Coming Down

Coming Down

Well the jetlag is basically gone (the redeye solution worked for me again), but I’m still completely exhausted. The National Performing Arts Convention in Denver last week was overwhelming in every way—endless interactions with tons of people, morning to night events (often several at the same time which I only caught parts of), fascinating ancillary activities I unfortunately never had the time to partake in at all, etc. Now I’m back at my desk in New York City, and NPAC serves as a catalyst for a lot of great memories and discussion. But if this multifaceted immersion is not to have been in vain for the more than 3500 folks who were there, it must and should be much more than that.

At the final town meeting on Saturday, the assembled multitude voted on strategies to effect three missions determined by the group earlier in the week, which Colin Holter has succinctly described as:

  • Impressing communities with our relevance
  • Improving arts education
  • Increasing diversity

We were all charged to stay focused on these goals when we each returned to the cubbyholes we regularly exist in throughout the nation. So in what will, for the time being, serve as the final installment in our coverage of the Mile High Whereall Endall, I’d like to open the discussion here one more time to gather thoughts on those three missions and get a sense from people what constructive—and let’s try to keep this constructive—things we could do to realize these goals. So the question is: What can we do to better impress upon communities across the entire country that the arts are relevant to their lives, to improve the state of arts education not only for K-12 but for everyone, and to increase the diversity of people involved with the performing arts on creative, adminstrative, and audience levels?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

33 thoughts on “Coming Down

  1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Hi Frank,

    Welcome back! I’m always up for something! But first, can you offer briefly what new specific approaches, techniques, schemes, and opportunities that were presented that were not the same insanity we’ve been pursuing unsuccessfully for a few generations?

    I’m not being sarcastic (hard to believe). Having worked hard and witnessed others doing the same since I was a teenager with no discernable long-term results, I’m really really up for an approach that hasn’t been tried yet.


  2. hieshbre

    As someone who is pursuing a career in music education, and as a true lover of contemporary American music, there are several ways in which we can reach advancement of the arts within our nation. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the conference, as I have been preparing for and attending a Jazz Camp here in Michigan for area students, and I do not know what ideas were tossed onto the stage; but I have a few in mind:

    The first step towards advancement of the arts lies within the hands of the young people of the nation, and with the parents who are bringing them up. We need to actively bring the parents into the Performing Arts and help them to understand what it is that the performing arts are. For example, almost every symphony in the nation (thanks to the BSO) has their own Pops Concert Series. While many of us musicians shrug our shoulders to the idea of “Pops” symphonic concerts, it truly helps bring people in. In my hometown, the Grand Rapids Symphony does something unique with their concerts, while they may have a central theme of showtunes and film scores, or special guests performing the music of Pink Floyd to The Eagles…they are always sure to include many standard orchestral pieces that may have lended a hand to the development of whatever the Pops concert is. That is how my parents became aware of classical music, and thats how they have come to like it. This is something that every orchestra can do (and very many do).

    As to educating the young people, this has to be more hands on. We need to make sure that all music educators no exactly what they are doing. We need to strive to create in them a ‘Leonard Bernstein’ mentality. Every educator must know the ins and outs of all the popular and classical music trends. They must be able to go to the principal of their school and explain that music is key to the students’ development; by providing examples of the people that many of the ‘rock stars’ of today claim as their influences. Someone who can break down the most complex 20th Century piece into a simple melodic variation. It is the music educators that have a huge role in how the students develop their performing arts talents, because they are the ones who decide how much money music departments get. And no matter how much I may refuse to believe it, money is constantly the driving force to everything within music education in America.

    And finally, we need to convince the government that the performing arts are vital to the American population. It is through the performing arts that we are able to fully express our deepest feelings. No one can listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings and not feel intense emotional pain. No one can watch a performance of The Nutcracker and not feel good when the Nutcracker and the girl finally fall into each other’s arms. No one can sit through a the great American musicals and not tap there foot along to the beat. No one can look at the Mona Lisa and not be unnerved by her eerie smile.

