What’s wrong with music schools (3)

Entrepreneurship is the newest, buzziest thing at music schools. I’ve been involved with it quite a bit, and I’m all for it.

But there’s one misconception I quickly want to clear up — that these programs are all about business, and have no relation to art. Not so! They’re a shot in the arm for musical creativity, because if they give students the skills to build whatever career they want, why can’t the students, building their careers, make music in ways all their own?

Though I doentrepreneurship blog think the business skills taught might be too limited. Of course they focus on skills everyone agrees are needed — writing resumés, public speaking, fundraising, marketing. But I’d like to see a focus on building new audiences, especially among people the students’ own age. Especially in urban areas, and at big universities, where the potential new audience is all around the music school.

But more on that later. Let me first say that I’ve had contact with some of these programs, as visitor, as guest teacher, as guest speaker, as someone consulted when the program was being set up, and/or as a friend who keeps in touch with what’s going on. And I’m one of several people involved (though not in any policy-making role) with shaping the very new program at Juilliard, where I teach.

Set up independentlly

One thing that that pretty quickly seems clear is that entrepreneurship is best set up as its own silo inside a school. That may seem counterintuitive — if you really believe in it, wouldn’t you want entrepreneurship to permeate all the curriculum? Yes, you would, but that’s hard to make happen. For one thing, you’ve got on your faculty people hired because they teach harpsichord, or music theory, or trombone, or because they direct operas. Can they teach entrepreneurship, too? Very likely they can’t, and no blame to them for that. They might not be trained in it, they might not be entrepreneurs themselves, and nobody told them, when they were hired, that entrepreneurship would later be part of their job.

They may also not like the idea. The classical music world is changing, and that means that people have different ideas about what changes are good. If you’re one of the world’s top cellists, and you’re told that your students will now be studying entrepreneurship, maybe you think they’d do better to spend their time practicing. I might disagree with you, but I certainly can see your point of view. You got where you are by (among much else) practicing hard. Of course you think your students should do the same thing. One extremely famous musician, teaching at a very famous school, was told that entrepreneurship was coming, and answered, sardonically, “Oh, so the students won’t practice anymore!”

Even the students have doubts. Some don’t see the point. How will this help them get a job in an orchestra? Or they might feel conflicted. I was being interviewed at one big school for a consultant’s job (which I didn’t get), in helping set up their program. On the committee that did a terrific job interviewing me were two students, and both of them asked, with great feeling, how I thought something new could be added to everything (practicing, lessons, coaching, performances) they already did.

So it may not work — or, so I’d think, pretty much surely won’t work — simply to inject entrepreneurship into existing curricula. You hit a wall fairly fast, when the people who now have to teach it may not be able to. Far better, I think — and I think experience proves — to set up a separate entrepreneurship program, with an office, a staff, and a mandate to make some entrepreneurial noise at the school, with the strong support of the people on to p. That way, you inject entrepreneurship very strongly into the air of the school. People who want it will come to the program, which will typically offer speakers, workshops, courses, grants, and much more. Others, not sure at first, may get inspired, when they see what the program can do for them. 

Even resistant faculty may come around, when they see that their students still practice, that nobody’s forced to do anything they don’t want to do, and that the program opens career options that weren’t formerly there. (Juilliard did something wise at the convocation that opened its current academic year. Entrepreneurship, as I’ve said, was the focus, and, in a series of videos, the school highlighted entrepreneurial projects some of its faculty had, including one from a teacher most people might have thought was completely old-school. Smart move, which may have defused at least some opposition.)

But why do these programs exist? 

The most obvious reason is that the classical music business is changing — tanking, in some ways — and so students will have to make careers in new ways. The old ways won’t work, or might not be as widely available. To make a career in new ways, you’ll need new skills. If you followed the older models, and — if you’re a soloist — put yourself in the hands of a manager, who’d shape your career, fine, the manager has business skills, so you may not need them.

But if you’re doing something new, something old-style managers might not know about — like creating and singing in operas about superheroes (something one of my former students is doing), to interest kids in classical music — the manager who might get you gigs at the Met most likely can’t help you. So you’ll need to do business yourself.

