Why is There Such a Mismatch between Academia and the Music Industry?

  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18177/sym.2012.52.mbi.1094

Good morning and welcome. It is truly an honor to be invited to give the keynote address for this ground breaking, and long overdue, summit between the College Music Society and the National Association of Music Merchants.

I am curious to know how many of you have already visited the convention center to see the NAMM show. From your raised hands it seems about half of you. For those of you who visited for the first time I imagine it was quite a new experience. For those of you who will visit it later today, prepare yourself for a culture shock. It is easy to feel out of place, or unwelcome at the NAMM show. In fairness, however, I would like you to imagine for a moment what it would be like for a member of NAMM to spend a day with you at your job at your university. I suspect they would share equal feelings of culture shock.

It is precisely this mismatch of cultures that I want to explore today. But first, I need to talk about my favorite subject whenever I have a captive audience; me.

As you can tell by my intro, I have lived my life in academia. I have been a faculty member at five different universities and moved through the ranks of academia starting as a high school teacher, and progressing through the ranks of college instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor.

I have moved through the ranks of administration as a department coordinator, department chair, Associate Director of a School, Director of School, and now Dean. And now that I am giving a CMS keynote address I have done it all. I have spent my life in this profession. When I was five, my mom dropped me off at kindergarten and I have literally been in school since. The only thing that has changed is my place in the classroom.

Now, I have a confession to make. Most of that time I simultaneously led a secret life. Starting around age 14 and lasting until my 50th birthday, I spent many hours per week in bars. Not nice bars but instead dives, corner joints, the low life. You could find me several nights a week spending my evenings in these places. No, I am not an alcoholic. I was an active rock musician for 36 years.

I have lived in both of these worlds intimately and simultaneously. But I literally had to keep one secret from the other for the entire time. Interestingly, this was necessary for me to be taken seriously in both worlds.

Let’s look first at academia, where you would more likely expect this to be the
case.

A look at an academic who gigs

While teaching I always simultaneously played in bands. But I did not play in the generally acceptable jazz bands. I played straight up rock and roll. The bands were loud and generally politically incorrect.

Since we played the college bar scene, it was usually not long before students found out. It was a common occurrence for me to spot a student on the dance floor and then watch as he or she would recognize me in almost disbelief. Once students knew, I would often mention in class the bar at which I was playing on any given night and invite them to come. This was much easier in the days when the legal drinking age was 18 in most states. The new 21 age limit excludes almost all undergraduates these days, at least legally.

After a while some of my fellow faculty would find out about my underworld life and some, a very few, even ventured to hear me. But, what was interesting was when an administrator found out. For example, when I was a high school teacher and the principal found out, a graduate student and my advisor found out, or a non-tenured faculty and the department chair found out, or a tenured faculty and the director found out, or the head of a university Music School and the Dean found out. The response was always the same.

I was always told the same thing: It was inappropriate for me to be playing this music in those venues because I would never be taken seriously by my colleagues (or donors) and it would ultimately hurt, or even end, my career.

I am not here to pass judgment on this. I am not trying to bash academia or try to imply they are out of touch. In fact, I would agree that, by and large, the advice given me was sound advice. While I don't see any evidence that it hurt my career, it certainly didn't advance it. I could even see myself giving the same advice to young faculty today. Doing "non-serious" music in academia is done at your own risk because it is viewed as something below the status of what serious scholars and artists should be involved in. I understand this completely, so I won't dwell on academia's response. But, what I do find intriguing is the view from the other side of the story and that is what I want to spend some time on.

The rest of the Story

When I moved to a new region of the country I liked to explore the music of that area. In Kent, for example, I relived the glory days of the 1960's and played in a Grateful Dead type band. When I moved to Arizona I wanted to try country music (Mariachi would be way outside my musical expertise plus I didn't own an appropriate hat).

I checked the newspaper and job boards at the music stores in Tucson and came across a working Country/Rock band looking for a bass player. The members of this band were all seasoned players and they took this auditioning process very seriously, eventually auditioning almost 8 bass players.

