In 2004, the CMS National Common Topic was: “Given three wishes, what would you change about your role as a musician/teacher in academe, your community, and in American society?” A great deal of fine national dialogue on this topic emerged at the time that informed subsequent (and now current) agendas of a variety of working groups of CMS members on behalf of change both in and for our profession.
I remember any number of regional chapter conference sessions and newsletter essays regarding the topic that reflected some good ideas with respect to what we, as the professorate or as institutions occupied with education in music, might change if we had the means. But, I also remember and now recall with a sense of urgency that I encountered little at that time that revealed what we, individually, might elect to change about “our role” in the larger efforts. We have great ideas about how conditions for our work need to be different, but we often do not have good ideas about what we ourselves can do about these conditions or even about what conditions to create.
In his final President’s Message to us in the November 2004 Newsletter, Robert Weirich said: “…if I could wish a change upon my self…, I would become fearless. I would no longer fear what others thought of me, nor would I be afraid of failing. I would take more chances, learn to improvise... I would pursue the classical equivalent of working without a net.” The essence of this self-assessment is at the heart of the personal difficulties and fulfillments of our musical life in higher education today.
Change, on one level, is inevitable. It happens to us everyday and we adjust to it. But sometimes it occurs because we determine something we do needs a new or additional direction. Deciding upon what change for this something will be, what it will look like, and how it will be done is not inevitable and it does not “happen to us.” Deciding what and how we will change is “defining change,” and whether our change is just something we ourselves engage in with our own work or is a greater effort we are a part of, defining change in music requires leadership. To positively effect musical evolution, leading change is what we must do.
With respect to how we lead it, we must first accept that change is a choice we each make. Change is a choice that can help us elevate the significant above the mundane by bringing focus upon that which we each feel needs additional and/or new attention. Change is a choice that propels that which is simply “discussed” into that which gets “achieved.” Change is a choice that can make CMS membership for many of our nearly 10,000 persons about much more than basic professorial survival. The choice for change can advance us to greater activity on behalf of the impact and influence of music.
So, let me take my last opportunity as CMS President to implore each of us to embrace a significant choice for change and to make it with purpose and with vigor. What can we discover about ourselves, musically, that might be of even more import to those around us if we go down a new, additional, and/or different path with our teaching, administering, and musicing? And, if we discover this, what can we do to affect it? Are we really sure we already know what it is we do best?
Bob Weirich decided that a choice for change he wanted to make was to take more risks with his approach to performing and teaching by overcoming fears of detouring from the acceptable. I have come to believe that a choice for change I must make is to allow an embrace of the idealistic be a part of my decision-making by not letting my fear of reaching it deter me. What will choosing change mean for you? Since these individual choices will affect music in higher education in ways we cannot even predict, let’s all agree to find out together what such change will mean. And let’s let the inspiration that is CMS be where it all begins, and perhaps where it all coalesces and all ends as well.