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Orchestral Summitry

The recent “Orchestral Summit” at the University of Michigan was a labor of love on the part of Mark Clague of the university’s Musicology faculty. Mark is a tireless advocate of conciliation and consensual change in a field wracked by frustration and dissent. The conference had its ups and downs. I was especially impressed by the gravitas and honesty sustained by a panel of conservatory-level educators, alert to the need for fresh thought in preparing young musicians for a rapidly changing cultural landscape.

Peter Witte, who heads the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri/Kansas City, hit a high note in calling for collaboration between orchestras and music educators at every level. “Education,” as pursued by orchestras, is too often limited to visiting elementary schools and bussing schoolchildren to Young People’s Concerts.

A broader educational mission was also limned by Laura Jackson, Music Director of the Reno Philharmonic – whose composer-in-residence works in Reno’s schools to complement instrumental instruction.

For me, the Summit afforded a further opportunity to rant about rethinking orchestras as purveyors of the humanities. As readers of this blog know, that’s the gist of a $300,000 NEH “Music Unwound” grant, supporting a consortium of orchestras pursuing cross-disciplinary programming in association with museums, universities, and public schools grades 4 to 12. The most recent installment, the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra’s “Dvorak and America” project, brought to four schools with ambitious instrumental and choral programs a different approach – contextualized instruction, linking music to history, literature, and the visual arts. A short film, created by the Pacific Symphony for the Summit, afforded a crisp snapshot of how and why it worked.

I next lecture on “Rethinking What Orchestras Do – A Humanities Mandate” at the University of Texas at Austin on April 14, then (as a convocation address) at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana on May 13. My previous “Music Unwound” blogs: Feb. 23, 2012; May 31, 2011.

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