As I returned for what seemed like countless call backs, they started wanting to know about me. They asked the typical questions that serious bands ask (about drugs, drinking, etc). But they also wanted to know what my day job was.

It is important to this story to know that the two guitar players were both successful computer programmers at IBM. One was head of a software division and supervised close to 40 programmers. The lead singer was a nurse and the drummer owned and operated his own construction company. These were not people on the fringe of society.

Still, I knew that if I told them I was a music professor at the University of Arizona it would spell the end of the call backs. Even though my playing would not change, their perception of my playing would. I learned from experience that musicians from this culture are convinced that the more formal training you have, the less you can "really play" your instrument. They are not in awe of us for our training, they are skeptical.

I waited until I was a member of the band for almost 6 months before mentioning my day job. I played with them for seven years but they never really accepted my "day job", or understood, it.

This was not about them worrying I would hurt their image, for heaven's sake they were computer programmers....and not even at Apple but at IBM! It was truly something different. They were great musicians themselves but were skeptical of anyone who "needed" an advanced degree in music. If you were good enough, you went and made music, if not you kept getting degrees. This characterizes much of the perception of academic musicians to working musicians.

What is going on here?

Isn't it fascinating that we have a scenario where neither side quite trusts the other side? Having lived in both worlds, I have come to realize that neither side really understands the other. These two worlds don't look the same, talk the same, or even dress the same. It is telling that the hardest part of preparing for today's talk was trying to figure out how to dress. I knew the college people would be in ties and the NAMM people would be in t-shirts. So I decided on a pretty safe route of blue jeans and sport coat.

What I have come to realize and appreciate is that each of these groups has its own society based on whom it serves and to whom it talks. As with all closed societies, these groups are self-sustaining because they choose to listen only to those who support their view of reality. They only admit into the society those who are like minded.

Examining a society based on an evaluation of who it listens to and who it serves is the first step in understanding how that society works. Let's first look at the society of academic music makers.

Who does Academia serve and listen to?

In academia, we talk and listen to a very specific universe of people and institutions. We listen to our colleagues both within our institutions and at other institutions. We listen to the experts in our scholarly journals. We listen to scholarly institutions such as ACDA, NASM, MENC, AMA and we listen to the leaders within those institutions

And who do we serve? We serve people like us. We serve our students who have self-selected into our programs from feeder programs that share our values and curricular focus. These students have self-selected into our programs because they want to be like us.

We also serve our universities and our professional societies. They support what we value and we return the compliment by supporting their activities with our time, scholarly contributions, and dues.

The result is that we, as a profession, have every incentive to maintain and protect the status quo. We have successfully created a self-protecting and sustaining society. There is no outside force that can even get into our closed societies to encourage change. If we get rebels, we just flunk them out or deny them tenure. It's a great system.

To those in the Music Industry, these seem like characteristics of an archaic and frustrating system.

You are probably assuming that the next point I am going to make is how we need to break this cycle. Actually, no. I am going to argue that this is a very good system that serves a vital function within the music industry.

The academic society that we have created, protected, and supported is part of an institution. An important function of institutions is to maintain continuity. Institutions look to the long term result. Institutions protect basic values and beliefs that undergird the discipline. They are, by design, not supposed to waiver with every new whim, fad, or current trend. Every profession and every society needs its institutions to assure we are there for the "long haul".

Yes, we are slow to respond, but that, actually, might be the strength, the added value, we bring to a relationship with the music industry. Any successful relationship has partners who contribute something that the others cannot. This might be ours. To fully appreciate what I mean, we need to examine the music industry from the perspective of whom they listen to and who they serve.

Who does the Music Industry serve and listen to?

The music industry, as exemplified by the NAMM show is also a closed society, both literally and figuratively. It is harder to get into the NAMM show than to board a plane!