    As a great teacher once told me: “You can groom your children to be brilliant in mathematics and science and engineering. You can instruct them to be the best writers and readers in the world. You can teach them to analyze the most complex problems and literature. But if you don’t teach them to have heart, they will never reach the status of great and they will assume their full potential.—-And that is what music does, it gives us heart. It gives us soul. It makes us who we are!!!”

  3. coreydargel

    …it’s hard not to feel utterly discouraged when people reach the same conclusions over and over again. Those bullet points — “impressing communities with our relevance, improving arts education,” and “increasing diversity” — are the same bullet points that have appeared in virtually every mission statement, grant application, etc., for years. There is nothing new or insightful here. Can you relate to the frustration I’m expressing?

    As for constructive feedback, the very first thing we must do is agree on the definitions of the following words as they pertain to the arts: “community,” “relevance,” “education,” “diversity.”

  4. macroboy

    First let me say I was at the conference and it was amazing- all of the sessions, meeting people, etc. Good times! Good times!

    I gotta agree with the previous post. These 3 bullet points are more of the same.

    Trying to convince someone you are relevant seems odd. If they haven’t heard of what you do by now how could you really claim any relevance in their lives? Maybe what this point is trying to say is that we need to bring the art to them. I have a modern chamber group and I am working hard to get us out of the concert hall (not completely). There may be a whole world out there that didn’t know they like what we do.

  5. jchang4

    I wonder if we aren’t coming at the issue from the wrong direction. It seems that, overall, the conclusions drawn from NPAC are all about trying to impose our art on society. I wonder if we won’t be able to come at more viable solutions if we try thinking about it the other way. Instead of thinking about how we can make ourselves fit into society, I think we should think about how we fit into society’s equation. Music is going to be a tough industry regardless of what genre/discipline you choose. That only means that Classical Music, only a marginal avenue of the entire Music industry, is just going to be that much more tough. How do we fit in society’s equation? And how can we play up this role?

    The industry is tough because there’s just too much supply and not enough demand. And therein lies the key. Why is there so much supply? Clearly music matters to a lot of people… It matters enough that so many people will pursue it despite the fact that it’s not easy.

    So I say, what’s our role? and How do we play it up? In order to tackle the latter question, I really think we need to get tech savvy. There’s a lot of untapped potential out there in these new gadgets/devices/technology that’s worth exploring. And people have. [Plug: Mariocast on Youtube is amazing!] But we can’t stop there! We need to keep moving! We need to keep up! Things are changing at ever increasing rates, and we are really far behind!

  6. curioman

    I would suggest that these are not goals. A goal is measurable and specific with an end date. Example: Increase national arts funding by 30% by Jan. 1, 2009.

    “Impressing communities with our relevance” – How do we measure that?

    These are fine missions, but how do we serve them without specific strategies, goals, and milestones. How will we know we got there, what it took to get there, and whether it was worth it?

    I would suggest defining clearer goals with plans to achieve them.

    Otherwise, I fear that these missions will just be too amorphous for people to get a hold of and effect real change.

  7. jchang4

    I thought about it some more, and even if you don’t agree with my crazy ideas, the technology thing is really something worth exploring. Gadgets and tech are really hot these days… They have been for a while now. We can significantly raise our public profile by getting in on the action in some way. I’m not necessarily saying that we need to come up with an iPhone like device or anything, but how can we integrate what we do with the technology that we have? Like I said, there are people out there who are doing this. If we could identify these people/things, encourage others to participate, and/or try taking it to the next level, I think we’ll be on a better track. Did NPAC provide discussions on arts and technology?

