Graduation address given by Dame Janet Ritterman DBE

Dame Janet Ritterman DBE gave the following occasional address at the the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Alumni Recognition Ceremony held in the great Hall at 9.30am on 18 February 2010. Dame Janet is an academic, educator and musician who has been influential in fostering music and arts education and its contribution to society, and recipient of the honorary degree of Doctor of Music.

The photo of Dame Janet Ritterman is copyright, Memento Photography.

Dame Janet Ritterman

Graduation address

Your Excellency, Vice-Chancellor, Dean, members of the Conservatorium, ladies and gentlemen

To be standing here in this Great Hall is for me a very special experience, so let me begin by thanking the University and the Conservatorium for the invitation to share in this special occasion and for the particular honour that has been conferred on me this morning. On both counts I am extremely grateful, and feel honoured to be welcomed here in this way. This city, this university, and particularly the Con, hold a very special place in my heart. And while the acknowledgement of one’s work is always something to be appreciated, it feels very special when, as today, this acknowledgement comes from the place I regard as home.

But it’s also special because of this occasion – a Recognition Ceremony. I’ve never been part of one of these before! But I’m delighted to be here for this one. Naturally I know something of the history that has brought us to the point at which the University wants to welcome into the University family those who completed their studies at the Conservatorium before 1990. Of course, in the end it isn’t the piece of paper or the letters after your name that really matter – it’s what you can actually do. But for a long time there has been the feeling among some of those who left the Con in earlier years that it would be only fitting for the standard of their Conservatorium studies to be formally acknowledged as comparable with degree level work. I’m sure I was not alone in finding - once I left Australia - that the musical education and the range of musical experience that the Con provided gave me a very secure basis on which to tackle most musical situations that I encountered – and the confidence to believe that I could do it.

So what was so special about the Con? I’m sure that lots of people here this morning will have their own memories about what made your time as a Con student special. But let me just share with you a few of the things that I loved – and that I now recognise (since today’s a Recognition Ceremony) helped to make the experience so memorable.

First, there was the building itself – the ’fortified’ Conservatorium of Music, as D. H. Lawrence once described it. (In my books, the music school with the best back yard in the whole wide world!) I loved the building and its character: it may have been a bit ‘down at heel’ in places while I was there, but it was full of atmosphere – it had wonderful nooks and crannies – it was a building with ‘attitude’. But, equally importantly, it was full of characters – from the Library to the Buffet (do you remember the Buffet?), from the harmony classes to the teaching studios.

By present-day standards, what we were offered was perhaps at times rather informal, a bit idiosyncratic. But almost without exception those with whom I studied were passionate about music, ready to share their enthusiasms and to lead by example. And from this I developed musical values which have stayed with me ever since.

Long before it was customary to do so, Alex Burnard was encouraging us not simply to produce harmony exercises, but to write music. And ‘fortified’ though it may have appeared from the outside, the Con that I attended was no ‘ivory tower’. We were encouraged to get out of the institution – to perform round the city, to go to concerts, to get engaged in music ‘in the round’. There was time and encouragement to make music with fellow spirits – whether they were Con high school students, part-time students or local professionals. There was a wonderful egalitarianism in the air: the opportunities were there; it really was up to you. If you could do it, whatever it was,
the chance was there, and you were more likely to be encouraged than stopped. But it certainly wasn’t all play: there were exams, and plenty of them. And then there was Diploma Class! I certainly found that the range of areas on which we were tested for the Performer’s and Teacher’s Diplomas more than matched anything that I later had to do. And that’s not counting acoustics, or orchestration, or that quick study piece that had to be learnt in little more than a day. . .

I could go on . . . just talking about it makes me recognise how much I owe to my time at the Con, and to those – fellow students as well as staff – whom I met there. I guess that’s as it should be - the process of recognition is, at best, a multi-faceted one. And today is the University’s turn: it’s primarily about recognition on the part of the University of the standing of those who successfully completed their studies at the Con. I’m very glad that so many of you have accepted the invitation to come to be part of this special occasion, to be formally welcomed into the University family. Worldwide, it is becoming increasingly common for conservatoires – while ensuring that their identity and their integrity are preserved – to become part of multi-faculty universities, and for the type of music education that we received – an education which involved head, hand and heart – one where both practical skill and academic knowledge were seen as necessary complements one of the other – for this to be seen as degree level equivalent. The various contributions to society of everyone presented this morning tell their own story – and a very good one, too.

There are some well-known lines by the poet T. S. Eliot that have been resonating in my mind in the past few days – they’re lines from the last of the Four Quartets, the lines that go:

We must never cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.

For some of us, by the end of today’s events we may well feel that we are knowing the place ‘for the first time’ – this place that for most of us was the beginning of a musical journey.

So I hope that those of us who knew the Conservatorium of old will also be able to recognise that – albeit in new ways – the priorities that shape its work now, are things that connect with the traditions - the values - of the past, as well as providing direction and purpose for the future. And if we do experience something like this shock of recognition – this sense that time past, time present and time future are coming together in a very personal fashion - it’s only right that we look for ways in which we can help to support the continuing exploration of what the future holds. Its future is our future, too. The next five years, leading up to the centenary of the Con in 2015, will be a very important time in the institution’s history and development. I’m sure that the University and the Conservatorium will welcome your interest and support, so I hope that the various types of recognition that today’s events encapsulate will make you want to keep in touch. That’s certainly what I’m aiming to do.