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      Professor Anne Boyd. in Facing the Music
      Professor Anne Boyd.
    The unkindest cuts

    "Facing the Music" is an impressive documentary about a professor's struggle to save Australia's most prestigious music department, with lessons about arts education everywhere.


    In March 2002, an anonymous benefactor offered to donate almost one million dollars over five years to the University of Sydney's music department. The donation was part of a negotiated agreement in which the university would match the contribution dollar for dollar. This agreement has rescued the department, perhaps Australia's foremost, from almost certain decline and demise. The donor's generosity was the direct result of Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson's "Facing the Music."

    Directed by: Robin Anderson, Bob Connolly.
    Featuring: Anne Boyd..
    This impressive new documentary, now enjoying its U.S. premiere with a too-short engagement at Film Forum, centers on Professor Anne Boyd, a celebrated Australian composer and head of the endangered department. As the film opens, she is refusing to take part in a one-day strike, calling it "tacky" and asserting that such an action would undermine the confidence and enthusiasm of incoming freshmen. Before long, though, she's signing petitions, walking picket lines and making rousing speeches at union meetings and student rallies.

    When learning that faculty are teaching more private lessons than they're being paid for, Boyd is moved, saying, "Isn't that wonderful?" Her assistant replies "Yes it is, Anne, but it's not fair." This is one of many examples of Boyd's gradually strained and wounded romanticism of the collegiate ideal. She resists fighting for higher salaries, but when it becomes clear that the quality of the department must suffer and its very existence may be threatened, she is angered and deeply wounded. At one point, after the Dean refuses to meet with angry faculty to accept a petition, she declares sadly that "The university as we knew it is dead." The considerable strain of her teaching load, her responsibilities as department head and her frustration at having so little time left to compose, culminate in tears and several attempts at resigning her post.

      Even as we learn that the department's budget has been cut by 50 percent, the camera and microphone turn their attention to a series of beautiful young musicians, exquisitely talented, seemingly unaware of their program's tenuous future.
    While following the story of Boyd's political awakening and emotional collapse, the film concurrently documents the academic and artistic output of the department. Boyd is clearly an engaging and erudite teacher, and the filmmakers include excerpts from various lectures, as well as scenes of her composing a lovely Taverner-like madrigal and attending student concerts and auditions. References to composers and pieces of music are paralleled with heated debates at faculty meetings in a way that lends a musical structure to the film itself.

    The heart and hope of "Facing the Music" really lie in the footage of student recitals. Even as we learn that the department's budget has been cut yet again, this time by 50 percent, the camera and microphone turn their attention to a series of beautiful young musicians, exquisitely talented, seemingly unaware of their program's tenuous future. It seems unthinkable that a legislature could be so shortsighted as to eviscerate both artistic and academic curricula at universities, but that is exactly what is happening. It's heartening that a private citizen was moved enough by this film to step forward and do something to help; maybe next we can arrange a screening for the Australian parliament.

    APRIL 26, 2002

    Reader comments on Facing the Music:

  • Facing The Music   from Kate, Apr 12, 2003

  • Post a comment on "Facing the Music"