  8. Frank J. Oteri

    The NPAC blog on ArtsJournal has begun enumerating the strategies that NPAC attendees voted on to implement the three goals outlined above. So far there are four posts (for two of the three goals each with national and local strategies). Eventually these strategies will most likely appear as nine separate posts (each of the three goals with national, local and individual strategies) and as a result there will not be a permanent link directly to them once subsequent threads bump these nine posts off the page. Therefore, to add further fuel this discussion, I thought it would be a good idea to post these here as well. (The strategies which received the greatest percentage of votes are listed in bold):


    • Devise an advocacy campaign to promote the inclusion of performing arts in core curricula – 36%
    • Enlist artists as full partners in all aspects of arts education through training and creating an AmeriCorps/WPA-type program – 22%
    • Lobby for education reform, including rescinding No Child Left Behind – 20%
    • Form partnerships with national education infrastructure (e.g. National Education Association, PTA, teachers unions) – 13%
    • Invite new constituencies to experience the performing arts and create opportunities for lifelong learning by providing more points of entry – 5%
    • Research successful models / best practices and disseminate via the web – 2%
    • Establish diverse cross-sector committee to create an enriched arts curriculum – 2%


    • Mobilize and collaborate with K-12 and higher education institutions to strengthen arts education and arts participation as core curriculum – 23%
    • Strengthen relationship with school boards and policy makers through lobbying, electing “arts friendly officials”, involvement in local politics – 17%
    • Innovate financial models to fund the arts: link to tax base, develop dedicated sales tax, connect to corporate funds – 15%
    • Integrate arts teaching in educators’ professional development and integrate teaching programs in artist organizations – 16%
    • Bring art into non-traditional spaces (e.g. parks, workplaces, social programs)to create new educational opportunities — “enter into the communities we serve” – 14%
    • Develop joint arts education programs across disciplines and within the community for fuller distribution and comprehensive programming – 8%
    • Establish and share assessments that create empirical data to demonstrate correlation between arts and educational impact – 7%


    • Organize a national media campaign with celebrity spokespersons, catchy slogans (e.g. “Got Milk”), unified message, and compelling stories – 27%
    • Create a Department of Culture/Cabinet-level position which is responsible for implementing a national arts policy – 23%
    • Lobby elected political officials for pro-arts policy and funding; demand arts policy platform from candidates – 14%
    • Create a coordinated national performing arts policy campaign involving artists and organizations – 12%
    • Collect, analyze and disseminate data demonstrating the value of the arts (e.g. economic, intrinsic, developmental/educational values) – 12%
    • Establish a National Arts Day/Festival with free performances, open houses, and art-making opportunities – 8%
    • Explore interactive new media initiatives to increase access and relevance (e.g. create a “Google Arts”-type resource, blogs,YouTube) – 5%


    • Create an arts coalition to get involved in local decision-making, take leadership positions, and strengthen relationships with elected officials – 21%
    • Forge partnerships with other sectors to identify how the arts can serve community needs – 21%
    • Foster cross-disciplinary conversations to share data and best practices, develop common goals, and create joint activities/ performances – 14%
    • Mobilize audiences to be advocates for the arts – 13%
    • Utilize existing advocacy and data to influence local funding, policy and public support for the arts – 9%
    • Create collaborative local marketing campaigns in mass media and public venues – 8%
    • Develop and promote recognizable champions for the arts – 7%
    • Create new cross disciplinary events and festivals to promote the local arts community – 6%
  9. jchang4

    Re: goals
    I agree. I find the outcome of the conference a little disappointing. It was obviously a fantastic experience for some of the people involved, but for those of us who were hoping to see some action, coming up with only a cursory to do list and not something more fleshed out is very discouraging.

  10. Colin Holter

    I think the convention’s outcome is encouraging – now at least we have an idea about what most of us agree we should tackle as a community. And I know it’s much easier to dismiss the “to-do list” than to take action on any of the issues NPAC raised.

  11. jchang4

    I guess it’s a fine distinction between “good” and “good enough.” Just like for performers, you can always play better, these sorts of conferences can always do better. I’m not trying to take away from the advancement that NPAC has made. I’m just pushing them to do more. NPAC is a good thing. It can be better.

  12. rtanaka

    Taking responsibility is the hardest job in the world. I’m with you on this Frank.

