Towards Future Leadership in America’s Music Schools

September 23, 2017

The areas of specialization taught in America’s colleges and universities have, of course, changed over time, just as American society itself has evolved. The earliest collegiate music schools that still exist, founded immediately after the Civil War, were the New England Conservatory, the Oberlin Conservatory, the Boston Conservatory (now part of the Berklee College of Music), and the Peabody Institute (now part of Johns Hopkins).  Most of the original students were young women, in training as a social grace for the support of family life in days before the development of electricity. By the turn of the twentieth century, comprehensive schools of music had been formed at some of our most important universities: Yale, Michigan, Northwestern, and the University of Southern California, for example. The conclusion of World War I brought the endowing of three influential private schools: Juilliard (as successor of the Institute of Musical Art) in New York City, Eastman as a division of the University Rochester, and Curtis, an institution that grew out of the Philadelphia Settlement School, whose primary mission was the use of music as a means of encouraging young people in the ghettos to a better life through music. With the close of World War II, many prominent European musicians emigrated to the United States, helping to make America the worldwide center of classical music training, while greatly expanding the number of institutions that offered collegiate degrees in music to student numbers that now exceed 30,000 graduates a year.1In 2012 I asked the National Association of Schools of Music for data on how many degrees the 650 NASM-accredited schools produced each year for different kinds of instrumentalists, for singers, for historians, theorists, composers, and for music education majors. The aggregate of those degrees amounted to 21,500 a year. I extrapolated, imagining that, if there exist 4300 American and Canadian colleges and universities, almost all with their own music units, it would take only three annual degrees from each of 3500 institutions easily to make the grand total more than 30,000 music degrees annually.

Clearly, much has changed in American music since the inauguration of George Washington. By the 1960s and 70s we had recognized that musical study in the United States ought not only to comprise  European music and its American progeny but music by African Americans like ragtime and jazz. The first collegiate curricula called jazz were offered only following civil rights legislation in the 1960s, at Indiana University, the Eastman School, and the New England Conservatory.2The critical figures were two deans (Wilfred Bain at Indiana and Gunther Schuller at NEC), and several faculty members at Eastman (Jack End, Chuck Mangione, and Rayburn Wright). A most interesting piece of information is that it was Wilfred Bain, a Canadian, who oversaw the development of the nation’s first collegiate jazz program, at North Texas University in 1947. Because the Texas legislature of those days would not allow a collegiate program for a subject called “jazz,” it was agreed that NTU’s program would be in “experimental music,” performed by an ensemble called, then and now, “The One O’Clock Lab Band.”

By now we welcome to American music schools young people from all over the world, from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, for example, with a concomitant mixing and cultural cross-referencing of all sorts of repertories, in a culture where the Internet and Youtube provide instant access to an unprecedented array of different kinds of music. But while the number of professional and academic positions available to professional musicians had grown by the 1960s, in the past twenty years that number has markedly decreased,3While I have not run the numbers on this, nationally, it is clear from the employment lists of the College Music Society that those lists are a lot shorter than they used to be. Further, The Chronicle of Higher Education has printed several articles about the rapidly growing number of part-time or associate faculty positions that pay by the course instead of as an aspect of faculty career development. especially since the international budget collapse of 2008. Not surprisingly, this period in our history has gradually begun to take account of the fact that young musicians of the future cannot succeed without computer literacy, strong communications skills, and a conviction that their musical futures will depend on the imagination with which each of them assesses his or her own musical and extra-musical strengths.

In a context where a tenured faculty can be expected fiercely to protect its own areas of sometimes narrow specialization, the situation just described makes a problem for future leadership.  That Juilliard has just appointed a dancer as its new president suggests that the search firm that looked for a new Juilliard president found it difficult to find a musician capable of leading towards the effective curricular change required by the disappearance of concert careers for soloists.  (Though Juilliard has for some time included theater and dance divisions, the majority of the faculty and of the students remain strongly musical.) The New England Conservatory’s search for a new president has gone on now for three years. The talented new dean of the distinguished School of Music at the University of Michigan has just left after a single season, as has the able new dean of music at Depauw University. UCLA has now established, with a major new endowment from Herb Alpert, a new school of music that includes for the first time in many years all of music’s constituent parts. In the fall UCLA will begin a second search for a new dean, having come up empty in their initial quest for leadership two years ago. And the University of Oregon is now looking for a new dean for music and dance. All such searches take place in an environment where fiscal competition for the most gifted students, falling subscription and attendance rates at professional concerts, and  continuing faculty pressure on imagining the continuation of past values as inevitable, are producing a crisis in which many too many artistic institutions solve their financial problems by cutting numbers of players and teachers, lowering average salaries, and presenting budgets dependent on unsustainably large draws on endowment that often reach 7% or more.4This is information that has come to me as private information from half a dozen institutions, both professional and educational, all of the first rank. I don’t feel comfortable about releasing that information in a footnote, though I can say that Eastman’s draw-down rate was 6.25% when I left the directorship there in 1996.

