Adventurous conservatory

Continuing my report on my visit to the Netherlands…

I visited the Koninklijk Conservatorium — in English, the Royal Conservatory — in The Hague, and spoke with the director of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (the Amsterdam Conservatory). These are the two largest Dutch music schools.

And very quickly I could see differences between what happens there and what I know in the US. The Royal Conservatory is making big changes. All classical music students, for instance, are required to study improvisation! That really does deserve an exclamation point. I don’t know any major school in the US with that requirement. Normally classical music students are wary (to say the least) of improvising, and nothing in their education pushes them toward it. (Except for organists, and maybe students specializing in early music.)

The school also has a high-ranking faculty member, Renee Jonker, in charge of “new audiences and innovative practices.” Or, in other words, the future of classical music.

Finally, there’s the director of classical music at the school, Susanne van Els. One look at her website (she’s a violist who plays a lot of new music) will show you that she’s not like any conservatory leader we have in the US, not remotely. Or at least not like any I’ve ever heard of. I won’t guide you. Just browse the site.

Van Ells was sick the day I visited, but I had a lively discussion with Renee Jonker, Marleen Leroy, the school’s director of communications, and (bless Susanne and Renee for setting this up) four students. The students, all very interested in change, thought they were a minority at the school. But the administration is clearly on their side.

In Amsterdam, I met with the conservatory’s director, Andries Mulder. We had a warm and fascinating conversation. The school, currently, is more conservative than what I found in The Hague. But who knows what the future will bring?

One difference between the Amsterdam school and any US conservatory I know: They have a pop music division, along with classical music and jazz. State universities in the US teach pop music — not just the academic study of it, but professional training — sometimes under the heading “Commercial Music.” But I don’t know any conservatory that teaches it.

To reiterate what I found in Holland: the classical music world there seems very aware that there’s a crisis. And certainly the leaders at the conservatory in The Hague are responding to that.

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  1. says

    Hi Greg,

    I know I didn’t go to major school, but my undergrad in performance at Kent State University requires a one-credit improvisation course. Students can also take the two-credit Jazz improvisation class for the requirement. Although I was not very good at it, I am so happy for the exposure to how jazz improv works.


    Very good to hear about this, David. Thanks for the info! And bravo to Kent State.

  2. says

    There are lots of schools with degrees and programs in “music production”. I don’t think it’s much different than “commercial music”. I had a high school student who went on to major in music production, he just wanted to make hip hop tracks. Maybe you can elaborate on the difference. Maybe it’s less common than I realize.

    Hi, Eric. The key difference for me, if I understand the scene correctly, would be that a full “commercial music” curriculum includes straight-ahead music teaching. In, for instance, pop singing. The vocal technique, the style. That gives pop music an element of respectability not maybe present when only music production is taught.