    Those initiatives might sound nice to us artist types, but it always rests on the equation “art is good” therefore throwing money at it = good. We’ve been doing this for a while now, without much success, mostly because it doesn’t go much into the reasons why or how these allocations will better society as a whole. These initiatives will go on deaf ears unless they can come up with some fairly convincing arguments in favor of the medium itself.

    Of course you could take the cynical view that administrators support these measures solely as a way to fatten their own pockets, since they’re the ones largely in charge of handling the resources that come in. Salary increases are rarely ever talked about anywhere in these sorts of things, and extortive policies (even if they’re not technically illegal) have become more the norm than the exception in a lot of parts of the States. People have a right to be skeptical, I think.

    What people have always expected from institutions are accountability, honesty, and transparency. You know, being responsible for what one does with power vested to them. These are simple concepts, but rarely applied in practice, as unfortunate as it is. Until it can be, “progress” will only be rhetorical, but nothing will actually change.

  13. philmusic

    Frank, taking responsibility is also a thankless task.

    Phil Fried, the Chicken Little Scholar at U. of Lilliput

  14. William Osborne

    I’m in the process of flying from central Europe to a little Hispanic village in the mountains of Northern NM, so I am very distracted and muddled from jet lag, but I would like to add a short comment. I appreciate the general conclusions formulated by NPAC:

    • Impressing communities with our relevance
    • Improving arts education
    • Increasing diversity

    Even if very general, these are timeless ideas that will always be relevant and vital. The problem is that we are still searching for ways to effectively implement them.

    There are two central factors necessary for realizing these ideas: public funding and long-term commitment. Here is an outline explaining this idea point by point based on NPAC’s conclusions:

    1. Relevance. Public funding by its very nature is focused toward communal relevance, especially if administered locally. People feel the arts belong to them when they pay for it with their own tax dollars, and when the political representatives who answer to them have oversight over the money. Public funding also allows for accessible ticket prices. Nothing contributes more to relevance than affordable prices for locally based performance organization – both of which can only be achieved through public funding.

    2. Education. Public monies have always been connected to education. Public funding thus has a long, traditional relationship to arts education. The positive effects are clearly illustrated by countries like China, Venezuela, and Finland.

    3. Diversity. Public funding leads to a far more diversified arts community because it is far more democratic than our plutocratic system which concentrates cultural institutions in only on a few rich financial centers around the country. Public funding answers to voters, and is thus by its very nature oriented toward diversity.

    The NPAC folks have selected the right car. Now they need to put the engine in it: public funding.

    We must begin a long-term program to bring our country in line with the rest of the industrial world and create an effective, long-term program to create a public funding system that will allow America to be the Athens of the modern world that it should be. We can change history and the world with public arts programs just like we changed history and the world with our publicly funded NASA program. America has more artistic potential than any other country that has ever existed. With a well-run, well-planned public funding system we will touch the stars. The day is coming.

    William Osborne

  15. rtanaka

    One simple thing the government can do for working musicians is to provide public rehearsal and practice spaces. People generally don’t mind buying and maintaining their own instrument, but the costs involved in trying to stay active as a musician can be seriously discouraging, especially if you’re working in larger groups. If they’re ambitious enough, they could probably even provide discounted studio spaces since the technology nowadays makes producing recordings a lot cheaper to do. I could easily see this leading to cheaper recording costs in general, because the government will give the private sector a run for their money in this way.

    When I first graduated I didn’t practice for several months only because I didn’t have access to a place where I could play the piano. People I know have had similar problems as well, because a lot of apartments simply won’t tolerate that level of noise for an extended period of time. It’s kind of amazing how something as simple as the practice room is something you take for granted while in school…these are real-world problems that need to be addressed.

    People talk about diversity and being inclusive, but I don’t think that’s going to get accomplished by throwing a bone at the latest oppressed minority, or simply funding works that tout certain ideological agendas. It has to be done through policy, from the bottom up, where they implement something tangible that everybody and anybody can use. There are so many obvious, practical things that can be done that will help to raise the standard of the music community in general, but now it’s largely a matter if anybody has the will or the means to actually implement them.

