Recently released pre-recorded accompaniments for use in AMEB exams continue to divide opinion.

The President of the NSW Guild of Accompanists has rejected claims by the Australian Music Examinations Board, that a lack of accessibility or affordability justifies the recent introduction of pre-recorded accompaniments for use in AMEB grade assessments. David Miller, who is also Senior Lecturer in Accompaniment Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium, claims the reasons behind the decision, as stated by the General Manager of the AMEB, Bernard Depasquale, are inadequate to defend the public outcry from the Australian musical community that has erupted following the release of recorded accompaniments two weeks ago. “Mr Depasquale has offered reasons and justifications for this radical action, succeeding only in raising more questions than he answered,” Miller said.

Miller believes that this action by the AMEB could cause serious damage the status of accompanists within Australia. “The standard of any musical performance depends on the quality of the partnership between the two performers involved,” he said. “The action being taken by the AMEB totally contradicts this and sends the worst possible message to its candidates, their parents and the world at large.”

Although the AMEB claims that the decision to release pre-recorded accompaniments is in response to numerous reports from young musicians and their parents, particularly in more remote areas of the country, that finding an accompanist is the major barrier to undertaking an AMEB exam, Miller believes that the new initiative will only make matters worse. “We are turning out accompaniment students every year from the [Sydney] Conservatorium. All of our keyboard students also do courses in piano accompaniment,” Miller states. “What sort of professional life can we offer them when AMEB claims they can be replaced by a pre-recorded CD? We should be encouraging our piano students to consider accompaniment as a career path, not rendering them superfluous.”

In response to claims that accompanists are overly costly to hire for graded examinations, Miller also believes that the use of pre-recordings will further undermine the value of professional musicians. “Every other professional is paid a fee for services based on the quality of the product and the qualification of the provider. Yet I constantly hear stories of accompanists who are paid late, inadequately or not at all,” he said.

Aside from the logistical motivations for introducing the recordings, Miller is concerned that the use of CD accompaniments will also negatively impact on the development of many young musicians. “The recordings are only to be used in Grades 1-3, but these years are the most important for any later development,” he claimed, adding, “It appears that the AMEB has short term aims related to the number of examination candidates, but no long term concern for the results being achieved by those candidates. The pre-recorded CD may indeed enable more students to take AMEB examinations, but at what cost?”

Miller echoed the comments of prominent Australian conductor and music educationalist Richard Gill, by calling for the AMEB to redirect funds earmarked for the pre-recordings toward funding training opportunities for accompanists. “We should be encouraging young accompanists to go into country areas by offering scholarships, residencies and staff positions [at regional conservatoriums]. Funds would be more gainfully employed in this manner than in producing soulless CDs offering a “one size fits all” version of the music,” he claimed.

Despite Miller’s concerns and the largely negative response we received online to our initial reports of the AMEB’s decision to release the recorded accompaniments, General Manager Bernard Depasquale remains resolutely confident that the move is the best option for ensuring the AMEB’s graded examinations remain as accessible as possible to young musicians across the country. “AMEB encourages and rewards merit and provides a framework and platform for instrumental music education that goes on in Australia. However we are not an elite organisation. Our first goal is to provide access to music education for all children and this program is entirely about access and equity,” he said.

In response to claims by the NSW Guild of Accompanists that the new recordings would result in Australian pianists losing work, Depasquale believes that the greater accessibility and resulting increase in uptake of AMEB graded exams, enabled by the released of the pre-recorded accompaniments, would “generate more work for accompanists over a period of time, rather than less.”

Depasquale was also keen to dismiss the NSW Guild of Accompanists’ “complete opposition to this ill-considered, short-sighted measure.” In a statement supplied exclusively to Limelight, Depasquale said, “We live in a democratic society. We certainly appreciate the passion and the interest that this is generating in AMEB. This was neither ill-considered nor shortsighted. The Board [of the AMEB] gave considerable consideration to this issue, as did the State Offices and the various advisory committees to AMEB. My own view is that the Accompanists Guild are taking a shortsighted view and AMEB has very much taken the long view.”

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