Yes, wonderful things. I went to the DePauw University School of Music just after my happy time at the Savvy Musician in Action workshop, as described in my last post. I’d been invited to serve on the advisory committee for the school’s revolutionary new 21CM curriculum. DePauw — under the leadership of its visionary dean, Mark McCoy — is reimagining conservatory education, to educate true 21st century musicians. (Hence 21CM.) Students focus on entrepreneurship, get to know resident and visiting ensembles from the advanced edge of classical music, move out into the surrounding liberal arts campus of the university, and move out into the community. Mark got DePauw playing for an a new audience of farmers, the largest occupational group around Greencastle, IN, where the school is. And, thanks to him, the conservatory took over music teaching in Greencastle’s middle school, for another kind of community contact.
All these things seem to work wonderfully. I blogged about my work at DePauw as a consultant, when the new curriculum had been announced, but hadn’t yet launched. One thing notable — more than notable — was faculty buy-in. Normally conservatory faculty members tend to hold back, when entrepreneurship programs are launched. Which is why, at most schools, they’re a supplement to the curriculum, but aren’t a required part of it.
Not so at DePauw. The school had been in bad shape. There was talk that the university might shut it down. And then Mark came in, full of ideas, and, even more, full of action, making some of his ideas very quickly real, so that all could see he meant what he said. And very likely could deliver on it. So the faculty went along, if only because their survival depended on it.
How things are now
And now that the curriculum has been launched, things seem better than ever. There are three new courses, required for all students. One is on the current state of classical music, another is an academic course about entrepreneurship, and the third is a practical course — the students become entrepreneurs.
There’s a new emphasis on new music, this from a school that at the moment
doesn’t have a composer on its faculty, and doesn’t offer a composition major, though it does have a composer, Scott Perkins, on its theory faculty, who teaches a composition course. [Many thanks to Scott for correcting me here. What I meant was that DePauw doesn’t have a faculty member who’s mainly there to teach composition. But what I wrote was wrong.] That will change. But citing this obviously backward situation is a way of saying that DePauw, despite a graet start on something new, of course has a long way to go, something Mark would be the first to agree with. There’s no doubt now that the school will survive, that interest from prospective students is way up. (With a spike of interest also from parents, who think, “If my kid goes here, maybe she’ll make a living from her music.”)
But DePauw still has to establish itself nationally, still has to be seen, around the US, as a leader in conservatory change. Still has to set the world on fire, with its students, faculty, and programs.
More than a storefront
But the advisory committee meeting was a great start. Along with the event it was built around! This was the opening of the school’s new “storefront,” as they called it. Aka an elegant space in the heart of Greencastle, with room enough for a chamber orchestra to perform, and four state of the art practice rooms. It’ll be used for performances, in many musical genres, as a place where people in Greencastle can take music lessons. And more. Talk about reaching out to the community! The school, opening this space, isn’t just reaching. It’s becoming part of its community.
And look who cut the ribbon when the space opened. You can see him in the photo — Yo-Yo Ma, who’s taken a great interest in DePauw, and who chairs the advisory committee. Pictured along with Yo-Yo are, from the left, Sue Murray, the mayor of Greencastle; Joyce and Judson Green, who as donors and board members play a major role in classical music in Chicago, and gave $15 million to launch DePauw’s revolution; and Mark.
These people give DePauw and the new storefront — what a modest name for something so impressive — quite a bit of heft. Yo-Yo played (the prelude from the first Bach cello suite) to inaugurate the space. Played fabulously, with verve and joy. An auspicious beginning.
The advisory committee meeting was a pleasure. Down to earth, full of ideas. Mark wanted us to give serious feedback; to suggest courses for the curriculum; to critique a website the school created, aimed at classical music’s future; and to offer ideas for a future project.
Some recent DePauw graduates, now working for the 21CM initiative, took part, and on an equal basis with the outside visitors, something I’ve seen only once before in my years of travel.
And look who was on the committee. Judd Greenstein, from New Amsterdam Records. Caroline Shaw, a composer who won this year’s music Pulitzer Prize. Peter Seymour, from Project Trio, an ensemble of musicians who play classical instruments, but offer performances with far more rhythm than classical music normally has. And Paul Smith, who runs and sings in Voces8, a wonderfully pure British choral ensemble.
These are people not from the classical mainstream. Yes, Caroline won the big prize, but her music is squarely in the New Amsterdam/Bang on a Can/21st century space, instantly appealing to anyone with a contemporary musical ear, whether they listen to classical music or not. Peter’s got to be the only person ever both to play in the Cleveland Orchestra and get a jazz soloist of the year award from Downbeat, the leading jazz magazine.
So on his advisory committee, Mark is moving beyond the old classical boundaries, just as he has in DePauw’s beefed-up concert series, which now offers groups like Ethel.
Something really new is going on.