  16. jchang4

    What is music? What is music-making? What is listening to music? With respect to how it effects/affects the people involved? etc.etc.etc. I know it sounds like the typical cliche question that opens so many courses on “Intro to Music,” but the reason why we keep asking the same questions over and over again is because we haven’t come across good (enough :P) answers yet. We shouldn’t be trying to convince these people of our significance. We ARE significant. To date, no human civilization has been found to exist without music. If it is so expendable, then why do we all have it? It is the lack of a basic fundamental understanding of the medium that is plaguing us. We need to come up with better answers than “you should support it because it’s great.” What makes it great? It’s not about convincing people of the relevance. It’s about making the relevance visible. I really believe that once we are able to do this for music in general, then we can focus specifically on pushing the greatness and relevance of classical and new music specifically.

    I am trying to figure out my own answers to these questions. For instance, Why should people take piano lessons? For the discipline? Is that really my role? To teach students how to work hard? I’ve recently had a discussion with a potential client about how she is really not interested in training her kids to be virtuosos. She doesn’t care about examinations, competitions, recitals. She just wants to give the joys of music and music making to her kids. But there are certainly parents out there who feel differently, who want their kids to “achieve,” who want to see their kids get high marks, and win prizes. How does one account for all this? Are they two sides of the same token? Is there something that binds these attitudes together in some way? Or are they fundamentally conflicting ideologies? Is there a “right” and “wrong” way? Is one attitude healthier than the other? and Why?

    Don’t take for granted that you are more enlightened than the Philistines of the world. It is true that you learn from teaching, and that you cannot teach what you don’t really know. You cannot “convince” people of your relevance if you don’t really know what that is yourself.

  17. rtanaka

    I agree — and I think those are very good questions to ask ourselves as we do our work. All too often we believe ourselves to be superior just because we happen to be involved something — ironically when I was studying the sciences I got similar sorts of attitudes from the majors over there. (My brother is an engineer so I get in discussions about this kind of thing all the time — he makes “useful things”, as he likes to claim.) Switching over to music was kind of a heresy in a lot of ways, not only financially. But if you take a step back and look a the big picture, that whole sentiment is artificially manufactured by the departments fighting over budget allocations, in which unfortunately the students get caught up in. It can get kind of silly.

    I can partially say why music is important, at least from my perspective and experiences. Kids especially, do a lot of stupid things when they get bored (I know I did, anyway), so on a fundamental level, it gives them something to do. They have a lot of energy that needs to be redirected into something creative otherwise they’ll end up doing destructive things to themselves and others. One thing I’m thankful for, is that ever since I started getting serious about the whole music thing, I’ve been in considerably less trouble, and a lot happier. Music has helped me work my way out of depressed states on more than one occasion, and this sentiment I’ve found is fairly common among a lot of people. If I can share this with people around me, all the better.

    You can look at some of the street signs of LA — it sort of boggles the mind how some of the graffiti artists spent the effort climbing 25 ft up in the air just to tag it. Maybe the act itself is kind of stupid, but its a sign that people generally do want to be creative. But they need avenues and supported teachers who genuinely care about their student’s well-being, which is in serious short supply. We need a lot more than just rhetoric and pats-on-the-back because that’s all they’ve really been giving out over the last decade and it hasn’t been working.

    I’m currently collaborating with a self-described “metal head” — he has a good ear but no formal training and limited technique on the guitar. But he has a lot of enthusiasm and is willing to try new things which makes the process very easy. But say, shoving classical composers (old or new) in his face telling him how great they are isn’t really going to work. We have to to be willing to work with people on their own terms, not just our own, and see if we can find a common ground. I think that’s something that tends to get lost when we try to over-specialize.

  18. jchang4

    I’m discouraged when the conversation here at newmusicbox comes to a standstill. Especially when it’s a topic that I’m keenly interested in, when I’m participating and trying to elicit conversation to no avail. Are you all on vacation? Does this topic not matter to you? Do you really have nothing at all to say?

    Thanks to those who have put their two cents in, but I know that there are many other names from the list of regular commenters that are missing.

