Jump to: Our practice, our vision, our invitation.

The Canberra International Music Festival was founded by the late Ursula Callus (1939 - 2001), President of Pro Musica Incorporated, a non-profit community organisation with a long history of assisting developing musicians. Pro Musica was founded by the late Edith Butler. The first Festival, in April 1994, won the Canberra Critics Circle Award for Music Innovation. Since 1997 the Festival has been an annual event, and audiences have grown steadily.

The Pro Musica Vision

Music is our business. We love playing it and listening to it but we have a deeper purpose as well. Put simply, music, like human creativity generally, is good for us as individuals, and especially good for us as a society. Money spent on making or listening to music is the cheapest way to help build good, cheerful, responsible societies. We believe that we can improve the quality of Australian life, for very many people, by involving them in music.

How is it so? Music is built into us. All human beings sing, or whistle, or hum, or tap their feet to music, especially when happy. There is other music to assist us when we are sad. In the womb, before our birth, we pick up our mother’s heart-beat; that pulse stays with us throughout life, for the heart-beat is a familiar pattern in music. Music helps us deal with mundane tasks in a cheerful way, by lifting our spirit. Music enables us to rise out of the ordinary and experience something special. It can inspire us to be better than we thought we were.

How music does this we barely know, for it is the creative art that is least adequately discussed in words. The American composer Aaron Copland once expressed it this way:

The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be ‘Yes’. And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be ‘No’.

Music is another kind of language, an expressive flow that has to be experienced to be understood. We know it has an effect on us. The skilful use of good music has been shown to accelerate learning, to heal the body and to improve confidence. Classical music played in large supermarkets reduces theft. It can enhance and change our moods.

Pro Musica sees its role as that of an ‘enabler’, bringing these rich experiences to larger and larger groups of people. Our special approach is small-scale musical events, for chamber music really means music that you hear in a room (originally a drawing room or reception room). In these environments the audience participates in the music, because we are close to the performers, and they are conscious of us. We see this as ‘music-making among friends’, and believe that it offers a much more intense experience, for everybody, than that offered by the traditional large concert hall.

We know that live music in small venues is often seen as ‘stuffy’ or ‘highbrow’, and we are working to dispel this impression. We do it by providing venues and programs that are deliberately aimed at attracting younger audiences. Classical music, like much music in the concert hall, is also often seen as representing an undue veneration of the past. This impression we try to dispel by ensuring that music written by people alive today is made available to today’s audiences.

At the same time, we strive to remind people that making an effort to understand a piece of music that one has never heard before is rewarding. It is almost a truism that important artistic work often endures opposition and initial resistance, accompanied with scorn, before becoming adopted and then venerated. It is not simply audiences that initially protest: the experienced players who gave the first performances of many of Beethoven’s string quartets shook their heads and laughed at one of his compositions, believing that he was trying to make them seem foolish. If we program a piece of music, we believe that it is really worth listening to, and making the effort to listen, not merely to hear. Today’s composers want an audience. They are not trying to shock.

Our practice

Our principal activity is an annual international music Festival, built around some unique attributes of the nation’s capital city. We combine international performers who come to us through the aid of foreign embassies, Australian performers drawn from across the nation, interesting and varied venues that include embassy buildings themselves, the marvellous and colourful ambience of Canberra’s autumn, and a mixture of musical forms, lectures and other artistic possibilities that give those who take part a wonderful cultural experience.

Our vision

We are working to make our Festival a national event that is of the same scale and scope as those in other cities, and thereby to make in our own way a significant contribution to the place of culture in daily life for the musicians and concert-goers of the next generation, as well as those of today. We have been assisted to do so through a munificent gift from philanthropist and audience-builder Barbara Blackman. Barbara Blackman's gift provides us with the basis on which to create a brighter future for musicians and audiences with the chance to expand ideas of contemporary music. We will do this through providing a platform for emerging and experienced contemporary composers, a larger and more interesting repertoire for chamber music and by inviting more people to share the positive benefits of music with us as audience members.

Our invitation

The cultural development of an entire nation happens over time. The pressure on arts organisations to make their work sustainable requires them to be able to offer a consistently high quality product to the increasingly time-poor, information-overloaded Australian. There needs to be a wide understanding that simply funding and expecting things to become self-sustaining after a few years is only part of the picture. Significant work and new achievements in the area of audience development are long overdue, and our Festival provides an ideal environment to explore these changes: a short duration, continuing excitement and buzz, and the chance for a jolt out of the everyday in the context of the human capacity that lifts our spirits and our sense of ourselves as creative people.



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