But there’s more to entrepreneurship than this. First, there’s a not so happy (and not entirely secret) little secret about music schools. Looking back over time, a surprising number of their graduates never had careers in music. The first entrepreneurship program i know about, the one at Eastman, hoped to address this, by helping students find music careers — publicity, marketing, management, administration — outside performing and teaching. (Elite music schools, Juilliard, for instance, might not teach music education, but graduates of music education programs have a high employment rate — as much as 100%, which is what the number was, I was told, at two schools I happened to visit.)

And the second little secret is that even accomplished music school graduates, who go on to make big careers, may not know enough about business. In past decades, I was part of many discussions about music schools and orchestras, or more specifically about whether schools prepared students to do anything in orchestras besides play. Students would graduate, have the great good fortune to get an orchestra job, and then be plunged into a maelstrom of contracts, health insurance plans, unions, and much else they hadn’t been taught to understand. Many didn’t know how orchestras are managed and financed.

For each musical specialty, we could make a list of business things that affect comfort, income, and career success, and ask whether music schools teach about them. The answer would almost always be no. So it seemed — and Eastman took the lead here, too — that maybe these things should be taught.


And then came the classical music crisis, and the most dramatic reason to teach entrepreneurship, the one I’ve already mentioned — the need to find your own path in a world where the old ways are fading. As I’ve said, this can be wildly creative. Because what kind of paths are we talking about? New paths — which can mean just about anything, as long as you can make it work for you.

I can’t stress this enough: these programs open doors to creativity. Which they can strongly encourage, by giving grants to creative musical projects. Or by sponsoring creative student-produced concerts, as the program at NEC does (though I don’t see anything about that on their web pages). I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I say that at Juilliard, discussions of entrepreneurship were tinged with extra excitement, as people (sometimes not too low in the hierarchy) found themselves saying they hoped that students would be encouraged to think outside the usual boxes.

And what happens, of course, is that they do. The mere presence of an entrepreneurship program, almost whatever its content, can bring new energy and new ideas to a school, freeing a lot of ideas and energy students might have.

And this can extend beyond music. As we were having some early discussions at Juilliard, there was sometimes confusion about what the goal of the program should be, about what kinds of student creations we ought to encourage. Was the program just about business? Or should business be only the grunt work the program would do, with high art as the goal?

I found myself saying that we shouldn’t set limits, or define the program by our expectations, or by our dreams and our values. Once you open the doors, who knows what will happen? One of your jobs, if you manage a program like these, is to make sure you get out of the way.

The program, let’s say, starts with talk about business. Careers, jobs, internships, mentoring. Fine. But then, as I’ve said, students come up with musical ideas. Like the student-directed Baroque opera performance that Juilliard presented at this year’s convocation, in which everything, toward the end, dissolved into darkness. So you run with that, overjoyed (as I’ve said) because now you’re fostering art.

But then comes a student with an idea for a business! As happened at Eastman, I was told, when they started giving grants for student projects. The first one went to a plan to develop a gadget that would help to tune drums used in Indian music. Indiana University, I’ve noticed, gave an entrepreneurship grant to a student who developed a device to help guitarists practice correctly. Who then won a prize in a university-wide entrepreneurship competition offered by the Indiana business school. Which suggests all kinds of synergies between business schools and music schools, especially since business these days can be so creative.

(The Indiana program, by the way, stands out in two interesting ways. It’s largely run by students, and it calls itself Project Jumpstart, which I like quite a lot better — it’s livelier, more descriptive, more hopeful, more enticing, and, not least, more entrepreneurial — than the usual riffs on words like “entrepreneurial musicianship.”)

Some suggestions

So, in conclusion, I have some suggestions. Not quite best practices, because I don’t feel I’ve distilled enough of what happens in all these programs to come up with those. But some ideas that make sense to me.

NEC has a file of mentors, both inside and outside the school, who can help students with projects. Mentorship is essential. You can give a grant (I’ve seen this happen) to a student with a unique idea, only to find that the student doesn’t know how to make the plan work. I went to a performance once, that had gotten a grant, and involved music in many genres and styles, some of it improvised, moving around an unusual performance space. But the student needed, among other things, a stage director, someone to teach him to market the concert, and someone to teach how to write, edit, and proofread a program. Having a wide list of mentors will help find the right one for projects. And the more creative a project is, the more it might need very specific kinds of help.

