My Juilliard course, updated

Spring semester has started, and that means I teach my Juilliard course on the future of classical music. The link takes you to the class schedule for the course, complete with links to most of the assignments. Which means you can read what the students read, and listen to what the students listen to, and watch the videos I’ve asked the students to watch, if you’d like to do these things.

This, amazingly, is the 16th year that I’ve taught this course. Which among much else means, as I’ve said, that we’ve been talking about a classical music crisis for at least that long.

The course has changed, no surprise, in 16 years. Because the situation has changed, and also because I’ve learned more about it.

This year’s change is a heavy emphasis on entrepreneurship. All the second half of the course — everything after spring break — is about that. Entrepreneurship, as many people know, is a subject bubbling to the surface at many music schools, with fullscale programs in effect at Eastman, Manhattan, New England Conservatory, the University of South Carolina, Boulder, and other places.

What I’m doing is introducing the subject. Then offering an entrepreneurial exercise. How could young musicians attract an audience their own age? And then starting an exercise in branding. How can the students in the class begin to brand themselves, so that they’ll stand out enough from the crowd to attract an audience?

With the understanding, of course, that branding comes from the honest core of who you are. As I’ve blogged.

More on this later.

Note that I said most of the links work. There are a few I haven’t prepared yet, including the videos, which I’ll have to embed in the page instead of simply linking to, something I haven’t had time to do yet.

(The last week, I should add, has been a whirlwind of intense work on developing this year’s version of the course, plus some traveling. A whirlwind that took me away from blogging. As inevitably will  happen, when I get busy with other things.)

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  1. JRinDC says

    It would be fascinating to see excerpts of the essays your students write about why classical music should survive and how it is relevant. Also, later in the semester why they love various pieces. Would you consider posting some of them this year? I know I have a hard time describing why I love what I do in ways that don’t sound affected or contrived or cliched. I’m curious how they tackle the task and whether their own answers fall short.

    • says

      I’ll ask the students how they’d feel about having their stuff made public, even anonymously. IF they don’t mind that, I’d be happy to do it. Though I’d expect the results of the first paper — about why classical music matters — to be somewhat tentative. That’s no criticism of the students. But they’ve just started discussing these things.

      The presentation about why they like a particular piece is made orally. I’m not going to ask them to write out what they say. They have enough work (mostly outside my class, on their music) as it is. But I might be able to summarize some of what they say.

      The key to talking about what you do is to speak from the heart. And very personally. I can’t claim that this is easy, but if you do it, you won’t sound contrived or affected. And if sometimes you — or me, or any of us — fall into a cliché now and then, I don’t know if that’s the worst thing in the world. As long as we’re speaking honestly, the cliché may ring true.

      I’m available for private coaching, if you’re interested. Though of course for a fee. Email if you’d like to discuss this.

  2. says

    Fascinating stuff, Greg. Looking forward to checking the course out and reading more about your experiences teaching the course. I’m of the belief that being an entrepreneurial musician is of high importance, especially nowadays. And you’re spot on about branding, it’s all about presenting your authentic self and what lights you up in the world. (I even spoke about this on my guest post on the Collaborative Piano Blog yesterday).

    Mostly I see entrepreneurship as a gift to musicians. We can leverage entrepreneurial skills to really teach the world the value of what we do as musicians.

      • says

        You’re welcome. I thought I had heard about this last year, but put it aside until a friend in Philly mentioned seeing these articles. I’m glad he brought my attention to them, especially as Curtis is so very well known for churning out performers–to have such an organization realize it needs to help its graduates learn about business says something, I think!

  3. Larry Dunn says

    Hello Greg:

    Having just returned form Oberlin and the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, I know something of where you have been traveling. It think it was great that you were there to step in for Alex when he had to run over to Ann Arbor. You added your own special wit and verve to the proceedings, though I don’t mean that to take anything away form Alex, Anne, John, Tim, or Heidi. The entire panel was great, as were the concerts. My wife and I participated as “audience critics” and I think it made us more acutely attentive listeners, and certainly better writers about music as we have never done that before except in personal correspondence with other music lovers.

    I am thrilled to have discovered your blog and thanks for posting the materials for this Juilliard course. This is a critical topic for all of us who love music. I like the make-it-happen-yourself entrepreneurial bent you are taking with this. It seems to me that ICE, whom we enjoyed Saturday night in Oberlin, are another great example of what you are talking about.

    Keep up the great work!

    Larry Dunn

    • says

      Thanks so much, Larry. All the other critics — and Steve Rubin, too — are friends I’ve known for years, in some cases many years. Heidi and I go back to 1973! And, of course, one of them is my wife. I thought they all did a terrific job. I should stress that my own participation was entirely unofficial, and while it was generous of my colleagues and Oberlin to ask me to participate, I do respect the official critics’ lineup.

      Glad you agree with me about entrepreneurship. I agree — ICE is a fine example. Taking a longer view here, I’m concerned about the lack of any financial model for ensembles like ICE, by which I mean any way that they can sustain themselves in the long run, and make a decent living for their members. At this point, as far as I know the only way to do this is to have an academic residency, which is how eighth blackbird survives. Ensembles without academic connections, like the Bang on a Can All-Stars — well, the musicians in those ensembles live by their wits, depending on all kinds of freelance work outside the group. I’m eager to see entrepreneurship develop until ensembles can do more to sustain themselves.

      If I’m wrong in that analysis, Larry or anyone else, please let me know!

  4. Baron Topor says

    Entrepreneurship is a trap. Without capital, you can do little or nothing. Talent in music has nothing to do with talent in business. This is no solution. Anything peripheral to performing means confronting a plague of parasites who either charge astronomically for their services, or pests who require ridiculous packagings and proposals. Pee-yuuu.
    What is the solution? Maybe nothing. Major funding by major patrons has long been the only answer. There is far too much bureaucracy eating up the money that is there. How many dollars get to the artists compared to the pay given to foundation staff, nonprofit staff, photographers, videographers, website designers, recording engineers, all of whom are making for more than a poor performer.
    Transparency, simplification, reduction, streamlining are what we need. We need to get rid of most arts professionals and foundation professionals.
    As a baby boomer, I have crossed this divide from being able to have a concert career as an independent artist, or a chamber ensemble, to having to pay to play, having to deform my art to fit guidelines, to having no options except YouTube. What I have seen is the creation of a massive middle-class of arts professionals sucking the lifeblood out of the arts. Much of this is the fault of the foundations.
    We certainly need the return of the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Mobil, and all the other former big funders. The abandonment of culture for social action has been a cultural disaster. I have witnessed the undoing of the greatness of classical music, and is a great pain. To be a last link in a dangling chain is to be the wail of a lone albatross circling the ocean.

  5. Baron Topor says

    And yet, there’s more: the decline of music criticism, the desertion by music critics from career-building debut and other recitals have blocked generations from having careers. So we can also blame the New York Times, and now the Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers. We can also blame the idiocy of Twitter, Facebook, and other time-eating technologies that are “more Important” because people can’t distinguish between importance and immediacy.

    No, entrepreneurship may be a useful skill for some, but no more than an MBA or other degree. You go down the wrong path, even if it is the only one.

    • says

      I’ve been in classical music for 30 years. Before the crisis I had lots of work, and luxuriated in the music. I’d love to have those days back again.