    It’s one of the gripes that I have with this place. And, in many ways, a gripe that I have with classical music in academia in general. It’s kind of a sucky community. Few people that are a part of the community are really interested in music, most people are more interested in themselves. Admittedly, art is a self-indulgent medium, but past history has shown that all the great artists all knew each other… they were all friends. Maybe I’m romanticizing it, but it seems like there was a greater sense of community back then, and we seem to really lack that community feeling right now. Or, at least, I do. I’m alienated by my pianist friends cuz I’m into the weird new music. I’m alienated by the composers cuz I’m just not a composer. It’s surprisingly difficult to find pieces for piano that not only am I interested in learning, but also where the composer is willing to put up with my slow work habits. I’m willing to put in the work to play it well, but most composers are more interested in immediate gratification, which I simply cannot provide. I mean, in that case, you may as well call it MY improvisation on YOUR theme. I’d like to think that you put all those notes down for more of a reason than that.

    I realize that in past history there was no such luxury of preparing a very thoughtful (and accurate) rendition of a new piece, but why can’t we buck the trend and try doing it “right” for once? It’s hard to say if a good performance of a piece really makes all that much of a difference in its bid for canon status, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to hear your work played well in your lifetime?

    Ah… I just received a tweet: Rest in peace, George Carlin.

  19. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    What conversation are we having? It’s one of the vaguest threads on NMBx in recent months.

    With respect to the “what to do” discussion, I haven’t participated because I know my comments would be negative, so I try to keep those out of these discussions.

    But you asked. My reaction is that the concept of sacrificing for or investing in one’s colleagues doesn’t seem to be a big part of the new music scene. We think that responsibility belongs to others, the wealthy, the corporate, the foundation.

    And by sacrifice, I don’t mean playing or composing or teaching occasionally for no fee, but rather the regular commitment of time and cash often for someone else’s benefit. It takes that sacrifice — which, were you starting a small business you’d call investment and sweat equity — to make the kinds of changes proposed here. But composers in particular are selfish.

    I try to be optimistic and stay out of the personal here on NMBx. But this time I’ll give just one example of the selfishness that affects me every day. I’m sure the names Kalvos & Damian, VoxNovus and 60×60, and Composers21 are familiar. Those and some two dozen smaller projects are hosted on a leased server that crashed in February, and cost over $600 to restore and rebuild. And after a request for help was sent out, do you know how much cash came in from the composers who benefit from those sites? $10.

    Why does that affect me? Because I paid for the repairs, and have paid for the server and service fees and bandwidth overcharges and most of the yearly domain renewals since 1998 … some ten percent of all my earnings over ten years. I haven’t talked about it before because this is not about me — it’s about investing in new nonpop creators being visible and growing and affecting change.

    But I do mention it now because you asked why some of us have been silent. Some of us (and I am not alone; you know who you are) just work hard to put up cash & materials to make that change happen — even if, as one composer wrote upon being asked to contribute $2 for the server repairs, he shouldn’t have to pay because he is an artist and his work is too important and such services should be free to him, and why don’t we just get some grants?

    That’s why, when I read some of the “should” and “could” commentaries here, I just go back to work. Which I’m doing now.


    (Heck, Phil, I don’t even get a salary to do thankless tasks.)

  20. Lisa X

    “We need to strive to create in them a ‘Leonard Bernstein’ mentality.”

    That scares me. I checked out those young people concerts a few years ago with the hopes of showing some of it to my students but the intensity of his ideological stances are just despicable, especially when talking to young brains. He is constantly on his horse about what music is and what it is not and how we should and should not listen. Scary.

    I did show them a few musical clips but that just sparked difficult questions about race and gender that I wasn’t prepared for.

  21. jchang4

    Admittedly the focus of the conversation is unclear. I’ve kind of steered it in lots of different directions.

