Friday, 17 February 2017

What conservatories should do

What they should do to prepare students for classical music's future. These are things I said in my talk at the Jacobs School at Indiana University.

First, conservatories should make the future of classical music a major topic of discussion.

I'd think this has to come from the top. The conservatory's dean or president needs to be talking publicly about the problems we face, and about solutions. The subject has to come up in courses. Be discussed by studio teachers. There could be courses specifically about the future, like the one I teach at Juilliard, and the required course called "State of the Art" at DePauw. I'm sure there are others.

And schools should hold public discussions.

Of course conservatories should keep on teaching entrepreneurship.

No need to write much about that, because it's so common, and so much talked about. But maybe entrepreneurship courses should be required (as they are at DePauw, and maybe elsewhere).

Students should be taught how to speak to their audience, when they perform.

And they should be mentored each time they're going to do it. (That would take a lot of staff time, I know.)

They need to stress their love for the music they play. And downplay the history and analysis that usually figure so strongly when classical music is talked about.

They should be told to aim what they say at people who don't yet listen to classical music, or who are new to it. That's the audience we — and they — need to reach!

Students should be taught not just how to play, but how to perform.

They should make their performances jump off the stage. Or be quietly mesmerizing. They do that by being aware of their audience. They should be taught to make eye contact, to move (if they want to) while they play. To communicate both lively music and quiet, rapt music with their body language.

And they should learn to make the music in every piece stand out, by (for instance) making sure that contrasts really register as contrasts, and that climaxes really register as climaxes. Register in a way that no one could miss.

Students should be encouraged — empowered — to be creative. To do new things with music. To play the music they want to play, in the ways they want to play it. Even if they break with classical tradition. They should learn the tradition, of course, but should also be free to break with it.

I think this speaks for itself. Does anyone think that conservatories are, these days, truly creative places?

Students should study many kinds of music, not only classical.

Because they may well play many kinds of music. Either because they want to on their own, or because they find themselves collaborating with musicians in other genres.

They'll be more employable if they can play music of many kinds. And finally, they need to be citizens not just of classical music, or the arts, but of our wider culture, including our wider musical culture. They have to know what's going on with the music the people in our hoped-for new audience — their new audience — already love.

They should be helped to have flexible careers, doing more than just performing at concerts that other people organize.

This, too, speaks for itself, I think. Students can become teaching artists, community leaders through music — so many things. Much talked about these days, of course. They can create ensembles, create institutions. Create performing opportunities. And find performing opportunities that conservatories don't always talk about, like (as the Jacobs School Office of Entrepreneurship and Career Development showed students) playing in military bands.

Conservatories need to open all of music for their students and graduates.

Conservatories should stream student recitals.

So that students can develop an audience. Which of ties in with the entrepreneurship they should be taught. And it also ties in with what comes next…

…which is that students should be taught how to find a new audience of people their own age.

Many schools teach outreach, or provide opportunities for it. So students play for community groups, or play in prisons, or in schools, especially schools in underserved communities.

All of which is terrific. But somehow we've forgotten that students also might reach — and might want to reach — an audience of people their own age. An audience of people like them, with only one difference: These are people who don't yet listen to classical music.

And of course it's crucial to reach those people! They're the audience we need in the future, if we're going to survive. So why aren't students taught how to reach them? And then mentored as they go out to do it.

They could even — as I briefly said in my last post — develop a local fan base. These would be people in the city the conservatory is in, or on the larger campus many conservatories are part of.

Students should learn to cultivate this new audience. Not all will be able to do it. But some will! And then maybe we'll see students drawing 50, 100, 200, 400 people to their recitals. With more watching online, when recitals are streamed.

This may seem unlikely. It's far from our current thinking. So far, in fact, that the very idea may seem radical. Or unrealistic.

But it can be done. Gerald Klickstein, who runs the Music Entrepreneurship and Career Center at Peabody, told me that as a guitar student he got hundreds of people to concerts he gave. And one of my Juilliard graduate students, a percussionist, told me he got hundreds of people to come to his undergraduate recital at NEC.

So it can be done. All we need is the will, the determination. The belief that it's possible. And the means to learn how it can be done.

Original Content: What conservatories should do

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