Back and Forth

November 1, 1998

This will be my last contribution to this space. The idea is seriously humbling, since it is not only difficult to know how to use the space, this time in particular, but it makes one feel that whatever ought to be said had better be said right now—last chance!

First of all and most important, I want to say thanks to every colleague in The College Music Society. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share in the Society's work. Thanks for so much hard work everyone has contributed to our programs and activities. Thanks for support and patience shown to the president when they were needed. Thanks for your friendship.

The College Music Society is an organization of individual colleagues, working hard and working together. From time to time, CMS has been described as a meeting of constituencies, but I have never experienced it that way. CMS is not made up of universities, colleges, and conservatories; nor is it a collective of the organizations of the various music disciplines. It is, rather, a society of individuals: students, faculty, and anyone else interested in and committed to music in higher education. It is professionals who bring their multiple talents and complex concerns to share and to serve each other and our profession. That is why CMS can offer and achieve so much.

The College Music Society has come a long way since its founding in 1958:

  • From a small space tucked away on a hospitable university campus to an office building of its own (still small, to be sure);
  • From the days of files in a bathtub and mimeographed mailings to electronic databases and delivery of services;
  • From the smaller, more protected musical world of the mid-twentieth-century academic environment to a great and challenging global musical world at the century's end.

We can look back with tremendous pride on our accomplishments and our growth. More important, we have to look forward, and there are promises and challenges ahead that will provide us plenty of excitement and opportunity.

It would be foolish to predict the future in detail. Indeed, I always tell music history students (at the end of their course when they ask what will happen next) that, if history teaches anything, it is that the forces that shape events, as well as the events themselves, are always so surprising that historians should be more reluctant than anyone else to engage in prophecy.

Nevertheless, I'll crawl out tentatively on a few fairly reliable-looking limbs. Here are some of the things that seem likely to greet us both in our individual activities and as a Society.

  • Our environment will become increasingly electronic. For years I have worried about how technology, in the form of television and recordings (especially heard on headphones), seemed to be an isolating force in our society. Now we have the Internet, and technology is allowing more people to come together and to communicate in new ways. This already affects our teaching and our music. We must think very carefully about what can most effectively be done through technology and what should be face to face.
  • Knowledge will go on exploding. No one will master more than fragments of future knowledge. We will have to make choices and help new generations discover where we should focus and specialize and, also, where it is important to have a larger but less detailed picture of the world. We will have to learn and help others learn how to get access to information we cannot hold directly. Most important, we will have to develop the ability to judge the values of and to apply knowledge. Specifically in music, for example, we will have to find ways to sustain our existing heritage, to continue to bring to life neglected parts of that heritage, and to promote the lively production of new music that speaks to its own present.
  • Cultural diversity will increase. Those of us in the white European male dominant culture will learn that the world has changed and that such dominance is transient. We have to find out how to make this an opportunity for musical enrichment rather than to treat it as a threat. We will have to balance the Western heritage with the wide world in our musical lives and in our learning and teaching. We will have to allow for integration of diversity in our music and yet not trade the integrity of different musics for some characterless, generic hybridization.
  • Above all, there will not be an end to the acceleration of change itself. We need to learn to thrive amid change, to see opportunity when it is still only a glimmer, to make intelligent judgments, and to meet the surprises of our future with joy rather than fear.

None of this is easy. It can be fun.

Thanks again for two exciting years!

2112 Last modified on November 19, 2013
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