The courage to change

February 2, 2007

It’s interesting to see how we are mixtures of conservative and liberal. Although this is likely an overgeneralization, I look at myself and see this quite clearly.

The most stressful times of our life have to do with periods of change, and many times abrupt change. If change is associated with stress, people can easily resolve to have as little change as possible in their lives. Change manifests itself on so many levels of human existence that a person that cuts himself off from change, or at least the potential for change, becomes ingrown, always self-reflective, and ultimately self-centered.

Entertaining change involves risk. Because the outcome of risk is uncertain, and many people distrust uncertainty, we avoid taking risks. Those who skate along in a same-old same-old rhythm eventually get their bubble popped when a meteor invades their comfortable lives: a meteor like a divorce, or a death, or an illness, or a 9-11, or some other “Act of God.” Random events and living on this planet force us to deal with change throughout our lives. I learned this early on as the son of a minister who moved a lot (Evanston, IL, Oklahoma City, OK, Albuquerque, NM, Green Bay, WI, Omaha NE; and I lived in Madison, WI and Boston, MA as a student and now live in Los Angeles). That process of moving so much forced me to learn how to make new friends, readjust, and deal with change.

Why am I going on about this?

In our music department we are reevaluating our core offerings to our undergraduates. The old model, “the three-legged chair” as Robert Winter calls it––performance, music theory, and music history, is wobbling in its old age and is becoming less and less relevant to the musical world of the early 21st century. I am on a committee that is brainstorming rethinking it all, and we realize that some of our colleagues will just not support it. “That’s the way we’ve always done it and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Today we learned that music conservatories are failing to find their music-centric students jobs because of their narrow range of knowledge. We heard that only 15% of the students who attended an exclusive, prestigious summer music festival, have gone on to actually work in music.

Nature overproduces itself in hopes that there will be some survival. This is also true about undergraduate music majors. We owe it to our students to equip them with as many skills as we can to prepare them for working in music. It seems that much of what we teach is to really just perpetuate ourselves as teachers. That is not a good enough reason. Music education in general is in dire need of reevaluating itself. The old model has cracked.

In our next meeting, we will be “blue skying” a curriculum with a clean white sheet of paper. Everything is up for reevaluation. Everything. This change is overdue and I, for one, am excited about this change.

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