As the New Year rolls around, activities abound within The College Music Society. By the end of this month, the 2004 Program Committee will have considered more than 200 proposals from members for presentation at the 2004 Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Various task forces and committees, appointed because of a perceived need for change, are hard at work; some are gathering information, others are preparing papers for dissemination to the profession. None of this would be underway were it not for a common belief among the participants that their efforts will make a difference.
Or so we hope. In his keynote speech at the Annual Meeting in Miami, Gunther Schuller pulled no punches in declaring the place of serious music in American culture greatly diminished over the last fifty years. Citing fond memories of a childhood listening to the radio, he spoke of regular broadcasts by not only Toscanini, Reiner, and Stokowski, but smaller orchestras like those of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, heard nationally on commercial networks like NBC and CBS. Schuller had no good news of the present, as public broadcasting dumbs down with shorter selections and rules like “no vocal music.” As a result, he said that two generations of Americans have grown up without exposure to quality in music. He grimly stated that he had no idea what to do about it, and then opened the floor for discussion.
Hands shot up all over the room. Schuller’s talk left no one on the fence. Perhaps more than anything, he raised the specter of change on a vast scale. Is there anything anyone can do to change the downward trend? If change on such a scale were to happen, who would lead it? How on earth would it be accomplished?
It forced me to think again about the CMS mission, and whether the organization can have an effect on a constituency beyond its membership. In the year since my presidency began, the Board of Directors and I have focused much discussion on this challenge.
During the Miami meeting the Board met for three hours with Howard Prince, a former Army General who is now the Director of the Center for Ethical Leadership at the LBJ School of Government, University of Texas-Austin. We had asked Prince to help us understand the process of change, beginning with the simple desire to understand why, given so much talk about change, so little is actually accomplished. We also wondered whether The College Music Society could be a more effective leader in change within the profession, whether on the micro- or macro- level.
Prince spoke for some time about the things that work against change: fear, resistance to other’s authority, comfort in the less-than-perfect-but-long-established status quo. Within Academe, further complications arise from the coexisting cultures of administration (essentially a business model focused on collective purposes and goals, shared values, and control), and the professoriate (more like individual entrepreneurs who value creativity, autonomy, and diversity).
Prince explained that for lasting change to occur, one needs both strong leaders and committed followers. The chances of either occurring in Academe are small: our academic leaders are usually peers who lack organizational experience or training outside the academy, and our followers are skeptical individualists with tenure.
How then might change ever come to pass in the Academy? Prince said the antidote to resistance is to maximize the participation of the followers. Leaders must be willing to put the followers first at all times, to promote their values, needs, hopes, and dreams. This may require the leaders to change themselves before they can lead. Lasting change is best affected by discovering the values of the followers, asking them where they want to go, and with this knowledge creating an attractive, compelling vision of the future that reflects the perspective of the followers.
This is something that CMS can do, and the means of discovering the values of the membership are already in place. Each year the Board creates a topic for national discussion, and in 2004 we are asking you to “think big.” As we consider change, whether it be adjusting a curricular issue at school or trying to bring serious music back to significance in the culture at large, we have to start somewhere. We therefore ask you to consider the following question:
Given three wishes, what would you change about your role as a musician/teacher in academe, in your community, and in American society?
This is a personal question that asks you to consider on a deep level what really matters to you as a musician/teacher. We want to hear from you. Regional chapter meetings will discuss the question; a web board will be set up; the Annual Meeting in San Francisco will devote sessions to the question. CMS now has more than 9,000 members. If a strong sense of purpose were to emerge from consideration of this question, I firmly believe we could indeed make a difference not only in our profession but in the world. It starts with you.