The NEH Music Unwound consortium, which most recently brought Dvorak’s New World Symphony to an Indian reservation, has been re-funded by the Endowment with a $400,000 grant, bringing the total NEH investment to $1 million since the inception of Music Unwound in 2010.
The consortium has quickly evolved into a major opportunity and challenge for American orchestras to rethink themselves as “humanities institutions.” It funds thematic, cross-disciplinary concerts linked to high schools, colleges and universities, and museums. The premise is that such programming (which more resembles what museums do) supports audience engagement and development, and also outreach and institutional collaboration.
Three protean topics have been in play: “Dvorak and America,” “Copland and Mexico,” and “Charles Ives’s America.” A fourth topic – “Kurt Weill’s America” – has now been added. The themes include immigration, World War II, American identity, and the Mexican cultural efflorescence of the 1930s. All the main concerts include visual tracks and scripts. There have also been film, dance, and theater ingredients.
As director of Music Unwound, I have been delighted and surprised by the alacrity with which new relationships have been formed and sustained. Music Unwound has helped to create a permanent bond between the Pacific Symphony and Orange County’s Chapman University, and also between the El Paso Symphony and the University of Texas/El Paso. By an incredible coincidence, the visionary educators driving these relationships in the two universities have both just been promoted: Daniele Struppa (a mathematician) will shortly become President of Chapman, and Frank Candelaria (a music historian) is now Associate Provost of UTEP. Both of these educational leaders are driven to infuse the arts and humanities across the curriculum.
Another surprise has been the increasing inclusion of student musicians. The Brevard Music Festival, which joined the consortium this year, is a major summer training camp for orchestral musicians. Under Music Unwound, it will supplement such training with humanities instruction – so that all the collegiate instrumentalists taking part in “Dvorak and America” this summer will read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha and ponder its pertinence to Dvorak’s American style.
DePauw University, also new to Music Unwound this year, will produce a Kurt Weill festival including Street Scene – Weill’s “Broadway opera” about immigration. The participating students will read Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Street Scene, and explore the process by which it was turned into an opera by Weill, Rice, and Langston Hughes. The same exercise will subsequently take place at Brevard and UTEP. As Mark McCoy, the exceptional Dean of the DePauw Music School, is about to become President of the university, he will – like Struppa and Candelaria – be commanding a comprehensive humanities exercise from the top.
The other consortium members are the Buffalo Philharmonic (lead partner), the North Carolina Symphony, the New Hampshire Music Festival, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and the South Dakota Symphony.
In Las Vegas and El Paso, “Copland and Mexico” will connect to large Hispanic populations – including both high school and college students.
Donato Cabrera, Music Director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and Delta David Gier, Music Director of the South Dakota Symphony, will join me in Baltimore June 11 at the annual conference of the League of American Orchestras to discuss Music Unwound and present our experiences to date.