    Yeah I’m sorry to hear that you’ve experienced some lack of community action, especially since it has involved your own personal monies, which we all know are especially scarce these days. It’s unfortunate that we are a part of a nation that is perhaps too individual-centric, at the expense of community. There are a number of reasons why caring only about yourself is a pretty dumb move, not just in work, but in life in general…

    A popular “news” story these days is talking about today’s generation (what letter are we at now… Y?). Apparently, my age demographic feels entitled by default, because we grew up in the “everyone’s a winner” environment of “building self-esteem”… They might as well call us “generation spoiled.” It’s led to some pretty unhealthy attitudes like “Why should I pay for it?” and you’ve experienced this first-hand. I don’t really understand why people are so happy to take the grant money. I suppose it is a way to make money, but I’m not so sure that I like making my money in this way. There’s got to be a way to avoid the “hand-outs” and get the money myself, to be a little more self-sufficient, or to rely on a less frail/dated machine. Combating all of this would be a lot easier with a community of people working together. This is why I think NPAC was, generally speaking, a good thing: because it’s trying to develop this aspect of community. It’s an imperfect community, sure. First, you’ve got to be aware of the conference, then you’ve got to have a reason to go (personal desire, what have you), then you’ve got to have the funding to be able to do so (not to mention other things like scheduling conflicts). That’s a lot of filters.

  22. Colin Holter

    I checked out those young people concerts a few years ago with the hopes of showing some of it to my students but the intensity of his ideological stances are just despicable, especially when talking to young brains.

    I totally agree. The part where he goes off about how the Guillaume Tell overture isn’t about anything but notes is just weird.

    It’s an opera overture. It’s about William Tell.

  23. philmusic

    “..It is the music educators that have a huge role in how the students develop their performing arts talents, because they are the ones who decide how much money music departments get…”

    This is a joke right? In 20 years in the public schools I have never had a direct part in my own budget. Nor do I know any teacher who gets to decide their own budget. I can’t even count on having a room to teach in from year to year. Sigh.

    By the way my wife Janet went to Aquinas Collage.

    Phil Fried, itinerate elementary band specialist Saint Paul Public Schools

  24. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Regarding comments by Lisa and Colin: It might be worth remembering that these were done nearly a half-century ago when the world was monochrome and monaural and monolithic.

    Many of us, including me, didn’t even have a television at home. Word was out that there was this really cool program on, and some of us got together at a friend’s house to watch this conductor talk to us like real human beings and describe the music and not tell us stupid stories and play us that damn “Peter and the Wolf” again.

    That was it. Mysteries were exposed by Bernstein, however he may look through the veil of time. I was so taken that I bought a recording of his explanation of the structure and discarded sketches of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony where he intoned in his magician’s voice, “threeeeee geeees and an eeee flat”.

    It wasn’t ideology to me, it was magical clarity. I have neither heard nor seen the Bernstein presentations in at least 40 years (and don’t recall the William Tell one), but I do remember the feeling of how he broke the mold of the Toscanini-like conductor who had nothing but disdain for everyone around, and the school music appreciation classes and their damn endless “Peter and the Wolf” and “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” that made us feel like ignorant children (even if we were). Listening to Bernstein let us feel capable.


  25. rtanaka

    This is a joke right? In 20 years in the public schools I have never had a direct part in my own budget. Nor do I know any teacher who gets to decide their own budget. I can’t even count on having a room to teach in from year to year. Sigh.

    This is the problem right here — our country puts in the most money into our education systems in the world, yet often produces results sub-par to many lesser funded countries. Schools are usually funded adequately at least on paper, yet we have apalling situations where teachers are forced to pay out of pocket just so they can afford basic student supplies. People are quick to give praise, calling teachers “heros” and such (and they are), but slow to actually do anything to remedy the problem.

    Talk to any of them and they’ll take a bigger budget or salary over a million empty praises any of the week. Maybe you can fool some people longer than others, but that sort of thing gets old real fast when it’s not followed up with something tangible. Some of my friends are working at the Harmony Project, teaching music to inner-city youth — something I think we could agree is a good thing — but most of them aren’t even receiving basic health-care for their efforts. Where does the money all go? Rampant corruption aside (which happens way too often, if you’ve been reading the news lately), a lot of it is spent on unnecessary toys and administrative pet projects.

