A letter to Music Centre members

Is there a future?

I want to reflect on the reasons why the Music Centre North Queensland was founded in 1984, and on its major changes through time, to see if they are still relevant in 2008.
An important motive for the first committee was to lobby for tertiary music teaching in Townsville. The establishment of degrees in music at James Cook University during the 1990s would seem to have fulfilled that ambition.  However, music, as it was first established, has not proved to be a viable course.  Although it is possible to study some aspects of music at tertiary level in Townsville, the breadth of instrumental teaching for which the Music Centre founders hoped is still not available here.  The tasks of lobbying for and supporting local teachers and courses at the tertiary level remain to be done again.
Successful tertiary education depends on sound secondary education.  Music education appears to be firmly established in Queensland schools but, as Chris Smalley mentions in his contribution to this volume, there are competing demands on student time and school resources which may lead to music becoming an optional extra, as is the case in some other states.  The need for a community voice to assist parents and teachers in lobbying on this issue is as significant as it has ever been.
The increase in size and sophistication of Townsville/Thuringowa has brought many more professional performers as touring artists to the region, to the pleasure and benefit of music lovers in the two cities.  However, the opportunities for performance by local artists remain limited.  Unpaid concerts and employment as background music are still the rather soul destroying lot of even the most highly skilled local musicians.  The Music Centre can fill an important role as concert entrepreneur for the local scene and as a developer of audiences.
People finding musicians, musicians finding gigs, and everyone finding information about current musical events and issues, still need local sources.  Although the internet, libraries, and special resources like those produced by the Community Information Centre, fill some of these needs, nothing replaces a dedicated local resource.
The perennial problem is that to stage concerts and musical projects, to have professional people to plan, network, inform, and lobby, it is necessary to have funds.  As in its early days, the Centre is now an instigator and manager of musical projects which will attract funding from Arts Queensland or from the Australia Council.  These funds are very welcome and allow the Centre to make an important contribution to local life.  However, the need for ongoing funding to support the ongoing work does not go away.
So will the future of the Music Centre be very much like its past?  I think the core of its work is likely to remain much the same because it is responding to the ongoing community needs.  I am sure, though, that each director, board member, volunteer and artist will make a unique contribution, interpreting their role in a new way and bringing new insights.  To paraphrase a famous quote, the more things stay the same, the more they change.

Dr Michael Whiticker
Artistic and Production Director,
Music Centre North Queensland, 2008