Like all closed societies, the industry listens to and serves its members. Like the Academic Society, the industry listens to the insiders, the colleagues both in their respective companies and from without. But very unlike the academic society they listen to the market place. They listen to the mainstream media. They listen to their profits and to their shareholders. They listen to their competitors.

The music industry society serves its customers. But they don't try to keep customers out, they want more and more. They call this market share. The industry also serves the "bottom line".

These are very different forces than those influencing academia. By design, the industry has to be nimble, to respond to every trend and consumer whim. They have to beat the competition. They have to make a profit.

To many in academia, this all sounds very negative. These forces exemplify everything that is wrong with the world; everything that is wrong with today's music. But that is naive and simplistic. There is nothing evil about any of this. What the Industry brings to any potential relationship is its vibrancy, relevancy, and excitement. It brings an outlook that is focused on the future. It is alive and it is in the moment. You will feel it when you walk into the NAMM show.

In other words, the Music Industry is almost everything academia isn't. Conversely, Academia is almost everything the industry isn't.

We find ourselves with a situation where the description of each side of the partnership is repulsive to the other. What kind of marriage is this going to be? Is the best we can hope for a relationship that allows each side to claim its space and hold on to it through a system of mutually assured destruction? Actually, I think not.

While on the surface both societies are clearly self-serving and unattractive to the other, in reality, they are just as potentially complimentary. They are the yin and yang. What is clear is that a healthy music profession needs both societies. Each society can learn from the other. Each can adopt some of the positive aspects of the other, and more importantly each side can strengthen the other society, and thus the entire music profession.

But it is not going to be easy. There are some fundamental barriers keeping us apart.

What is keeping us apart?

We are all involved, ultimately, in the advancement and maintenance of our art form, music. Whether it is training the next generation or providing the best instruments possible, we all need one another if we are going to succeed. So why it is so hard for us to work together?

I think there are three fundamental issues that need to be conquered. First, there is the issue of each side distrusting or not respecting the other. I think my examples of how important it was for me to keep the two societies apart illustrates this point. I believe it comes from not truly understanding or appreciating the other's role. I also think there is some degree of insecurity on both sides. On the industry side, I remember a friend confiding "we always strut with confidence because in reality we are afraid someone is going to 'call us out' on all the things we don't know." On the academic side, there is insecurity because we have emphasized depth of knowledge (e.g. he is the world's expert on the music of Mozart written in the fall of 1772) but we are a bit intimated by knowing that our expertise does not spread over vast domains of music, let alone the industry.

I truly think this will be a very easy aspect to overcome. The more industry and academia work together, the more each side will grow to respect and trust the skill set of the other. The more we appreciate that we are both answering to our own constituency, and respect that, the easier it will be.

The second challenge is one of communication. We think we are speaking the same language, but often times the words we use have fundamentally different meanings to each group. The worst part is that we have very few people who are bi-lingual who can act as translators. I will give a real-world example of this miscommunication in a moment.

Lastly, there is the problem of different goals. While the ultimate goal of both societies (the advancement of music) is common to both sides, the short term goals are often quite different.

These challenges are perhaps best understood through real life examples.

Let's examine a few examples

Several years ago, NAMM announced the creation of Sounds of Living and Learning Grants to be funded by NAMM to support research in music. These grants brought together music academia and industry in a substantial way. This is a partnership which, on the surface, is something everyone could support and be excited about.

In this partnership, NAMM provided the mission (overriding questions) for research projects. They also provided significant funding to support this research. For academia's part, we provided the expertise to conduct the research and the independence and objectivity to assure that the research would be above reproach.

This is a match made in heaven and I enthusiastically applaud NAMM for taking the leadership on this. And while all would agree that this has been a positive experience to date, I also know of some of the frustrations and speed bumps encountered by some of the individuals involved.

