Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thursday the Fellows attended the panel with the presidents of three leading institutions: Dean Benjamin Juarez (College of Fine Arts, Boston University), Robert Sirota (Manhattan School of Music), Tony Woodcock (New England Conservatory). The three questions were based on the topic: Discerning New Visions for Music Conservatories: Lessons from El Sistema.

  1. The role of major institutions in an evolving field.
  2. Insight into how El Sistema has influenced the panelists and their institutions.
  3. How their institutions will empower their students and engage them in the community.

This a summary of notes I took during the panel and my opinions. I would love to hear what readers have to say, so I encourage you to write comments.

Mr. Juarez explained that students have a social responsibility similar to Dr. Abreu’s ideal of El Sistema. Mr. Sirota said that the conservatory is a model that has not changed. On a side note I am going to do what I call the “Eric Boothian” approach: because conservatory comes from the word conserve, Mr. Sirota is correct, this model has not changed because its purpose is to preserve tradition.

We have seen traditions disappear and evolve; and new ones appear faster than they can be documented. Everything about our lives has changed drastically in the past 100 years! The conservatory is running on a model based on 1797 France. In a nutshell - its outdated!

Mr. Woodcock (not this Tony Woodcock) spoke about the NEC’s efforts in adapting to change through their Community Performance and Partnership Program, and the Abreu Fellowship. These are examples of how conservatories can foster the idea of the musician as skilled and valuable beings from which the community can benefit beyond the concert halls. In his words, “training organizations can ferment change” through their students. The ideal artist is a responsible citizen that serves as an outstanding model for its community, and it is a mirror from which the community can see themselves as. Art is at the service of the community, not solely based on ticket sale. This is one of the leading ideals of music in El Sistema.

During the panel discussion, an audience member posed the question of how these ideal artists will find themselves drawn into these institutions if the admission criteria of conservatory focuses on students with technical ability, basing their decisions on tapes, and not on interviews? Clare Twohy succinctly stated, “who is an artist?”

The answer was along the lines of - product quality cannot be sacrificed. Conservatories and other schools have been seen as elitist, as Mr. Sirota himself said, but maybe it is time to stop seeing human beings for what they can produce, but for how they can be of service to society beyond the concert hall.

The fellows were overflowing with questions, so then someone asked, “well what does that [who is an artist?] have to do with El Sistema?” I think it has much to do with El Sistema. If we have learned anything in these few weeks is to learn about your environment! We have to understand how these major institutions fit into the social ecosystem and find ways to partner in order to accomplish goals that benefit the community, not the empty seats in concert halls. We can only do this through an open atmosphere of collaborative dialogue, so I encourage these panels to continue flourishing.

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