The philosophy which prevailed in American music schools during the second half of the twentieth century focused on a Protestant ethic of practicing. Serge Koussevitzky regularly told members of the Boston Symphony in his idiosyncratic English, “Practice the more you can.”  Most orchestral musicians practice hard in preparation for entrance auditions but much less diligently when it comes to day-to-day preparation.  Practice is certainly important, but there is no evidence that clock hours at the instrument have a direct relationship to success, producing instead physiological injuries and limited general educations. Robert Schumann stressed two hundred years ago that success goes to people who practice while listening carefully to what they are doing, correcting the aural results through exercises designed to produce more aesthetically satisfying results. Music schools should be aware, too, of the fact that while the piano has an enormous repertory, the tuba, for example, does not. Thus, there is room for a broader education for musicians who play instruments of more limited repertory, and for singers, whose teachers normally counsel against too much singing. Why should a major orchestra comprise 90-105 players and substantially more administrators than the number of players, especially if 15% of the players perform in only 25% of the repertory?5These can be counted, by anyone who cares, from the on-line personnel lists of the orchestras. For example: Boston Symphony players 93; administrators 96; New York Philharmonic players 103, administrators 143; Los Angeles Philharmonic players 93, administrators 140

Because my career involved the leadership of three different American schools of music  over 34 years, I have had an unusually broad professional experience in the area at hand: as Eastman director (1972-96), as New England Conservatory president (1996-99), and as dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin (1999-2006).  In Rochester I had enough time to build a fine faculty and, proceeding at a moderate pace, to make badly needed changes. At New England, beginning when I was 62, I think I tried to proceed too rapidly with needed changes and as a result was asked to resign without having been able to accomplish a lot of value. At Texas, I decided that making strong faculty appointments should be my principal contribution at the end of a long administrative career, matching the speed of planned change to the time available for beginning that change.

As the result of this experience, I have come to the conclusion that the following characteristics are vital for the success of any new music school dean.

  • Integrity and trust. Without a reputation for truth telling, the game is lost. The loyalty of an experienced deputy is a sine qua non.
  • A broad experience in music, difficult to acquire in an age of specialization
  • Intelligence. But as Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, there are people with very high IQs who are fools.6Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2008), 69-90.f
  • A vision for the institution that is both in line with the school’s history and the professional needs of future musicians
  • An ability to plan, collaboratively, with the faculty
  • Good listening skills. I try to remind myself daily to listen more attentively.
  • Judgment. I’m not sure how to acquire this, except by doing lots of reading, and learning from the experience of mentors, inevitably older men and women who have already passed over the course.
  • Good synthesizing abilities
  • Good communication and computer skills
  • A willingness to spend lots of time raising money, an easily learned skill for an institution one believes in
  • Resilience, emotional intelligence, and courage
  • An understanding and respect for the institution’s table of organization
  • The development of a thick rolodex
  • Ego control
  • A sense of humor
  • A willingness to hire people smarter and more talented than oneself
  • A willingness to work hard in behalf of many other people
  • A willingness to share the credit with many others and to assume the blame oneself
  • The ability to forgive and forget
  • The ability to discern the identity of the institution’s real competitors and a sense for how to define the school in a fashion that separates it in the public imagination from other schools
  • Too many universities work too hard at outdoing Harvard and Stanford; too many music schools try too hard to be Eastman or Juilliard.
  • Listening to the faculty while separating the wheat from the chaff
  • Knowing when it is time to step down

Too many searches for campus leadership are entrusted to search firms, tasked not with a quest for a visionary dean but for half a dozen candidates who look perfectly plausible on paper. Much better, I believe, is the appointment of a trusted faculty leader with vision to chair a faculty search committee that already has some background in thinking about the kind of leadership the school should seek. Search committees should remember that some of the most effective deans—including Laurence Lesser, Gunther Schuller, Howard Hanson, Joseph Polisi, and myself—have had little if any administrative experience before their work as music school directors began.

 

Endnotes

In 2012 I asked the National Association of Schools of Music for data on how many degrees the 650 NASM-accredited schools produced each year for different kinds of instrumentalists, for singers, for historians, theorists, composers, and for music education majors. The aggregate of those degrees amounted to 21,500 a year. I extrapolated, imagining that, if there exist 4300 American and Canadian colleges and universities, almost all with their own music units, it would take only three annual degrees from each of 3500 institutions easily to make the grand total more than 30,000 music degrees annually.

The critical figures were two deans (Wilfred Bain at Indiana and Gunther Schuller at NEC), and several faculty members at Eastman (Jack End, Chuck Mangione, and Rayburn Wright). A most interesting piece of information is that it was Wilfred Bain, a Canadian, who oversaw the development of the nation’s first collegiate jazz program, at North Texas University in 1947. Because the Texas legislature of those days would not allow a collegiate program for a subject called “jazz,” it was agreed that NTU’s program would be in “experimental music,” performed by an ensemble called, then and now, “The One O’Clock Lab Band.”

While I have not run the numbers on this, nationally, it is clear from the employment lists of the College Music Society that those lists are a lot shorter than they used to be. Further, The Chronicle of Higher Education has printed several articles about the rapidly growing number of part-time or associate faculty positions that pay by the course instead of as an aspect of faculty career development.

This is information that has come to me as private information from half a dozen institutions, both professional and educational, all of the first rank. I don’t feel comfortable about releasing that information in a footnote, though I can say that Eastman’s draw-down rate was 6.25% when I left the directorship there in 1996.

These can be counted, by anyone who cares, from the on-line personnel lists of the orchestras. For example:

  1. Boston Symphony players 93; administrators 96
  2. New York Philharmonic players 103, administrators 143
  3. Los Angeles Philharmonic players 93, administrators 140

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2008), 69-90.f

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