The first was the problem of both sides speaking different languages. The words sounded the same but carried fundamentally different meanings for the two sides. Here are three examples:

Everyone knows what "confidentiality" means. And while the underlying meaning is the same in both societies this word functions very differently in each. In the industry, confidentially is literally bought. Employees sign a confidentially agreement stating that projects they are working on within their company cannot be discussed or capitalized on by the individuals involved. This confidentially is critical to keep the competition from knowing a company's next move. However, once the confidentiality has expired and the product (or whatever) is released to the public, the exact opposite of confidentially is desired. At this point, great sums of money will be spent to make sure that as many people as possible know about the product and even the effort and care that went into its creation. What began as a secret morphs into marketing.

In the Industry, that is what is meant by confidentiality.

In academia, confidentially refers to the protection of those involved in the research. It doesn't matter whether it is a fourth grade girl, an entire school system, a school teacher or administrator, that person's involvement in the research is protected forever. Not only is it protected, but the confidentiality is legally assured through the Human Subjects agreements we must sign and obey. Even when the research is over, no one should ever know who was involved in this research. This is what confidentiality means to the academic.

As you can see, confidentiality is fundamentally different within the two societies. In one it protects the company's investment in a product, in the other it protects the individuals involved.

Here is an example of a word that created confusion: publication. While both sides were enthusiastic and in agreement that the research should be published at the conclusion of the study, this agreement meant something very different to each of the two different sides.

In academia, "published" in its best and most desirable form means the research passed muster with a peer review panel and was chosen to appear in a refereed research journal. When the research project was concluded, the academic meticulously described the methods and results using the accepted terminology of the research community. The article was then sent for review by an editorial board of a major journal. Several months later it was probably returned with lengthy and detailed suggestions, objections, and criticism for the author to ponder before attempting a revision. The revision was eventually resubmitted and returned to the original reviewers who spent time with it to determine if the researcher was thoughtful in his or her response. If the researcher was successful the article was accepted and put in the queue to be published. If not, it was either rejected or more revisions were requested. Either way, the researcher had to continue the path toward eventual publication.

For the research that was accepted it now waits until it can fit into a journal that, at best, is published quarterly. It could sit, easily, for a year before actually appearing.

We have a process that is thoughtful, deliberate, and in most cases results in a lag time of years between the conclusion of a research project and it actually appearing in print.

And where does it appear? It ultimately appears in a journal with a very limited circulation to be read almost exclusively by other researchers who are working in that particular field. I would say a music research article read by 200 people (not counting graduate students who are required to read everything) would almost border on being classified as a "best seller". This is what publication means to the academy.

In the industry, "publication" is hiring a P.R. firm to get the news out as fast and as widespread as possible in the popular media. If the media edits it, alters, it, condenses it beyond recognition it doesn't matter because at least it appeared. If Oprah mentions it, we have a hit. U.S.A Today? Home run! The New York Times; Grand Slam! If multiples pick it up in one week, we are superstars. Anything less than a superstar release is often regarded as a failure. Think Apple and the IPod.

This is what publication means in the industry.

There are other examples of words with very different meanings such as "significance", "timeliness", "peers", "importance", "statistics", "proof", "evidence", even "music" itself, but I think you see my point. There are fundamental issues of communication when we work together which could be the underlying reason for the disconnect I already talked about. When either side doesn't ultimately "deliver what was promised" it can lead to distrust especially if both sides feel they did deliver!

The third problem after distrust and communication is one of mismatched goals.

Here I am not talking about the long-term ultimate goal of advancing music as a profession and art form. I think we all agree on that. Where we have a problem is with our more immediate goals.

In the music industry the immediate goals of research are for advocacy, increasing sales, protecting markets, or addressing an immediate problem. In academia the immediate goals are the accumulation of knowledge, publications, and advancing toward tenure. These goals are so different that they are probably irreconcilable, but both are fundamentally valid and necessary. I don't have many good suggestions for relieving this tension, but perhaps just the acknowledgment of the fundamental difference is a good first step. Perhaps one "pie in the sky" idea would be for academia to prepare doctoral students for something besides college teaching. If there were industry research centers, much like the Bell Labs, but for types of research that are focused on broader issues that could employ researchers who would stay focused on one topic for an extended period of time we could make great progress. I believe the NAMM grants are actually a major first step in this direction and maybe our goal should be the assurance of success for these grants in the eyes of both of our societies. Although I don't have good suggestions for fixing this mismatch, I also know it may be the most critical issue for future success.