The Manhattan School has a required entrepreneurship course, for all undergraduates, and for students in some of its graduate programs. This is a bold move, one that most schools might not make, because if you make something newly required, some older requirement most likely has to be dropped to make room for it, and fights over that can leave blood on the floor.

At Manhattan, things were simpler, because the school already required a course in business. Entrepreneurship simply took over the course. One thing they do, which charms and impresses me, is require each student to make a five- or ten-year plan, not set in stone, of course, but just a vision of where she’d like to be.

What follows then is discussion of what skills the student will need, to make the plan work. The course also offers individual counseling for each student, a wonderful touch, and quite a lot of work for the two people who run the entrepreneurship program, who seem to throw themselves into the job with lots of conviction and happiness.

Email blasts. What could be simpler? Bombard the school’s internal mailing list with email about what the program is doing. Make it lively, good-looking, and participatory. Invite responses. Put some of them in your next issue.

Involve alumni. Both as mentors, and as people whom the program can benefit. They’ll often have much the same needs as students. And may feel things more acutely, because now they’re out in the world, and discovering that their careers might not be developing quite as they’d hoped. Or else they might have dreams they want to realize, without quite knowing how. Why shouldn’t their school’s entrepreneurship program — with a better name, one maybe inspired by Project Jumpstart — help them?

Combine entrepreneurship with career development. Most schools have a career development office, and some have combined that with entrepreneurship, with entrepreneurship on top. Because once you’re committed to entrepreneurship, how can that not be something you’d focus on, in helping students (and alumni) with their careers?

[Added later] Inject entrepreneurship into music history. The music history I and many others learned is the history of composition — how composers developed their styles, who influenced them, which styles were which, which mattered most. Which is fine, but it’s only one part of the history of music. There’s also the history of how music was made, who the audience was, how the audience reacted — and how composers made a living.

Turns out they were entrepreneurial. Many of us in classical music think the great composers had patrons, but that’s not completely true, and not at all true, in any substantial way, before the 19th century. Haydn, writing music for Prince Esterhazy, didn’t have a patron. He had an employer. Likewise Bach in his Leipzig church.

And if they didn’t have employers — and often even if they did — composers were entrepreneurial. Beethoven’s Ninth, for instance, was produced as a profitmaking enterprise as part of a giant concert that included parts of the Missa Solemnis. When it didn’t make a profit — when it lost money instead — Beethoven was furious, and unfairly looked for someone other than himself to blame.

My favorite entrepreneurial composer story comes from F. M. Scherer’s invaluable book Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Telemann had a job like Bach’s, as music director of a large German church. Each Easter, he had to present a passion oratorio, just as Bach did, with the congregation singing along in the chorales.

This much isn’t surprising. But here’s something I’d never thought of. To sing the chorales, the congregation had to have the words. So the words had to be printed. This was a job for private enterprise, and there was a printer with a contract to print the words, and sell them to the congregation.

Telemann, as a condition of his employment, wanted a cut of this. And he got it! The printer had to give him, free, some of the booklets with the words, which Telemann then sold to the congregation on his own, counting every penny he made as profit.

Stories like these run throughout the history of classical music. From a marvelous book I’ve just read — The Castrato and His Wife, by Helen Berry (an incredible true story of an Italian castrato who scandalously married a respectable British girl) — I learned that musicians made deals with fashionable London tailors, to have their music sold at the tailors’ shops. If we want to encourage entrepreneurship now, we should rework how we teach classical music history, so students can see that there’s been entrepreneurship all the way through it.

This may not be easy, since the people currently teaching may not know the entrepreneurial part of the story. But it’s a change we somehow should make.

A few more ideas:

Support from the top. I said this already, but a program will, I’d think, have the most effect on a school, if the people running the institution make clear both privately and publicly that they value it. And, of course, make available whatever resources are needed.

Learning from other programs. I’m going to guess, based on what I’ve seen in several places, that most entrepreneurship programs aren’t fully aware of what the other ones are doing. This seems wrong. First, because you can learn a lot from what others do. You can get inspired, and avoid mistakes. And secondly because, when people involved in these things get together, the conversation gets lively quite fast. So some forum, some private website, some newsletter, that helped people keep in touch, would be good. And, if I were in control of a program, I’d make sure that the people in charge of it kept in regular touch with their colleagues. I’d ask them, in fact, for reports on what the other programs were doing. I’d want to know, as one way of judging whether my own program was as successful as it could be.

