate Select Committee. Andy is one of those rare individuals who is able to help you to think more clearly. In these times, advocacy of this quality is gold dust.

Thanks, Andy, and bless you.


“I’d like to say something about how the ABC – specifically ABC radio, but also ABC online – helps to create and sustain and support musical communities around Australia. I’m talking about audiences, obviously, but also communities of musicians – and that’s at every level. I think that we’re about to lose some very important planks in that support with the removal of some specialist music programs from RN and Classic FM.
You always hear the expression ‘the music industry’, and I never really know what that is. I think if you were to ask most musicians, they wouldn’t feel they were part of an industry. As a composer, I feel more like a cottage gardener. My work is mostly pretty solitary. And even when musicians form up into bands or orchestras, they’re still making individual contributions – you know: they study alone, they practise alone. The same goes for listeners. We might be sitting in the middle of an audience with 2000 other people, but our experience of a song or a symphony is essentially a private matter.

As individual musician and listeners, then, we depend on institutions for information and commentary and a sense of community. Institutions such as libraries and newspapers; universities and conservatoria; and above all, I think, public broadcasting. And ABC radio is especially important in this regard –Triple J and Classic FM, ABC Jazz . . . and Radio National, which offers the broadest range of musical experiences I can imagine. Often you’re hearing music you can’t easily hear anywhere else, especially on RN; and significantly, you’re hearing it presented knowledgably. ABC Radio – whether it’s coming live out of the transistor in your kitchen or you’re listening online or to a podcast – isn’t just a purveyor of music; it’s also a guide to that music.

You’re also hearing Australian music – not enough of it on Classic FM, not in my opinion – but more than you’ll hear anywhere else. And you’re hearing Australian performances by Australian performers.
Now among the hundreds of thousands of listeners around the country are the musicians of tomorrow. It’s more than forty years ago, but I can still recall the eagerness with which I listened to the radio as a child. I remember hearing certain pieces of music and finding out about them. And I remember my excitement at hearing new pieces – music so new that it was being played for the first time. This is the kind of excitement that’s felt by young listeners to New Music Up Late on Classic FM. And it’s an example of what we’re about to lose. Well, I don’t think we can afford to lose it.

I also want to say something that tends to get overlooked. The ABC has traditionally been not just a curator of our musical culture, but also an entrepreneur. Once upon a time it had orchestras, choirs, even a dance band. But even with those gone, on a small scale and at a local level it’s continued to be a partner, recording concerts and making studio recording. These have diminished over the past twenty years, and the result isn’t just a loss for radio listeners. A lot of small concerts that were once possible because of a modest recording fee from the ABC, no longer happen at all. The fee might have been only $200 or $300, but it provided a safety net for, say, a young string quartet. Audiences miss out, and musicians lose a meagre supplement to their mostly meagre incomes. And by putting new music online only – as is proposed with New Music Up Late – instead of on air, you reduce composers’ royalties to a fraction of what they were. And they were never that much.

By cutting funding from the ABC, you also cut funding from musicians and from music itself.”

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