The College Music Society: A Distinguished History, A Challenging Future

October 1, 2009

It has been my privilege to have been given opportunities to serve both CMS and NASM. Thus, I am pleased that this year they are again meeting concurrently, since from its inception, the founders of CMS sought to reach out to its sister organizations. In 1964, during the Trotter presidency, he was invited to address the NASM meeting and the next year the CMS executive called for developing a close relationship with the Association. Seven years later, in 1972, CMS and NASM met together in Minneapolis. It then took eleven more years until they met concurrently in Dearborn, Michigan where the subject of Music in General Studies received their shared attention. It has been twenty four years since then until we are now finally back to joint sessions on that topic again and other areas of important mutual concern.

I would echo the early leaders’ call for closer relationships and not allow such an extended amount of time to pass before we bring professors and administrators together to address those areas relevant to all involved in music in higher education, for change and progress are not possible without both faculty and administrators working toward a shared outcome. Some seventeen years ago NASM engaged in what was called a “Futures Effort” that invited each institution to become involved in seriously considering its future and the future of music in our culture. Certainly such an initiative is even more important today and would be a worthy joint undertaking for both organizations.

It is indeed a privilege to have been asked to give the Trotter Lecture as we celebrate the College Music Society’s 50th Anniversary. It is all the more meaningful to me personally because Bob Trotter was a friend and mentor over many years. He played a significant role in the development of the Society including serving as its third President. Thus, any review of the CMS history will underline the appropriateness of naming these lectures after Robert Trotter. He spoke often of the potential that CMS has for leading our profession by being sensitive and responsive to the tides of change in our society that affect the entire profession.

Historical anniversaries, such as the one we are observing, should not be simply the reminiscences of a few and then soon forgotten for, as with our art, we depend on a sense of the past as a basis for the present and the future. Certainly this observance should provide us with a perspective as to what has brought us to where we are today, as well as provide a basis for considering how we might most effectively address the future of our profession by enlarging the discussion to include a more comprehensive view of what professional curricula in music should embrace.

There will be much written about the Society’s distinguished history during the next several months, which began to appear in the September Newsletter and which will culminate with the history being written by Mary Anne Rees. But it might be appropriate here to call attention to a few examples of the vision shared by our early leaders. To understand our heritage one needs only turn to an article on the establishment of the College Music Society published in the January 18, 1959 New York Times by the first President, G. Wallace Woodworth. He reminded the reader that “music is not one field . . . indeed it is unusual among university studies in its diversity . . . as its professors are composers, performers, conductors, researchers, scholars and even teachers of teachers.” He went on to state that the purpose of the Society as it appeared in its constitution is: “to gather, and disseminate ideas on the philosophy and practice of music as a part of a liberal education in colleges and universities.” Later this was changed: “to gather, consider, and disseminate ideas on the philosophy and practice of music as an integral part of higher education.” It is worth noting that he also wrote, “It is hoped that the College Music Society will not turn out to be a seminar for the reading of research papers, but will address itself to some of the challenging problems in the field.” These observations by President Woodworth certainly must have been shared by most of the early members and officers, and they have been echoed many times in these ensuing 50 years.

In 1963, in his first “President’s Report,” Bob Trotter took on, in his forthright manner, the lingering focus of the Society’s inception. He wrote, “The academic-music world is just as fractional as many another fields of human endeavor and such terms as musicologist, music educator, studio teacher, have connotations of casts and class that move between Brahmin and untouchable, depending on where one stands. It is the same with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music . . . considering one or the other degree distinguished or heretical.”1 He continued, “Some College musicians could scarcely appear less concerned for the music education of the general university student or for music majors having an education in music conceived as a liberal art; others consider it quite shocking for any performance studio to yield credit toward a degree. Where do people go to discuss these divergent views and hybrid interests, for help in becoming better teachers, or even in finding a job? The answer clear and loud might become the College Music Society.”2 As a result, Trotter appointed a Committee on Aims and Objectives that was to examine such areas as cooperation among the various fields within the discipline and how to involve more members through state and/or regional meetings.

Fortuitously, the decade of the 1960s was a time when considerable resources and attention were being directed toward education at all levels, as the country reacted to the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellite. The fear of falling behind in the hard sciences brought resources to all curricular areas, including the arts, which also had strong support from the White House staff. Unfortunately our current obsession with science and math has not produced the same results. During the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, the Society did indeed raise its profile as it focused its efforts on the concerns and aspirations of the entire profession. It played a significant role in forming the Society for Music Theory and was one of the four founding members of the Assembly of National Arts Education Organizations that then grew to over thirty member organizations from all the arts. For several years the Assembly lobbied federal leaders for more appropriate support of the arts and the establishment of an independent Department of Education. CMS also took the lead in a number of areas during these years of review and change by considering the development of more comprehensive curricula, the place of women and minorities in the profession, and the preparation of the pre-collegiate music teacher as the responsibility of the entire music faculty.

