Our tertiary education system is in danger of going up in smoke and it will take more than just fiddling to save this musical Rome

In January this year I was invited to participate in a meeting of Conservatoire heads in Antwerp, Belgium, where the theme under discussion was conservatoire-style education and its responsibility to society-at-large. The conversations that ensued were troubling and inspiring in equal measure. Above all, it was clear that the traditional remit of the conservatoire was in need of reform, lest musicians be seen (and heard) merely to fiddle while Rome burns.

It was also apparent, however, that reform would be difficult. Elite music education is still commonly understood both within and without music schools to be singularly about preparing young people for a career as a virtuoso performer through mastery of the traditional competencies of European classical music. But as attractive as this might be to staff and students within an institution such an educational remit fails to address fundamental shifts in the ways we commonly encounter musical culture outside it.

No wonder, then, that tertiary music institutions here, as elsewhere, have been beset of late by rolling crises of finance or morale (or, commonly,...