Where is CMS in 2006-2007?

October 31, 2006

By the time most of The College Music Society membership reads this September Newsletter the 49th Annual Meeting of CMS in San Antonio will be over and the Society’s attention will be focused upon the commemoration its first fifty years during the celebration year that will run from November, 2007 to October, 2008. The plans for this celebration year are found elsewhere in this edition of the newsletter. They feature the observation of a wide variety of activities and materials and should result in a year of festivity such as the Society has not known before.

Developing such an undertaking requires a thoughtful consideration of the past and a balanced vision of the future that is both idealistic and realistic. But even more than an understanding of the past and future, a clear picture of the Society’s present must ground our observance of what CMS is now and how it has evolved through its first fifty years. What, here in 2006-2007, does CMS mean to music in higher education? To music beyond colleges? To each of us who have shaped it and who are it?

In January 2005, as my presidency was beginning, I articulated a vision goal, four objectives, and some actions for the Society that reflected not only what was important to me, but that also represented the emerging and expanding focuses of many members and of most of the leaders of the Society for the last decade. (Admittedly, as our elders may point out, the professorate has been talking about many of these issues for a long time, and this discussion generated much of the great work of the numerous joint efforts on behalf of music in higher education funded by national foundations in the 60s and 70s). Since this January 2005 account of mine embodied the current feelings of much of the CMS membership, I think it provides a good place to begin to answer the question: What, here in 2006-2007, does CMS mean to music in higher education?

Besides continuing to meet the scholarly aspect of its mission in superior fashion, the CMS of 2006-2007 is pursuing an ever-increasing agenda of the professional concerns of its members and of music faculty in particular. There are two primary issues that have emerged in this agenda.

Careers for Music Professionals

Many of us in the professorate and who count ourselves CMS members believe that music in higher education is not doing enough to prepare its primary clientele (professional music students) with all the tools they need to make their livings in music—to be professional musicians. We are still very good at what we must be doing very well: delivering standards-based instruction and preparing students who are good at making music in various ways and in various venues. At the same time, however, we know that traditional careers in music are not growing at the same rate as the number of young people we produce and that by-and-large, our curricula are designed to prepare students for just these careers. And, more importantly than that, we also know that careers available to our graduates are morphing to parallel how our citizenry obtains and listens to music in contemporary life. So, as the professorate’s main professional vehicle for common, industry-wide dialogue and action, CMS is concerned with what can be done to help college music unit faculty do more to prepare tomorrow’s professional musicians for livelihoods in music. Our 50th Anniversary Celebration must focus on what CMS is doing in this regard.

Improving Lives In and Through Music

Many of us also believe that our means of delivering education in music in our college music units does not do enough to foster the great joy that experiencing music can bring to all. We focus our efforts here largely on an exploration of repertory and style—repertories and styles limited by our own knowledge and experience. However, what is most meaningful about music is its variety, what it represents in each culture where it is made and brings meaning to its listeners, and how all our lives can be made richer, more rewarding, and better by encountering it in its fullness.

CMS and the music professorate are not, however, in the business of saving the art of music. There are many reasons this is true, but none is clearer than the fact that humans already love music—enjoying it is an aspect of our lives that does not need to be saved. It is not upon sustaining music itself that we must focus support; rather it is upon our fellow citizens that we must concentrate our musical attention.

Americans’ lives can be made better through and in music, and I believe that helping more people love their own music more and to learn to love more music will not only improve their lives, but also life in their communities. The music professorate must play an increasingly significant role with this than it is at present by using traditional and new vehicles to help citizens learn to love better the music they already experience and to learn to love a greater breadth of musical variety, rather than by staying focused on either defining narrowly what music should be experienced, or by entrusting to someone else the ensuring of a more inclusive experience with more music by more people.

Today CMS is in the business of doing what it can to help music faculty improve the lives of those who encounter them and their contributions to music. This is at the core of The College Music Society’s mission, and it is embodied in our current vision goal: To Establish a Culture of Living and Learning In and Through Music to Improve the Lives of Americans. Most everything the Society does evolves from it, including the 2006 Common National Topic and our vision goal’s chief objective, fostering profession-wide commitments to advancing our belief that “Education in Music is Every Musician’s Responsibility.”

As we take account of where our Society is and what it means to be a CMS member during our anniversary year, it is crucial for us to accept that these two grand issues are before us now; each requires attention, and most critically, these issues are interdependent. If improving the lives of Americans in and through music is about establishing enduring expectations for aesthetic experiences in a world where people get most of their music in personal, private ways that have developed recently, then it will require well-trained professional musicians who are good at it. Let’s move on preparing these new professional musicians.

The members, leaders, and the beneficiaries of the work of The College Music Society of the next fifty years must understand where the Society came from in its first five decades. But they must also know that at this critical juncture between half-centuries, the Society acted with fervor and concentration on what it meant at the time to be a professional musician, and what all of us did to use our musical expertise and the influence we had in higher education to make our world a better place.

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