So, what can we learn from these examples? We can see that we need to take steps to get to know each other. We need to understand both societies' DNA before we begin our projects. We can never assume we have the same goals or are speaking the same language. We need to approach every partnership from a vantage point of mutual respect not one of trying to get the "other side" to see it our way. Ultimately each side's "our way" is an important part of the much larger puzzle of music making in America. This summit is an excellent example of how we can begin along this path.

Conclusion

Since I said that both societies have their own strengths and they complement each other, you might think that I am advocating that no change has to be made; that everything is fine; we just have to understand each other. We just need a good dose of Kumbaya.

That is not true either: Perhaps what I am saying is that it is not as bad a mismatch as it seems on the surface when you enter the NAMM show. The situation is not like trying to mount your gun rack in a Prius; it is more like trying to get your cello repaired at Guitar Center. But to go forward there need to be some changes made.

I truly think most of the change needs to come on the academic side. While, by design, our role is to provide continuity, have we ever asked when continuity becomes stagnation? That might be where we are now.

I watched the Rose Bowl parade on New Years' Day and I had a funny, and very un-American, reaction. I felt very sorry for our profession. Marching band after marching band went by and I realized that this was our professions' day in the sun. But from a skeptic's vantage point what we presented to the public was many highly trained musicians who were covering their own expenses to work on a holiday. Did we ever stop to think about how this might look to professional musicians? How many professional musicians did we put out of work that day? What would the parade be without the bands? Yet, we never once even expect that the organizers would pay professional bands.

Isn't that a bit two-faced for a profession that worries about employability of our students?

But, let's say that the Rose Bowl Parade did the ethical thing and agreed to hire professional marching bands. Where would they find them? Nowhere. With very few exceptions, any kind of wind band has not existed in American society for close to a century. There is no such thing. So, what does that say about what we are doing?

It is saying that we have used one of our strengths…..the luxury and privilege of being able to ignore common trends and fads so we can focus on core issues and continuity of our profession... to instead, allow us to avoid making hard decisions about change.

And we can't say all of academia has done this. I can think of few other disciplines that have resisted change to the extent we have in music. Even within the arts we are the only art form that has abused this privilege. The Visual arts have embraced digital art making while staying true to their fundamental values of aesthetics, theater has embraced new and socially relevant theater, dance has keep their tradition steeped in classical ballet but has moved into contemporary dance by mounting stimulating new works based on cutting edge music (most of which is from outside the academy).

But music academia has to pool our resources to commission new pieces by composers who will only write for our ensembles because they are faculty members themselves. They are part of the closed society.

There are signs of hope. I am pleased at the forward-looking thoughts of our musicologists and choral programs, the number of song writing programs emerging, and the like. The fact that all of you are here tells me that there are individuals and institutions that either are, or want to be, at the forefront of fundamental change.

Which gets us back to the main issue of this talk (Does anyone remember the fundamental issue? I hardly do, I have been digressing all over the map.) Oh yes, it is why is there such a gap between the industry and academia and how can we lessen it. Before the Music Industry and Academia can truly work together some things have to change.

But this gets us to the matter of terminology again

Every one of us in this room can point to change within our college programs over the past few years. And we should be proud of our progress because there is so much inertia working against change. Things are changing. If you look at the CMS job postings you will find many new and interesting faculty positions in music that would have been incomprehensible just a few years ago.

But we define change as when we get a new class added for our seniors… which took two years to approve and will not be offered until next year's freshmen get there… five years from now. Or we revise our theory curriculum to include different styles of music. Or we add a course in entrepreneurship. For us this is change.

What is change in the music industry? How about the entire foundation of the recording industry (records, CDs, and distribution) being made obsolete in the course of a year or two by digital downloads. Or radio disappearing more and more every day.

