September 3, 2015: Convocation Address

Welcome and good afternoon.  It is great to see you all here.  It was quiet around the campus during the summer, and it was good to get lots of work done, but I missed you.  It’s great to have you back, faculty and students, and I’m looking forward to a productive year of learning, performing, and growth for all of us.

Shortly after I began in this position a little more than a year ago, we articulated four pillars around which we would organize and advance the Peabody Institute, and what our strategic objectives should be going forward.  These pillars included Excellence, Interdisciplinary focus, Innovation, and Community Connectivity.

Regarding Excellence, I would make this simple observation:  The Peabody Conservatory in all its disciplines should be every bit as selective as the most competitive programs at Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.  We should settle for nothing less.  In the Interdisciplinary space, we should be a leader and “own” the infusion of music across other disciplines in higher education.  A good example is the partnership now in the formative stages between Peabody and Johns Hopkins Medicine that could in time provide a clinical and research focus on musician-related injury, as well as study the palliative use of music in disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and autism.

As for Innovation, it means many things.  How and what we teach, whether it’s on-line or in the studio, and it means being a leader in a national dialogue about the value of music – we should be a “go to” institution in thinking about the future.  Finally, Community Connectivity means that Peabody should reach deeply into and across communities, developing meaningful collaborations, while fostering a love of music.  We need to build on the creativity of programs like Creative Access, which you just heard about.  Peabody has to instill in our students and perhaps our students have to instill in Peabody, a passion for the role we as musicians must play in communities.  Given the unrest last spring here in Baltimore, this has never been more important.  We need to shape a future where all our students no longer just leave here as masters of their instruments.  But also as master communicators, educators, and advocates – as citizen-artists.

Over the last year, we’ve taken major steps to enhance Peabody’s work and offerings in these critical areas, and there will be more this coming year.  A few months ago, we announced the creation of the Dean’s Incentive Grants for faculty and students – grants to incent change through interdisciplinary and community projects, and through innovation, and later this fall we’ll announce the recipients of those grants.  To further advance the conversation around innovation, we are announcing a series of Dean’s Symposiums building on last October’s “What’s Next for Classical Music?”  These sessions will bring to campus interesting people from the arts world to talk about some of the enormously creative things going on out there – and why creativity, flexibility, communication, and audience savvy are rapidly becoming real determinants in a successful career.

We have also taken steps to recognize that music of our time plays an important role in the training of young musicians.  This year we launch Now Hear This, a flexible, new music ensemble that I hope will be a dynamic expression of what is going on at Peabody.  We’ll also host the New Music Gathering – a national convening of composers and performers from around the United States.  And they’ll be many other highlights featuring new music.

Of course, Peabody will continue to do what it does best, train musicians to be wonderful players and masters of their instrument.  This excellence is a given, it is a must, it is what Peabody is known for.  But we cannot stop there.  We need to integrate into the everyday work that you are doing to develop your art, other skills that include the ability to communicate apart from your instrument and music, to present and relate to all kinds of audiences, and to envision new ways of making your art relevant, both through technology and live performance.

To advance this holistic, 21st century training throughout the Institute, I am appointing a committee this fall whose charge it will be to return recommendations to update and reinvent aspects of our training to be able to meet these challenges.  There is no question that it takes every bit as much, if not more, to rise to the level of a great musician and performer – that has not changed.  But everything around it has.

Let’s be honest.  We are at the end of an era when we should be going to recitals here at Peabody where you as the performer just sit down to play your program, as wonderful as it may be, and do nothing to invite the audience in to your world.  And we can no longer present orchestra or ensemble concerts in that same way – performers on stage removed from the audience.  If we are to make this change in our performances, bringing it into the classroom and studio is also critical.  Making dynamic presentations should be a regular, ongoing part of the classroom experience.  We want students to be able to stand up in a studio master class and say something meaningful about their view of a particular work.  Or imagine our chamber music groups not just learning and performing their program during the course of a year, but taking it to a venue in the community where they program and produce that event from start to finish.

We can advance this kind of learning through some recalibration in our thinking, and training.  Ready or not, change has come to our field, and more is on the way.  If we tackle this together, seriously, and with purpose, Peabody can be on the front end of this change, rather than the back end.  I know there are people, perhaps even in this room, who believe you can’t do both:  that is to say, train great musicians, and equip them with these vital skills and the flexibility and confidence to navigate the world.  Just a couple of decades ago people said the same thing about orchestras.  They argued that broadening the vision of what an orchestra is, the music it plays, the audiences it serves, the formats in which it presents, that all this would somehow jeopardize the orchestra’s seriousness as an artistic institution.  Well, the opposite has been proven true.  The orchestras doing this successfully are playing at a higher level than ever before, while succeeding in playing a much broader role and fulfilling a larger vision.  No less an artist than Yo-Yo Ma has now made community engagement work through the Citizen Musician Initiative in collaboration with the Chicago Symphony and other projects that focus on children, families and communities the core of his activities.

We can do the same.  If we don’t, we risk failing you, our students, and the future of our art form.  Our journey must be to find a vibrant and meaningful way to integrate all of these demands together, to weave the mastering of an instrument in all its complexities into the development of a broader and more dynamic musician.  I’ve had leading arts administrators who are running major performing arts organizations today tell me they’re depending on us – urging those of us leading major music schools – to help change the way musicians approach their role before they enter the professional world.  We must respond, and as we work together over the coming months and years, Peabody will be well-positioned to deliver on the promise of the 21st century musician.

You, our students, are coming into all of this at a fabulous time – you should relish it.  In many ways I know you are already thinking about these concepts.  I invite you to add your voice to the conversation; be a leader in this evolution; help make Peabody a leader in this evolution.  Make every minute here count.  Pursue your passion and excellence through your studies, and think about how you’re going to ultimately bring that passion and all the work you’ve done, to the outside world.  In order to do that, you have to know what that world looks like.  Start that journey today.  And have a wonderful year.