October 23, 2014: “What’s Next?” Symposium

One of the things that distinguishes Johns Hopkins University is that it is a convener of conversations about important issues, whether they be scientific, health-related, or in the humanities. Johns Hopkins is a “go to” place when people from around the world seek answers, perspective, and knowledge. I believe the Peabody Institute should also be a leader in conversations about important matters in the arts, culture, and the humanities. Peabody is, after all, the oldest conservatory in the United States, and part of one of the world’s leading research universities.

To that end, on October 21st Peabody convened a panel of arts leaders from around the country to discuss the question, “What’s next for classical music?” Viewers from across the United States and from 31 countries watched the 3-hour session on-line in real time. Leading up to this conversation, and prompted by this symposium, the national news program America Tonight aired a feature story and the Baltimore Sun ran an opinion piece on the subject. The event and related media drove a thought-provoking, substantive conversation that focused on the importance of music, and how priorities, education, lifestyle, and technology have all impacted the arts.  Perhaps most importantly we asked ourselves: Given the trends, how do we prepare our most gifted artists for the 21st Century, and is there a broader role for conservatories in fostering audiences and an appreciation for the great body of work that we (perhaps mistakenly) identify as “classical” music?

I think what the discussion pointed up was that yes, there are very real challenges facing what we do. But there is a bright future for classical music if those who care most about it are willing and able to broaden our view of what an artist does, how he or she does it, and how our art form can be relevant to and appreciated by many different audiences on their own terms.

We have a vital role to play in preparing musicians to do this important work. Music students must perfect their skills as performers, yes, but it’s not enough in the new world. Think if we were training physicians in the same way we were even 50 years ago, let alone 150! Students must have the skills to develop their careers in new and unexpected ways. We need to train trailblazers and creative innovators. Artists of the future will have to cross lines, combine disciplines, then find and engage their audiences. Conservatories have to prepare top notch musicians who are also entrepreneurs, educators, and advocates for music. Conservatories themselves must embrace audience development.

What the panel made most clear was that we are at the vortex of an amazing time of possibility. At the same time, there is a danger in prescribing the same “solutions” from the past as opposed to challenging ourselves to think about how to make our art increasingly relevant, increasingly connected to the community, and more central to living a full life than ever before. What keeps me up at night is not whether there is a future for classical music; it’s whether our field has the courage to evolve and change. I absolutely believe it will, and that Peabody will be a leader in that change.