Next Steps for our industry?

The new NEA study talks about diminishing experience of the arts in the general society, which is only the summary of what we have all been experiencing for some years!! For me the solution has been to be willing to lose the generation with no experience and go directly to the children with classical music, musical theater and new music. I think that we need to think out of the box in our approaches- if children only hear kindie rock when they are young – they are not apt (with exceptions) to be excited by new music, and classical music. Although many are reaching out to children, there are hundreds of artists in other musical genres who are making a more concerted effort to create programs that kids love. Check out Kindiefest – the conference for kindie rockers, and CMN- Children’s Music Network, to see what I mean. Let’s invite the industry to create the same for classical and new music (sorry I can’t figure out what terms to use to describe us!) Let’s reach out to schools, libraries, museums and get this music heard (and usually, appreciated by young children) Remember, children don’t know what they like and are usually amazingly open. We might consider creating a festival/conference that highlights classical music for kids. We must try as classical musician’s not to think of concerts for children as “kiddie concerts” which is the term that was used when I was a free lance musician in NYC and got hired to play one! The children are our best mine for new audience.

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Classical Music, Education and the Chinese

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The Elephant in the Room

For the last few weeks there has been much written about the arts and humanities programs being shut down in our nation’s colleges and universities. Both Stanley Fish, and the president of Cornell University, David J Skorton had articles on the subject in the NY Times. This week the Boston Globe weighs in: “College Leaders Work to Increase Interest in Humanities” – The Boston Globe

The articles and discussions describe how universities, to save money, are cutting out humanities and arts departments – justifying it by saying students aren’t filling these classes. Is it really possible an educated person in the United States doesn’t need to know anything about the arts, literature, history, philosophy, language? Why is it that places like China and Singapore are adding these subjects to their universities if they aren’t needed?

Haven’t we been saying that if we want an innovative and creative work force we can’t all be specialists? That we need flexible educated minds? The Boston Globe article talks about students not signing up for humanities and arts classes. Why? Here’s the elephant in the room. They haven’t had these classes in any comprehensive form in their first 12 years of school. If you cut music, art, language, specialized literature classes, theater, poetry and the like from elementary school to high school and you teach only to the “test”, students will arrive at college without the necessary skills and knowledge to even begin to know what they want to learn. Learning these subjects can enhance one’s ability to function in any profession. I studied at The Juilliard School (a very special trade school) for both my Bachelors and Masters degrees. It’s different today but when I was there our studies of subjects other than music was sharply limited. I realized that if I wanted to understand the many references in the music I was studying I needed to become much better read in both world literature and history. I procured reading lists from several liberal arts colleges and proceeded to read through the lists. It was invaluable to me and became my habit in all my artistic projects. When I became a professor I required the same of my flute students. The point is that if we continue to cut the arts and humanities from our public education system we will inevitably lose students and eventually vital core departments in our universities nationwide. This is something that we can’t afford if we want to remain competitive.

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The Quibble Factor: Making Classical Music “Cool”

Making classical music “cool” (for lack of a better word) is our goal. Let’s not quibble over the word classical – let’s give it a big umbrella and work to make it popular. Once something is in the mainstream it will be a lot harder to dismiss. Of course it’s our job to figure out how to do this and I believe the most effective way is through mass media. The classical music “niche” is very nicely decorated but it’s a bit cold and lonely – so let’s find some ways to make more friends and let’s be bold in our attempts. Maybe we like being “elite”, we enjoy our superiority, but it doesn’t really help us in the long run.  Our marginalization doesn’t help promote the greater good. Children growing up without a sound cultural understanding of art and creativity will be at a disadvantage given that this century is being labeled the century of creativity.

For example in her article “Developing Students Creative Skills for 21st Century Success (December, 2008) Jennifer Henderson says:

“The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, stresses the importance of creativity in its guide, 21st Century Skills, Education & Competitiveness: “Many of the fastest-growing jobs and emerging industries rely on workers’ creative capacity—the ability to think unconventionally, question the herd, imagine new scenarios, and produce astonishing work.”

We have a vital role to play in preparing the next generation, and by making classical “cool” we will be part of the solution.

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A Drop in the Bucket.

So you’re probably wondering what I might be writing about…or maybe not, but here goes! Many of today’s pundits are talking about the serious problems in the classical music industry – a reflection of our difficult economic times as well as it’s (classical music’s) very own endemic problems. Our aging audiences, the gutting of music education in our schools, our lack of programming imagination, our elitism, our superciliousness in a world gone internet and cell phone crazy. I could go on…and on…and on. So, don’t get me wrong, I know and am very concerned about these problems and about their broader implications for the society as a whole (which I may write about in subsequent posts). But what I would like to bring front and center as I begin this blog is, what are the solutions? How can we stop the endless discussion about what is wrong, the self defeating conversations that I read about often in the press? It’s been said that what we think in our mind is the result that we get, so if we are so sure that classical music is a dying art form, then perhaps that will be the result. So… this blog will be my small attempt to change some thinking and offer some alternative points of view and some creative and original solutions. To add a new trickle to the river of words out there about classical music, the arts and arts education.

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About Barbara Siesel

Welcome to Classical Music is Alive and Well … Isn’t It? I’m going to be blogging (what a word) about music, music education and the state of creativity and innovation in our country.  You may ask what qualifies me to do such a thing in so public a way? What’s so unique about me? Well during this eclectic career of mine I’ve had the opportunity to experience a kaleidoscope of music from which I draw my ideas. I’m a professional musician – a classical flutist and a graduate of The Juilliard School (where I earned my BM and MM).  While performing in NYC during the 1980’s I founded and lead a chamber music group that was a pioneer in thematic programming and a commissioner of many new works by emerging composers of the time, including Aaron Kernis, Tan Dun, Michael Torke and others.  In the 1990’s I became interested in how to combine new technologies with live performances and started working with a company called ACT (Art Culture & Technology) to create works that explored these emerging technologies.  I personally commissioned and performed many new works that utilized video and electronics in innovative ways.  I then founded the Storm King Music Festival that for five seasons showcased these new works and hosted 60 plus composers to be in residence and discuss the new developments in contemporary music. In the meantime I became a traveling professor and taught at The New World School of the Arts in Florida, Colby College in Maine, and Marist College and SUNY New Paltz in New York.

In 2004 it was time for a change!  I knew I had to reach a much broader audience, a more inclusive audience – an audience that included children – if the work I’d spent a lifetime doing was to continually blossom.  Keith Torgan and I founded Tugboat Music in order to achieve that goal and reach as many children as possible with live performances.  We have now performed 100’s of concerts and have successfully reached thousands of children and their families throughout the US with our programs.

So – maybe I do have a unique prospective.  I’ve lived in the ivory tower and performed in some of the world’s great halls with stellar conductors and extraordinary musicians.  I’ve performed for and talked with children who know almost nothing about music in many of the nation’s libraries and schools. I’ve taught hopeful young musicians at some the nation’s colleges and conservatories.  Now I’m sharing my thoughts and requesting that you engage with me in this dialogue!  I hope you join me on this journey.

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