Revolution at DePauw

DePawu blogI’ve mentioned here and on Facebook a consulting job I said I couldn’t talk about, because the project it’s part of hadn’t been made public. But now that project has been announced, so here’s the news.

The DePauw University School of Music is revolutionizing its curriculum — I don’t think that’s too strong — to focus on training what it calls 21st century musicians. Which means musicians who make careers in new ways, give new kinds of classical performances, and find new audiences.

Other schools, of course, have entrepreneurship programs, which encourage (and help) students to do these things. But at DePauw, the entire school will focus on this. Every aspect of the curriculum, from student recitals to music theory classes — everything — is being reexamined, to see how a new kind of classical musician can be trained.

Should student recitals be entrepreneurial? Should students be in charge of them, maybe giving them off-campus, and working hard to find an audience? Should chamber ensembles and classes in staging opera scenes be entrepreneurial, with part of the work going toward building an audience for performances?

These are some of the things being discussed. Music history classes will very likely focus not just on the great composers and the way they wrote music, but also on how music actually functioned in the past, who the audience was, how the audience behaved, how the music was financed. Music theory classes will reach outside classical music, to teach how music of other kinds is structured and analyz

And there’s talk of a three-course series that every student would take, which would be the backbone of the new curriculum. First a course on the current state of classical music. Then an introduction to entrepreneurship. And then a practical course in entrepreneurship, in which the students would break into groups to put on entrepreneurial performances.

I’m putting all this in tentative terms, because it’s still being worked out. But, in my very exciting role as consultant, I’m at DePauw right now, in the middle of meetings with each faculty department. Today I met with the directors of the school’s three large ensembles, the orchestra, band, and chorus, who’ve been thinking of new kinds of performances they can give. And in fact have been giving them, in the case of the orchestra for quite a few years. And I met with the theory and history departments. And joined a faculty meeting. Tomorrow the vocal department, and other applied music faculty.

And I’ve been meeting with students. This is exhilarating for me. I can see how real the changes are going to be. How excited the students and faculty are. Yes, even the faculty, who at other schools have, some of them, been wary of change. The DePauw faculty has questions, too, some of which I discussed here, without saying where the discussions had happened.

And of course there are questions! All this is new. If you add things to the curriculum, other things have to go. What should be dropped? Can the dropped parts be reintroduced in some other way? One thing that will never be compromised is artistic quality. But the questions that arise, often very small ones, are fascinating to see, as a radical idea takes shape, and everyone starts to see what it means for the school’s daily life. I’d love to mention some of these questions, but I think right now they’d best be left to the faculty. They’re instructive, though. Theories are one thing, reality is something else. What I love, though, is that the discussions are wonderfully constructive, aimed at solving potential problems, not complaining about them.

I should clarify my role. The new program is the brainchild of Mark McCoy, the relatively new dean of the school. Mark and I met last spring, through a DePauw faculty member I’m close to, and hit it off right away. That led to Mark asking me to work with him as a consultant. Which then means that I visit DePauw (this is my second visit this fall), go over things with Mark, and — the best part — have these extensive meetings with students and faculty, where I serve as a sounding board, and also as a source of advice, when people want it, and when it’s about something I’m able to help with. One thing that’s been helpful is what I know about what’s happened elsewhere, not just at schools, but throughout classical music.

And, as always in the work I do, I learn a lot by listening. (And I’ve been warmly received, for which I’m grateful.)

There’s more I could say. About, for instance, Mark’s outreach to the liberal arts campus of the university, which has led to a spike in attendance at music school concerts. About the school’s adoption of the music program at the middle school of the town it’s in, Greencastle, IN. About the performances students now give in a Greencastle restaurant, and about the school’s outreach to neighboring farmers. These initiatives put some flesh on the program’s bones, even before the new curriculum is launched. They show the school practicing what it preaches.

I’ll be saying more about this. I’ve been wanting for quite a while to work with an institution that’s serious about making large-scale change. And this seems to be it.

Here’s a story from the Indianapolis Star on the new curriculum, and, not least, about the $15 million gift from two marvelous donors, Judson and Joyce Green, that funded it. Here’s the DePauw website, which went live last night with details of the new program.

And here’s how the website describes it:

The 21st Century Musician Initiative is a complete re-imagining of the skills, tools and experiences necessary to create musicians of  the future instead of the past—flexible, entrepreneurial musicians  that find diverse musical venues and outlets in addition to traditional performance spaces, develop new audiences and utilize their music innovatively to impact and strengthen communities.

This is for real. And I love it.

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  1. says

    And we love having you with us on campus! Thanks so much for all of your thoughtful advice and insights, energy, and enthusiasm. We’re so excited about this initiative!

  2. says

    This is fantastic news, Greg! I’m hoping to see such developments in Europe as well. Best wishes from Switzerland and congratulations to DePauw for courageously doing the right step forward.

  3. says

    I’m excited for my alma mater. Hoping for great things from a great school. I too almost wish this had happened while I was there, but, honestly, DePauw was what I needed when I needed it. This new program has the chance to do the same thing for more young composer/entrepreneurial musicians that come out of the school.

  4. Carla Edwards says

    It is wonderful to see all of this in action and to have you here inspiring us to think even more of how we can work outside of the box.

  5. says

    DePauw saw the handwriting on the wall and is responding accordingly. Very impressive. Can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s fleshed out…hopefully the planning will include the fluidity to continue to respond to ongoing change while maintaining the artistic quality.