A new kind of outreach

And now my final idea, which I briefly stated close to the start. And it’s close to my heart: I want these programs to encourage students to find a new audience  especially of people their own age. At one entrepreneurship function I’ve been at, someone high up said, with great wistful sincerity, that he hoped, in the future, that chamber ensembles would play not just on school concerts, but also in retirement homes, and in public schools.

Which is fine. Traditional outreach. Could be done with a lot of entrepreneurial flair. (And some of the entrepreneurship grants I’ve seen go to projects like that.)

But what about reaching, if you’re a student, people like you? People your own age, who don’t go to classical music performances. That, to me, is the most important frontier. Classical music needs a new audience. Why not encourage students to go out and find it?

They need encouragement, I think, because schools — not to mention the grownup classical music business — don’t talk about doing this. So students may think it’s impossible. Which means the idea has to be in the air. You can bring in people to talk about things that have worked — the students at the University of Maryland, who doubled attendance at symphony concerts by organizing other students in their dorms to go. Or the co-director of Classical Revolution: L.A., whom I Skyped with not long ago, and who told me about her own success, advertising on neighborhood websites to get younger people to come to classical concerts in clubs.

This is an idea, I’m convinced, whose time has come. And had better have come, or else classical music is truly endangered. WIth the old audience fading away…

A perfect place to do this, as I’ve already said, would be Austin, a place just exploding with live music. And famous for that. Project for students at the University of Texas Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music: Inject your performances into the Austin scene. In a way that does more than simply put classical music into some clubs, but starts to attract people who go to the clubs on other nights, to hear pop music, in all its variety.

Which could be done, of course, in any big city. Or on any big campus. The day we start doing it will be a great day for classical music’s future.

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  1. says

    Thanks, Greg, for publishing this far-reaching discussion. I offer complementary ideas in my 2009 article “Music Education and Entrepreneurship” http://musiciansway.com/blog/2009/10/music-education-and-entrepreneurship/

    Regarding your point about outreach, I’ve learned that music school leaders often don’t grasp the distinctions between outreach, community engagement, and community cultural development.

    With traditional outreach, musicians might perform for new audiences, but then there’s no ongoing relationship between the musicians and members of the community as there is with engagement programs. Community cultural development initiatives go much further and incorporate learning outcomes as well as public performances or exhibits by the participants.

    The Peabody Institute, where I direct the new Music Entrepreneurship and Career Center, offers a range of innovative outreach, engagement, and community cultural development programs. For examples, please see: http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/conservatory/mecc/community.html

    • says

      Thanks, Jerry. I had the great pleasure of meeting Jerry yesterday, and then speaking to students as part of his program. Very, very smart people, those students, lively, full of ideas. As Jerry is! He’s a fabulous resource for Peabody and its students, one of the most knowledgeable, stimulating, and irresistibly cheerful people I’ve met in this business. What a pleasure, Jerry, and thanks so much for inviting me!

      I’d urge everyone to follow Jerry’s links, especially the first one, which lays out better than I ever could what an entrepreneurship program should be.

  2. says

    Thanks Greg. Conservatory entrepreneurial programs are helpful and necessary, working to initiate independent type ideas for classical musicians and addressing job placement when accepting tuition dollars. However, the application of these new artistic ideas should not be limited to the “non-profit” type corporate model as the 100% platform to organize and launch ideas. Great ideas are meaningless unless you can execute or implement them. My experience and research illustrate that inherent conflicts exist between management and artistic programs via the non-profit model, and unfortunately students do not understand the complexity involved with developing audiences, fundraising dollars, and losing ownership of their ideas and artistic vision to a Board of Directors, volunteers and administration. Performing arts non-profits are linked directly to unprecedented musician strikes, administrative hawks making a disproportionate income, administrations blaming the economy, musician unemployment, etc. I have developed a unique, professional “for profit” classical music ensemble (www.burlingtonensemble.com) in Vermont that I ask you to look at. Please contact me if you would like to discuss these ideas further. Thanks again for your ideas! Michael

    • says

      I share a lot of your feelings here. I’d like to adopt as much for-profit operations and thinking as possible. Very curious to learn more about what you do with your ensemble! Everyone should look at the website, http://www.burlingtonensemble.com/. Not sure I’ve ever seen an ensemble’s website that shows so much enterprise.