    To me, the solutions have always been obvious — wider distribution of resources and policies which benefit the community as a whole, rather than investing in novelties. This is especially important when utilizing government money, because that’s what its there for, to create and maintain sustainable infrastructure.

    The art world seems to be reflecting this type of social trend, in the glorification of what’s novel over what’s substantiative, along with the increasing income gap between the rich and the poor. But do we simply give into this trend and treat our musicians in the same way, or do we set an example toward the rest of society by setting a higher standard? It’s easy to think ourselves enlightened, but an objective look at our situation tends to show that we’re really no better than what the rest of society is doing.

    It’s mostly that people are self-centered and don’t care much about anything but themselves, which feeds into the whole American individualism myth, but with often disasterous results.

  26. Trevor

    “To me, the solutions have always been obvious — wider distribution of resources and policies which benefit the community as a whole, rather than investing in novelties. This is especially important when utilizing government money, because that’s what its there for, to create and maintain sustainable infrastructure.”

    What exactly do you mean by benefit to the community? Increase test scores? Foster communal bonds? Build bridges?

  27. rtanaka

    What exactly do you mean by benefit to the community? Increase test scores? Foster communal bonds? Build bridges?

    I mentioned a few ideas above (such as public rehearsal spaces) where the benefits of its investment would be applicable to everyone and anyone. Yes, this would mean that people not involved specifically in classical music would get to use it too. I think that there has to be a perspective that goes beyond what happens within our niche classical music community in order to do this. Maybe think of it more like improving the efficiency of public transportation — if its done well, it can be for the benefit of everyone, both rich and poor.

    In general, people are sick of symbolic gestures and the responses in this thread clearly show that is the case. Our generation (X or Y, whatever) is often accused of being cynical and self-centered, but this cynicism exists for a reason — a reaction against empty rhetoric and feel-good catch-phrases designed to distract the public from the fact that the higher-ups are often pocketing and wasting valuable resources on novelty items. In general, there is a lack of realism and pragmatism in the way money is applied.

  28. rtanaka

    Also, as said earlier, transparency is also necessary prerequisite in order to make this happen. The UC system has recently established a website where they’re required to disclose the level of compensation that each employee is receiving. This list is only partial, because they’ve been wary to release records on bonuses and gift/party packages. But it doesn’t take a math wizard to figure out that the numbers don’t quite add up. Both students and faculty alike are getting the short end of the stick.

    Even with only a partial release of records, what they’ve been finding is pretty staggering. I can’t even begin to imagine what sorts of skeletons might be hiding within the art world, since I’ve already heard so much stories anecdotally. All I can say is, please be wary of who you trust — some people will put a big smile on their face and treat you well, while ripping you off in the background or in their private times. The good news is that the internet and recent scholarship seems to be more keen on these types of problems which are happening right under the noses of our supposedly fine educational institutions. Now that we don’t have the commies to blame our problems on, maybe we can start fixing our domestic woes.

  29. jchang4

    Here are a couple tracks taken from the Music Teachers Association of California Annual Convention. A number of issues were discussed in the Keynote and Town Hall that I thought might be of interest to those who are interested in the tenets of NPAC. You’ll need a good set of headphones, but unfortunately large chunks of the Town Hall were really hard to listen to even live.

    If you don’t have the time/patience to sit through the hours of material posted above, you can read my summary/impressions on the proceedings here.

  30. rtanaka

    Thanks for the info — glad to see that some organizations are at least attempting to address the issues at hand.

    While there has never been a point in time where people didn’t demand music, during the last 100 years it seems like the dynamic of its appreciation has shifted considerably. We want our super-stars and over-mans…people who will take care of our problems while the rest of us take a back seat. But this overcentralizes the culture and leaves out too many people out of the process. I know from experience that there are lots of motivated, talented people who’re making real differences out there in the world — they need to be recognized and supported…not just with words, but with actual financial and institutional backing.


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