Glazing Over and Moving On
Congrats to Sam Hope for his eloquent description of how buzz words fade, wraithlike, into irrelevance. I have to say that for all the deep intelligence, long experience and passionate commitment of most of the professional arts-education bloggers here, I glaze over. Too much bureaucratic insider baseball (hence my earlier reference to left field), too much abstraction, not enough practicality -- because, as several of you have pointed out, no one really knows how to foster meaningful change, at least on the K-12 level. Local initiatives make sense, given the lack of realistic hope for a national transformation. The politicians would have to get all aesthetical on us, and that's not likely to happen. The arts aren't manly.
So I will move on, shifting my attention to what I actually know something about, which is arts education for adults. Actually, I know precious little about that, too, except that just as I hated being dragged to concerts as a kid, so my hackles rise at most earnest sessions of music instruction before concerts (the "music-appreciation racket," Virgil Thomson called it). Lots of adult audiences like such lectures, though, with an cheerful, earnest expert tickling the ivories and leading them through a soon-to-be-heard score.
I prefer program notes: you can read them (or not) on your own time, and they can provide helpful background. Academically, I have my doctorate in cultural history (German, speaking of dead white European males), so I like historical context for the dreaded "aesthetic experience." Good program notes give you that, along with a formal anaylsis one hopes is not condescending yet not so technical that it sails over the humble heads of a musically illiterate audience.
As a critic, whether of classical music or dance or anything else, my tactic has always been to lead, but carefully. Express my taste, try to bring an audience along to appreciate a work I love, but not venture too far out in front of troops, cowering resentfully in the trenches.
Ultimately, be it in program notes or books or print or online criticism or even music appreciation, there is plenty that is helpful out there to fan the flames of an already kindled enthusiasm for an art form or a particular piece of art. The trick is how to initially kindle that enthusiasm, that nascent passion. Me, I don't really know how to do that, and I'm not convinced, so far, that many of our bloggers know either. To write eloquently is a start.
Maybe personal is better even than local -- the arts equivalent of the Jefferson family farm as the bedrock of democracy. If you love, say, a piece of music, find a friend who doesn't know it or doesn't even think he likes that kind of music in the first place, and play it for him. Maybe you'll see a spark, and can fan it.
Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher, Founder & CEO of the Music National Service Initiative and MusicianCorps
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District
Peter Sellars, director
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