  3. ariel says

    Using Haydn and Beethoven as examples of entrepreneurship is a bit disingenuous .
    and the Stern quote in the Klickstein reference can only draw a smile , since Mr. Stern
    was mostly about himself (though he did help save Carnegie Hall ) perhaps he does
    fit since the topic seems about how to use the” art” of music as a stalking horse to
    making a buck. The art of survival does wear many disguises while avoiding facts , there
    is nothing wrong with entrepreneurship programmes as long as it is taught in business schools .

    • says

      Hi, Ariel,

      “Disingenuous” is an interesting word. If you called me “ingenuous,” you’d be saying I’m an innocent who misunderstands the data I’m talking about, and unknowingly slants it in the direction I’d like it to go. But calling me “disingenuous” is stronger. You’re saying I deliberately slant the historical facts, perfectly well knowing that I’m not representing them accurately. What evidence do you have of that?

      And I must say that you haven’t read me very carefully. Here’s what I said about Haydn: “Haydn, writing music for Prince Esterhazy, didn’t have a patron. He had an employer.” Which, if we use the plain meaning of “employee” and “entrepreneur” would mean that I didn’t call him an entrepreneur. Though after his Esterhazy days, at the time of the London and Paris symphonies and the Creation and the Seasons, he pretty much was one. Unless you think he sat by like a charming innocent, waiting for commissions and performance opportunities to pour in by themselves. You don’t think he might have lifted a finger or two on his own behalf?

      It’s also good to be careful with how we use words. To call Beethoven “an entrepreneur” would be misleading, if all you or I do is make a flat statement like that. Especially given the current meaning of that term — someone whose main or exclusive activities are entrepreneurial — it would be misleading for me to make such a flat statement, or for you to said that I made one. The truth, as we all can read in F. M. Scherer’s book on the economics of musical composition in the 18th and 19th centuries, Quarter Notes and Bank Notes, is that composers made their living in a variety of ways. They had employers, they taught, and they did entrepreneurial things, like producing what they hoped would be money-making performances of their work. The premiere performances (Beethoven scheduled two, back to back) of the Ninth Symphony would be an example of the entrepreneurial things Beethoven and other composers did.

      Or do you have some other narrative of how the premiere of the Ninth took place, one in which Beethoven didn’t finance the performance on his own, and hope to make money from it? I’d love to see your historical sources for that. Another example, by the way, of Beethoven being entrepreneurial was his practice of submitting the same work to several publishers. This is traditionally cited as an example of how bad he was at doing business, but Scherer suggests another understanding of what Beethoven did. Because Germany was fragmented into so many political entities, copyright protection for composers was very tricky. You could be protected for a given work in one city, while publishers elsewhere had no legal impediment from publishing that work on their own, with no money in it for you.

      By submitting the same work to publishers in different places, Beethoven hoped to avoid that problem. He also, Scherer says, was a copyright activist, part of a movement to get more comprehensive copyright protection throughout what’s now Germany and Austria. Sounds entrepreneurial to me.

      As for your rather breezy points about entrepreneurship teaching, I wonder how much contact you’ve had with the programs you seem to dislike so much. Do you actually know how they work, what they teach, and how the students react to them? Or are you just expressing a prejudice? I’d love to see you back up your position with some chapter-and-verse examples from the actual teaching of entrepreneurship at music schools.

      As for making a buck, how do you think artists should support themselves? Do you imagine they can do without money, that they can just go, let’s say, to a florist’s shop each day, inhale the lovely fragrance, and nourish themselves on that, without having to eat? Of course you don’t think anything like that. You’re too intelligent. But you’re not very clear, in what you’ve been writing here, about what you think an artist’s relationship to money should be. Some artists — whose artistic stature we wouldn’t even remotely doubt — have been terrific at business: Picasso, Verdi, Handel, Stravinsky, to name just a few. Others, of course (Schubert, for instance) have been hapless.

      Which might indicate that artists have the same range of business skills as anyone else. But would you go so far as to say that it’s somehow disreputable for artists to know about business? That it’s somehow bad for them? That any artist who cares to learn something about business has automatically substituted a love of money for love of art? Again: Picasso, Verdi, Handel, Stravinsky.