So it was, that as each decade began, there were sessions addressing the “challenges” to be faced to protect and strengthen the place of music in higher education. Being an umbrella organization, as it is often described, CMS provides an important forum for the exchange of views while continuing to provide an array of important services that support its members and through them the profession, from employment seeking skills all the way through retirement, and from mentoring to a comprehensive Professional Life Initiative that considered what it means to be a musician in higher education. Thus the basis for CMS, as we now know it today, was well established.

The title of this lecture would have been appropriate at any time in the last four decades and will probably be used again many times in the future. The words “challenge” and “challenging” seem to appear as a leit-motif throughout presentations, articles and presidential messages. Thus, I would like to take as my theme a challenge put forth by Donald McCorkel in a Symposium editorial in 1962, when he wrote, “The time for delineating our reason for existence is very much upon us.”3 So I believe it behooves us to examine where we are now and how we might prepare for the future that you and your students will inherit and shape.

Fifty years ago the profession was still struggling with the reality that this country had, for the first time, merged the teaching of music in the university, the conservatory, and the normal school into professional music programs that contained several distinct curricula, while sharing a basic preparation in musicianship. We have seen how the original mission of the Society struggled with acknowledging this diversity and how over this half century it has been discussed and adjusted until its current mission declares it a consortium of those “interested in all disciplines of music . . . to promote music teaching and learning, musical creativity, research, and dialogue, and diversity and interdisciplinary interaction.”4

During the past several years CMS officers have written forcefully and worked tirelessly in an attempt to motivate the members to take greater personal responsibility for addressing the very real concerns facing our profession. They have done this through several initiatives, from annual national topics to special committees and task forces. A limited number of the total membership have participated, primarily at national or regional conferences. Yet at times the impact seems short-lived at best. As we know, most of these efforts do not seem to have risen to a place of serious individual attention. It is someone else’s responsibility, such as the Society or music administrators. We are too busy finishing that article, that book, that composition, or preparing that recital or that syllabus, to say nothing of trying to find some personal and family time. All this is certainly understandable, but I would like to recall some observations made by Gunther Schuller in his address at the CMS Twenty-fifth Anniversary Meeting when he commented on this situation, “Everybody thinks short term: where is my institution and my little position going to be next year? . . . I’m safe; I’ve got a nice job.”5 He also suggested that “96 percent of Americans have no idea of our existence, who we are or what we do, or why we do it. . . . They are cut off from us and we from them.”6 This has resulted in our “overproducing the wrong kind of product: more musicians instead of audiences, instead of loyal, intelligent consumers of our product . . . our would-be audiences are being drained away, out of our reach, in alarming numbers.”7 Perhaps you feel this is too harsh an assessment, but if it seemed necessary to discuss in 1982, I would suggest that it could be even more necessary to consider these concerns today, in this, the Society’s fiftieth year. An examination of the array of CMS publications will show that it has addressed many of the important issues that did and do concern the profession. For example, a decade ago CMS and NASM cooperated in preparing a presentation and document for the Music Education Summit organized by MENC that introduced the field of music within higher education and its influence on American life. Douglass Seaton, then CMS President, wrote: “Making our own music does not fulfill our responsibility. We must cultivate opportunities for sharing musical imaginations. That means that our colleges, universities, and conservatories must deal with the real world of musical experience, not withdraw from it into an ivory tower . . . . By bringing music, musicians and musical values into the forefront of our local and national life, music in higher education builds a better world.”8

May I suggest that this should become a seminal concern that must be addressed when considering the future of our profession and the leadership role that could be played by the College Music Society? Certainly it is a most appropriate consideration for an “umbrella organization,” which differs from the other discipline specific organizations that concentrate primarily on a given area of scholarship and professional recognition. As important as each of these areas may be, they seldom directly address the overall challenges we face today.

With that in mind I would like to mention just a few of these challenges that are evident in the professional literature and presentations. None of these will be new to anyone who has observed the changing cultural and societal scene over the last several years. But I believe it is worth noting that they are rapidly becoming the basis for much of what has and will affect those who are involved in music in higher education as student or teacher. They are, for example:

1. The significant change in this nation’s cultural life that has almost completely blurred the difference between art and entertainment. The diminishing attention given to art music by most media will certainly confirm this. For example, the Time Magazine “100 Most Influential People,” published in the May 14, 2007 issue, listed 23 individuals under “Artists and Entertainers,” one opera singer, young and attractive of course, and 22 television and movie personalities. Those are not very good odds.