Or excellent instruments being manufactured in China for a fraction of the price they were before. Or entirely new genres of music appearing almost out of nowhere.

This is change in the Industry. Have any of us instituted change of this magnitude?

Even if you answer "yes", let me ask you if you instituted change at the core of your school or at the fringes? Did you fundamentally change what it is you do at your core, or did you simply add something new to what you were doing without completely abandoning what had been done before?

In fairness, the music industry would not have voluntarily imposed these degrees of change upon themselves. The problem is that we in academia not only have the luxury of defining "change" but we also have the luxury of resisting change. We have truly hidden behind that cover for too long. And the result is the mismatch many of you felt (or will feel) when you walked into the convention hall of the NAMM show. It is hard to believe we are both involved in the same music profession.

So, back to my original question. Why is there such a mismatch between academia and the industry? The main reason comes down to how we each view and define change.

In the industry change is something to embrace at its best and something you have to deal with on a daily basis at the worst. In academia, change is something we avoid at all costs and only do small incremental steps when we have exhausted all other options. We can literally ignore change and let ourselves become disconnected to society.

Until we resolve this fundamental difference in our outlook toward music and the music profession I am not sure the gap will disappear.

Here is another important point. The music industry is NOT going to change to become more reflective of academia; it can't afford to and still survive. Most of the change will have to come on our side.

Truth in advertising

If you have been paying attention, you have realized that I am talking out of both sides of my mouth. I have been saying that:

1) Academic institutions are the keeper of traditions, resisters of fads, and this serves an important function in the music profession.

2) Academic institutions need to change.

But I don't find this conflict to be a paradox. Neither position is an "all or nothing" proposition. What I'm saying is that it is all a matter of degree. I fear that academia has taken their mission too seriously and has changed too little. While we are the protectors from following every fad, we cannot resist all change. I also don't think it would be healthy for academia to try to adopt the degree of change that the industry has to deal with but we do have to recalibrate what we expect and accept as change.

But how do we change when change is so difficult?

We all know how hard change in academia is. It is often very frustrating to feel powerless and helpless to initiate anything. Yet an outsider would probably view our situation and envy the degree of power we have. Let's consider.

Imagine that your music department wanted to propose a totally new curriculum. This curriculum would be based on something totally new to the profession, let's say the music of Mars.

What is unique about the music of Mars is that it is completely soloistic with no ensemble of any size. The music is taught in groups, not individually, and the theory behind the music is based on intuition not analysis. The music is only of the present so a historical understanding is not only unimportant but a hindrance to creating beautiful Martian Music.

Who would resist this change? Most likely the rest of the music faculty. Who wouldn't resist this change? The president and administration of your university would not object (imagine the "innovation" points for doing this!). The general public would not resist (imagine the NPR coverage!). Students wouldn't resist (they are hungry and inquisitive about all kinds of music).

All of the resistance would be within our own music unit. Now let's be clear, I am not proposing we all switch to Music from Mars, but it does point out that almost all resistance to change is from within our profession. Less dramatic changes would receive the same responses.

For those who have tried to change and failed, this could be disheartening; we have met the enemy and they are us. But instead, we should find this empowering and a reason for optimism. The bottom line is that we have the ultimate power to change if we want to.

Moving Forward

I have digressed enough. As the Car Talk guys say, "You have wasted another perfectly good hour". To avoid that being true, let me propose four very concrete steps that can be taken to address these concerns.

First, and foremost, we need to be less insular in our music departments. One of the many buzzwords floating around in academia is "interdisciplinary". To achieve this, we often look for partnerships outside our own area such as medicine, engineering, or social work. We look here because it is safe to do so. We can "partner" with these other disciplines without changing anything we do.

I think that the music profession has grown so much that we can talk about interdisciplinary work within music. How do we combine orchestral learning with hip-hop? Jazz with Folk music? Music Marketing with Early Music? Recording with music history? Music Education with Music Merchandising? I really don't know but I do know that none of these would be as "safe" for us as music and medicine.