      And if you think that, then what should an artist do about the business side of their work? Which certainly exists, if they want to make any kind of living from their art. Should musicians keep themselves pure, remain innocent of business, and put themselves, with utter trust, in the hands of their managers? Should orchestral musicians simply let orchestral managements pay them whatever sum seems convenient, with the musicians having no voice in the question at all?

      And if you now want to say that, no, you didn’t mean this, you do think it’s not terrible for artists to know at least enough about business to protect themselves from predatory managers and employers (who certainly exist), then what’s wrong with teaching them something about business while they’re studying their art? Would you prefer that young orchestra musicians get their first orchestra job, and then find themselves in the middle of contract negotiations they’re unable to understand, because nobody ever told them basic facts about orchestra finances? Or do you think it might be useful — even that it might be a kindness — to give them some kind of grounding in financial realities? Do you think it might, just possibly, be useful for American freelance musicians to know a thing or two about the income taxes they’re going to have to pay, after they themselves work with complex tax laws and then tell the government how much they have to pay? (Which is how the system works in the US.)

      And if a musician wants to start her own ensemble, would it be harmful to have entrepreneurial teaching available? And wouldn’t the availability of that teaching stimulate some students to form ensembles, who otherwise might not have thought they had the ability to do it?

      At Juilliard’s dance division, some of the third and fourth year course of study teaches students how to start their own dance companies. That, of course, is because choreographers (at least in the US) typically do start their own companies. The number that do that is so high that Juilliard thinks it’s essential that they get taught things about it as part of their training. Do you think this is a bad idea? Maybe you think that this replaces crucial artistic work in dance, but how do you know this is true? What’s your evidence? Have you spent any time with Juilliard’s dance program? Talked to teachers and students there?

      It’s very clear what you’re against. But whether the things you complain about actually happen isn’t clear. And it’s also not at all clear what you’d support.

        • says

          Fascinating. My presentation was artful, you say. That might be taken as a compliment. But it’s “disingenuous,” in your view, which means you think — to put it bluntly — that I’m lying. That I’m saying things I know are untrue, but putting them so smoothly that people believe them. Do you have any evidence for such an insulting accusation?

          Ariel, I really have no idea what you mean to be doing here. Maybe you don’t understand what you’re saying. I notice that you didn’t respond to anything else that I said, in a long and detailed response to you. I might speculate that you have no defense for yourself, but I think there’s something else happening. Maybe you’re just in the habit of using words loosely, without careful consideration of what they might mean.

          But still, I’d love to know your reason for believing that I didn’t honestly mean what I said.

  4. says

    Much appreciated, Greg. Very gratifying to hear your supportive words. Your talk yesterday energized everyone in attendance, and your central theme – “Building a new audience should be our top priority” – serves as a call to action that resonates within and beyond our walls. We look forward to more visits in the future.

  5. says

    Thanks, Greg, for your excellent thoughts on this important subject.

    Like your post implies, entrepreneurial creativity is the path for classical music into the 21st century. The kind of radical approaches to musical content, presentation and marketing that we need in order to become viable again will never come from inside the “museum” institutions of big concert halls; we have to create them ourselves from the ground up.

    But I’m doubtful these radical approaches will be meaningfully fostered in schools on a large scale anytime soon. With some notable exceptions (like your Juilliard course), schools value preservation over innovation. Conservatory culture, like those big concert halls, is deeply rooted in the traditional “approach” to classical music. Should we really expect true creative revolution to occur under the sanction of the state?

    At any rate, the sooner we start treating entrepreneurship as part of the art, the better.

    • says

      Very good cautions, Nate. I think some schools have the view of entrepreneurship that St. Augustine so famously had about chastity: “Give it to me, Lord, but not yet.” Schools will hoist the word like a flag, and even create programs that do genuinely good things, while at the same time not doing much to advance the cause in everything else they do and teach.

      But this is changing. As for the state provoking change, think of Gorbachev, an outwardly loyal communist who came to power in the Soviet Union, revealed deep doubts about the system, and ended up demolishing it, though that may not have been his full intent. Or, in the US, Lyndon Johnson making sure a crucial civil rights bill passed. You never know!