For the past 11 years, Hume Conservatorium (HumeCon) CEO/artistic director Paul Scott-Williams has been leading music education in the NSW Southern Tablelands and Southern Highlands.
The singer, pianist and teacher has transitioned the conservatorium from a Goulburn-based college to an institution that offers home and school-based tuition across the region.
He also secured the conservatorium’s future by negotiating ownership of the building on Bourke Street in 2017 and moved the conservatorium from tier four to tier one, which meant greater funding and placed the college alongside the Mitchell Conservatorium in Bathurst and one tier below the New England Conservatorium of Music and Central Coast Conservatorium of Music.
While Mr Scott-Williams has been at the helm, HumeCon also won the APRA AMC Art Music Award for Excellence in Regional Australia; was a finalist of the APRA AMC Art Music Awards for Excellence in Music Education with the Goulburn Concerto, which invited local school children to play alongside the Canberra Symphony Orchestra; and commissioned The Weight of Light, which won a Canberra Critics Circle Award.
Mr Scott-Williams’s announcement that he is farewelling students and teachers at HumeCon last week triggered an outpouring of support from the Goulburn community.
He is leaving big shoes to fill but says the time is right following a challenging 18 months due to COVID-19 and the death of his husband, Warren Baldsing, an avid jazz fan, to cancer.
“Warren passed away at the end of 2019 and I had to go back to work the next week,” said Mr Scott-Williams. “I had plans to recover and nurture myself, and find a balance between work and life, but then COVID-19 happened.
“I’ve basically been at work for 18 months without a break.”
Mr Scott-Williams said he will now take a three-month break before embarking on a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at the University of Sydney while maintaining a base in Goulburn.
“I want to launch myself into study and answer some of the questions I’ve had in my head for a long time,” he said.
An unlikely move, Mr Scott-Williams applied for the job of director at HumeCon in 2010 while studying a Masters in counselling in Melbourne.
Originally from Boorowa, NSW, the position was a chance to move closer to home and develop the college into an institution that offered the full spectrum of educational programming, and one that supported students to create their own work.
As the only student to pursue music as part of the Higher School Certificate at Boorowa Central School, Mr Scott-Williams knew all too well the challenges regional music students face.
He, like many others, ended up leaving home and studying at Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
“I remember my parents driving me 50 miles one way for piano lessons and 40 miles another way for music theory lessons,” said Mr Scott-Williams. “No-one was happier than them when I finally got my driver’s licence.
“So I took the job 11 years ago to try to address that in this region.”
Of the more than 1300 students enrolled in music and other courses he taught at HumeCon each year, only 400 actually pass through the building.
The rest are taught by HumeCon teachers out in the region.
“We set up a genuine outreach program, which means the teachers do hundreds of kilometres every week,” said Mr Scott-Williams. “HumeCon is truly regional now, which is not the way it used to be.”
Also, until recently, the closest place students in the region could obtain a music degree was Sydney. However, in May 2021, HumeCon announced a partnership with the University of New England to offer a Bachelor in Music through the college.
“That was very much the last piece of the puzzle I wanted to establish before I finished,” said Mr Scott-Williams.
“I wanted to make sure that as an institution, we really offered the full spectrum of educational programming, particularly the ability to do the entire undergraduate degree here in Goulburn.
“It’s very important and appealing in lots of ways because it will stem some of the youth drain we experience in town. You work with these fantastic kids for eight to nine years; you train them up and provide them with performance opportunities, and the only way they can go forward is to move away, which is a real shame.”
HumeCon is yet to announce Mr Scott-Williams’s replacement, however he said it’s a “really great appointment on many levels”.
The new CEO/artistic director is relocating to the region and is due to start at the end of July.