2. The overwhelming influence of technology on art music’s potential audiences. Their need for visual stimulation leads them to values spawned by television, music videos, iPods, cell phones, video games and computers. Our potential younger audiences seem unwilling to be simply passive consumers. A Microsoft executive has described them as being in a continuous state of partial attention. The CMS Technology Committee, under David Williams’s knowledgeable chairmanship, has provided members with extensive assistance in using various technologies in realizing their professional responsibilities. Joining with ATMI, as CMS has done for several years, has also benefited the members. I hope that there will be even more interaction and support between these two organizations, including discussions related to the continuing effect that technology might have on the employment of performers and other musicians.

3. There now are a number of institutions and music units that are aware of the considerable over-population of performing musicians and are therefore developing new and innovative approaches to preparing their students to better face an evolving future in which classical music could have a much different place. One result has been an initiative by music units to incorporate areas of emphasis that include certificate programs or minors in such studies as entrepreneurship and music business as a way of responding to the employment challenges faced by their graduates while also sustaining their enrollments. As President Tayloe Harding wrote a few years ago, “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.”9

4. The dwindling public support for our “product,” as seen in the deficit budgets of many of our major professional orchestras, caused primarily by smaller audiences and less enthusiastic donors. It has been observed that classical music is not dying, it is changing. So the question being asked more often is, “Do concert presentations need to evolve beyond what they were a 100 years or more ago?” Henry Fogel, the President of the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL), was recently cited in the Cincinnati Enquirer (June 6, 2005), “The Classical Music industry for a period encompassing much of the twentieth century did everything it could to set the stage for the position in which it now finds itself.” I know that we can find many articles bemoaning the fate of professional orchestras and almost as many arguing that the health of orchestras is far from bleak. Indeed the ASOL strikes a very positive tone when viewing the growth of regional, local and volunteer orchestras. If there is a bright spot, it is at the more local level, where audiences can identify with the performers and where ticket prices make it affordable for them to attend. In addition, today we also have many more arts presenters in areas such as theater, dance and museums, which compete for attention and support.

5. On the other hand, opera, as represented by the nation’s 125 professional companies, appears to be faring quite well at present. With the addition of super titles and the appeal of the visual spectacle they are doing better at attracting the much-coveted young-adult audience to this multimedia art form, as shown by the New York Metropolitan Opera’s successful broadcast of performances to select movie theaters across the country.

6. Much has been written and discussed about the fact, that in many communities, especially in our urban centers, music instruction in schools “K through 12” has been compromised and even abandoned, due in part to indifference on the part of over extended parents, school boards, and the general public. There are many dedicated music teachers whose programs touch generations of students but unfortunately not nearly as many as there once had been, due in part to low pay, low respect and invasive regulations for accountability. We cannot deny the fact that most of us came to be where we are now through home, school, and general community support that allowed us to be moved by our personal experiences with music as a part of our maturing persona.

7. One of the serious challenges some music units throughout the country face is the popular academic budgeting procedure based on corporate profit and loss management systems known as “performance-based budgeting,” whereby full-time enrollment (FTE) generation is used as the basis for most institutional funding, which certainly puts “each ship on its own bottom.” Thus, recruiting efforts must remain intense and enrollment management plans are put into place to enable the music programs to survive. This need to meet their continuing enrollment quotas forces the unit to assume the corporate approach that often sees students as “consumers,” whether that be the general university student or even music majors, who buy its “product,” which had better be attractive, not too difficult, and rewarded with nothing less than A’s and B’s.

These are but a few of the most obvious examples of the challenges that we and the alumni of our programs are facing and will continue to face. I am sure you can add other examples or perhaps join with those who see a more encouraging picture of the state of art music. But I believe most of us will agree that we are in a time of important transition that is yet to be seriously reflected in our professional curricula or the experiences we provide the students in our programs. We are all aware of the personal and professional dedication that CMS officers, board members and staff have brought to the service of the Society in an effort to meet each new challenge. Therefore it is appropriate for us to consider some difficult questions as we look to how we might face these and other challenges in the future, based on how we have addressed them in the past. What happens as a result of our annual topics? Do they create change? Do they start discussions at the institutional level? Have they raised the level of concern regarding the appropriateness of our curricula? What has been the effect of all the studies and publications on so many topics over the years? Do our students even know of them? Do we continue to follow up on implementing, or at least discussing, the often-thoughtful recommendations presented, or do they go on the shelf as part of our scholarly collection?