We need more partnerships like the one between CMS and NAMM. This is a great beginning and let's let it grow. The problem with this conference is that we are all speaking to the choir. How do we get others here to experience this energy? What would happen if for the next three years all music administrators agreed to meet at the NAMM show instead of at NASM?

The spontaneous applause, laughs, and gasps that just occurred show how improbable that would be. Isn't that sad? We really should just think about that for a moment.

Secondly, we need to be sure we are speaking the same language within our profession. We have to acknowledge that it is usually the language of academia that is not understood. We are the ones who need to be proactive and explain what we mean. Perhaps most importantly we need to develop members of the academy who are bi-lingual, or become bi-lingual ourselves, to become translators between our two cultures.

Third, we need to be clear on our goals and the goals of those with whom we are working. This is true whether it is NAMM or our local symphony orchestra. We have to respect and work within the goals of our institutions. Here is an area where I believe industry has to change. The goals are so immediate and different in industry that I feel members are often cynical or impatient with academia. Our goals, knowledge, preservation, and protection of the art form are valid and need to be respected.

Fourth, we need to work to diversify our schools of music. Why should a school in Mississippi have the same basic curriculum as one in Washington State, or New York, or New Mexico? Shouldn't we be reflecting our communities or at least our regions more? Or even within a geographical area, shouldn't schools specialize, find their niche and do it better than anyone else? We have very little of this. One would almost think McDonalds has created a music department franchise.

Fifth, and last, and most important, we need to embrace change not resist it. In this I mean we have to truly want change to be a part of what we do. We should truly think about how we want to reinvent ourselves every decade or so. We need to start with the underlying belief that we will be different as we go forward and explain why we haven't changed if we don't. Let me be clear, I am not talking about change at the quick pace in industry or change simply for change's sake...truly our systems will protect us from this. But change that is timely and consistent. If most of us looked at a catalogue from our institution from 50 or 60 years ago, I bet most of the music curricula would be little changed today. This is the kind of lack of change we need to find unacceptable.

If we do all of these things with great enthusiasm, I am confident very little will happen. But it will be a start. Like the music industry itself, change will happen when an outside force either permeates or circumvents all the checks and balances we have created to keep it out. There are, for the first time, some very real scenarios I can see achieving this.

  • It might be a "University of Phoenix" model designed specifically for music degrees which brings a music school into every community in the country.
  • It might be an on-line music school which brings a music school into every home.
  • It might be a free internet music school
  • Or it might be a school that is brave enough to change and attracts students away from the rest of us.

But it will happen and I think it will happen soon. I suspect someone is already well into the planning stages of one or more of these scenarios. And I hope it happens because I believe we are strong enough as a profession to survive and flourish.

Conclusion

I truly hope you found my comments to be more positive than negative. I mean them to be. Both the music industry and music in academia have great, and unique, qualities to add to the collective whole. Neither side should abandon what they hold dear nor violate their fundamental mission. But we could be great partners. To do so we need to act together, be in the same ball game, and want to achieve the same ultimate goals. If we did, we would be unstoppable.

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Last modified on Friday, 21/09/2018

Robert Cutietta

Dr. Robert Cutietta has been a faculty member at Pennsylvania, Montana and Kent State Universities and the Universities of Arizona and Southern California. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Cleveland State University and his doctorate from Penn State. He is currently Dean of the Thornton School of Music at USC.

2 comments

  • posted by William Thomson

    August 28, 2013

    Cutietta's message is both timely and significant.Like the monasteries of ancient times, academe tends to grow inwardly rahter than outwardly. The result can be deadly over a long period of time.

  • posted by Darryl White

    July 10, 2013

    I understand the weakened position of classical music in the U.S. today to be due primarily to the insularity of the academy. Schools of music have not maintained contact with the shifts of culture. If we can 'go around' the academy, directly to where the needs and opportunities are, and if we can be successful (two big 'ifs'), then perhaps our music schools will get the message. I am cautiously optimistic.

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