As I’ve been saying on Facebook and Twitter, I spoke Saturday and Monday to students at the NOI, the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland. I did that last year as well — this is a one-month program every June for music students who play orchestral instruments — but this year I was invited with something very specific in mind. Jim Ross,who conducts the student orchestra at the university and runs the NOI, wanted me to help the students come up with ideas for new ways of giving concerts — ideas that he’s ready to implement.
I’ve now got the complete collection, of all the ideas the students thought of at my second session, and wrote down at Jim’s request. I’ll share some of them in my next post. But first I want to describe what happened. It truly was exciting. Music students, I think I learned, are far ahead on the curve that leads to the future.
I spoke twice. First I talked about classical music in the past, saying more or less what I say in my Juilliard and Eastman courses about the future of classical music. If you follow the link, you’ll find the curriculum for the Juilliard course, with links to all the reading, including things about classical music’s past.
My reason for talking about this: classical music was quite a bit looser in generations and centuries past. Musicians improvised, the audience applauded the moment it heard anything it liked, and (more recently; improvisation and immediate applause were 18th and early 19th century traits, for the most part) were much more individual in their performances. I played recordings for the students, and showed some videos. One video was a colossal performance of the Toreador Song from Carmen by the Italian baritone Gino Bechi, filmed in 1950 for a movie (and watchable on YouTube). The man is an animal, vocally and physically. He might as well be Elvis. There’s no one like him in opera today.
But that was just the prelude to the second session, which was the exciting one. I primed the pump by talking about classical music’s future, and especially by describing some of the many things that classical musicians and classical music institutions have done, to make classical music more lively, more accessible, smarter, more current. (I made a list of some of these, for my Juilliard and Eastman students.)
And then I asked the students for ideas of their own. They were hesitant at first. That’s only natural. And then the floodgates burst, and the ideas started coming out. Hands went up everywhere. Make concerts more informal. Talk to the audience. Tell the audience who were are — not just our potted bios in the program book, not just the cute Q and A’s we’ve lately seen, describing members of the orchestra (and telling what kind of pets they have), but let people get to know us as people. Mix pop music into the programming. Take the music into bars and clubs.
It’s not that these ideas are all completely new. But the students were just about unanimous. They all (or so it seemed) wanted changes like the ones I’ve listed. They were ready! They may not have talked about these things at their music schools, but once someone asked them for ideas, they were ready to move.
One guy, a trumpet player, gave us an idea he was implementing on his own. It started with a role reversal. A hiphop musician he knew wanted some career help. (The hiphop guy asking the classical geek for career enhancement. I love it.) So they came up with a plan. The trumpet player would organize a performance of the second Brandenburg Concerto, and the hiphop musician would bring his band and improvise along with that.
I talked to the trumpet player after the session. He’d gone to Juilliard, he told me. And for his graduation recital, he’d played standard trumpet repertoire, and then, after intermission, Radiohead arrangements. The moral of this story? It’s not just Chris O’Reilly. It’s not just people I talk about in this blog. And God knows, it’s not just people whom I somehow provoke. Music students are thinking about the things I talk about — and better, doing them — whether they’ve heard of me or not. This is becoming a gigantic movement. It’s bigger than I thought it was.
And I think it’s ready to break loose, as soon as the people who are students move out into professional life, and, in decades to come, start to run the business. This is wonderfully exciting (and thanks to Jim Ross, for so enthusiastically midwifing the NOI’s role in the evolution).