CMS should continue to identify and bring to the attention of the profession imaginative and proven initiatives that could be “showcased” in institutes, publications and conference presentations. It should seek an even more expanded professional relationship with NASM as the Association continues to review and develop appropriate curricular standards that will prepare future graduates to strengthen the place of music in their society. We are not alone, for it has been interesting to read about the crises being faced by the profession of journalism and its professional training programs, as they deal with the significant changes that have come about in the professional news media. They also are facing the public’s lack of interest in the printed word and their confusion as to what it means to be a journalist, which has been so eroded by the popular culture and technology. Jobs are being lost and graduates will be entering an increasingly endangered vocation. As a result, faculty discussions have been intense and in many schools curricula are being reviewed and significantly revised. For some, the difficulty of addressing faculty seems to be that they live in the rarified atmosphere of academia and have been conditioned, by their training, to be critical when evaluating any new proposal. Thus, many of our recent presidents have tried to engage the members in discussing the place our music programs have in today’s society. For example, President Robert Weirich reported in the January and March 2004 Society Newsletters of a Board meeting at which Howard Prince, a distinguished consultant on change, was invited to address the problem of “why there is so much talk about change and yet so little accomplished.” Prince observed that “a sense of urgency is critical to fostering the cooperation needed to affect change,” but he also noted that creating this urgency among the professoriate, “who are skeptical individualists with tenure,”10 is indeed difficult. For me this echoed the Schuller comments of twenty-five years ago. The need to consider change will always be with us, but the effectiveness of how we anticipate and respond to the forces of change is the mark of effective leadership, whether by national organizations or individual institutions. However, no significant or lasting change can be possible without the commitment and leadership of senior faculty. To do this they must be engaged with the issues that are and will affect music in higher education.

So rather than leave you with only observations and questions, let me propose a possible approach for your consideration. As the College Music Society begins a new decade of its existence, what if at the 2008 conference the Society brought together under its aegis the leadership of the profession’s major discipline specific organizations, then set an agenda which would pose some of the critical questions we face today, so as to provoke a continuing discussion that would be proactive in beginning a dialogue on the proper curriculum and experiences needed by all musicians to secure their future, that of the profession and the place of art music in our culture. Certainly the 2006 national topic, “Education in music is every musician’s responsibility,” and next year’s topic, “The Relevance of the Current Curriculum to Today’s Students,” would seem to demand such a multi-organizational dialogue. To date, most discussions have been insular at best. As President Weirich observed, it is time to consider “the reintegration of the study of music from its present discipline-specific dissection.”11

These national topics are but one example of how, throughout its history, the College Music Society has provided a forum for discussing the profession’s challenges and also proposed solutions. As the call for participation at the 2008 CMS Conference states, it “provides the opportunity to look forward to the next fifty years, to imagine a future for the music field, and consider what might be done now to prepare for it.” We not only have this responsibility to our art, but we also have a great responsibility to those young people we bring into our programs with the implication that there is a future for those who use their gifts and commit to involving their communities in an education and experience in music. It perhaps has never been more critical than it is today that CMS should lead in promoting a serious discussion in regard to how we can most effectively prepare professional music students, from freshmen to doctoral candidates.

I am well aware that a lecture such as this has a very short life, particularly as part of a busy conference agenda. So let me close with no illusion of having changed the profession but rather with a personal challenge to each of you. If you believe the future could or will hold significant challenges to the art we have been trained to preserve and create, and hence to music in higher education, then I would ask each of you to consider beginning your own dialogue with your colleagues that would cause an examination of how your institution is preparing students, in all areas, to have productive and fulfilling careers. In that way we will have taken a major step toward preparing for a challenging future. Change will not come by national pronouncements but rather one person, one program, and one institution at a time. We owe this to the future of the art of music, to the profession and, most importantly, to our students. We can then say that we have begun to fulfill Robert Trotter’s great belief in the potential of the College Music Society to lead our profession by being sensitive and responsive to the tides of change in our society that affect the entire profession. Then CMS will truly be providing leadership for music in higher education and our cultural life.



College Music Society. “The Mission of CMS.”

Harding, Tayloe. “Where Is CMS in 2006-2007?.” CMS Newsletter, September 2006, 1-2.

McCorkle, Donald. “Editorial.” College Music Symposium 2 (1962): 7-8.

Seaton, Douglass. Music and American Higher Education. Reston, VA: National

Association of Schools of Music; Missoula, MT: College Music Society, 1998.

Schuller, Gunther. “The Arts in Our Society—and in Higher Education.” College Music

Symposium 23, no. 1 (1983): 7-16.

Trotter, Robert. “President’s Report.” College Music Symposium 4 (1964): 11-15.

Weirich, Robert. “The President’s Page.” CMS Newsletter, January 2004, 2-3; March

2004, 2-3.



 1Trotter, “President’s Report,” 12.


3McCorkle, “Editorial,” 8.

4The College Music Society, “The Mission of CMS.”

5Schuller, “The Arts in Our Society,” 14.

6Ibid., 13.

7Ibid., 11.

8Seaton, Music and American Higher Education, 5.

9Harding, “Where Is CMS in 2006-2007?,” 1.

10Weirich, “The President’s Page.”


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