My thoughts on professional music education – what schools should emphasize
Hope for the future – what I told my Eastman class:
My courses this spring – at Juilliard and Eastman – are about the future of classical music. You can read the Juilliard syllabus http://www.gregsandow.com/juilliard right here, and in fact I’ll happily invite you to do that. (The Eastman course is the same, but much shorter. If you’re curious to see how I abridged the Juilliard schedule, go http://www.gregsandow.com/eastman here.)
You’ll find you can read everything I’ve assigned for these classes (and hear whatever music I’ve assigned). You’ll also see that the syllabus isn’t quite complete, that I’ve got a few blank weeks to fill in. Come back in a bit, and the blanks will unblank.
You’ll see that the class begins with some of the problems classical music faces – declining numbers (as detailed in many posts here), and, more crucially, a decisive turn in our culture away from classical music. (Which of course is the reason for the declining numbers.)
But here are two things in this part of the course that I might mention here. First, I made a comprehensive presentation of the problems facing classical music, numerical and otherwise.
It’s here – and it’s never appeared anywhere else, not even this blog.
Second, I assigned readings that – in a way I think we never read inside the classical music world – show why a new, smart generation won’t like classical music in the ways it’s currently presented. These readings come from Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class http://www.gregsandow.com/juilliard/richard_florida.htm and from John Seabrook’s book Nobrow http://www.gregsandow.com/juilliard/nobrow.pdf. The people Florida describes want a cultural community that’s local and contemporary, fluid, eclectic, interactive, and varied. Does that sound like classical music, as we know it today?
The course also talks about classical music before it was classical.All the reading here is provocative, but for some quick hits, I compiled some anecdotes – and excerpts from scholarly papers – showing how wild classical could be, before it got formal and serious. Then we deal with pop music (what’s its relationship with classical music?), with new music (why is it such a problem?), with how the standard repertoire might be performed, and finally with some plans to fix the crisis.
And here the mountain gives birth to what might seem like a tiny mouse. I ask my students to present some work they’ve played or sung (or written), talking about it in very personal terms, trying to interest people who don’t know anything about classical music. In a world where the audience is growing older (for the past 50 years!) and shrinking, and where the culture at large has moved in directions the classical music world can’t grasp, my assignment may seem like no more than a tiny step.
But it’s a seed from which many things can grow. As I told my Eastman class: The problem, overall, is that classical music – at least as we currently see it — doesn’t speak to contemporary culture. And yet here we have my students, and so many other young classical musicians, who inhabit both worlds. They’re in the classical music world, as young professionals, and they’re also in the mainstream world, sharing the same culture as their friends who don’t pay attention to classical music. (Nobody should underestimate how true this is. Many of my students follow pop music far more closely than I do, even some who, if you ask them point-blank, say classical music is more profound than pop. And I’ll never forget an Eastman student a couple of years ago, a conservative Christian who with wild delight explained why a song cycle she was singing reminded her of Sex in and the City.) [I'm a geek -- misstated the name of the show!]
So if these students can, even in a small way, bridge the gap between themselves and the culture at large, they’ve done something potentially revolutionary. They’ve shown how anyone can do it – even how large orchestras and giant opera companies can do. And in the current climate, this means a lot. At a time of change, any innovation has extra force. People are looking for change; they’re expecting it; if they hear about something new, they may well get excited, and try that new thing themselves. Thus, even small individual changes can be multiplied, and the momentum for change keeps growing stronger.
Finally, some thoughts on professional music education, as I e-mailed them to the dean of a major music school.
What should schools do to prepare students for the contemporary world?
Students should be trained in entrepreneurship, or at least should have the opportunity to be trained. Classical musicians will, increasingly, be finding new career paths, and students should prepare themselves.
Music history needs to be rethought. Students now are taught (as I was [and I suspect many of my blog readers were] the history of music as if it was essentially the history of composition. That fits the standard emphasis on masterworks, and on the musician’s expected role as the servant of the composer. But this doesn’t entirely fit historical reality, and also doesn’t help prepare students for the contemporary world. I’d like much more emphasis on entrepreneurship in the past (it certainly existed), on the role of the audience, and on the role of performing musicians.
Students should be encouraged to find their own musical paths. In classical music, students typically learn the repertoire for their instrument. “I’m a clarinetist, so I’ll play the clarinet repertoire.” In other musical genres, a musician will far more likely say, “I play the clarinet. What music do I want to play on my clarinet?” Yo-Yo Ma is an outstanding example of a current classical music star who takes this not very classical approach. I’d like to see students take it, too, looking into their hearts to find out what kind of music is important to them, and then finding ways to make that music (or, more likely, all those many kinds of musics) part of their professional lives. (And of course I strongly believe that all students should compose. If that’s not going to be a requirement, it should at least be strongly encouraged.)