September 4, 2014: Convocation Address

Dean Bronstein’s Convocation address:

Good afternoon.  I’m Fred Bronstein, your new Dean.  I want to begin by welcoming everyone, students, faculty and staff to the start of our 2014-15 Academic year.  And I want to offer a special greeting to students who are new to Peabody.

Since arriving at Peabody at the beginning of June, I have been on a listening tour of sorts, talking with faculty, staff, donors, to members of our community both in and beyond the University, alumni; and now I really look forward to being able to spend time with our students and getting to know you.

At 157 years old, and as the longest standing conservatory in the US, Peabody has a great history.  Just come to my office and see the pictures of people who have visited here; the likes of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Bernstein, and many others.  I’ve been telling the story of faculty member Amit Peled’s idea to play on the Casals cello the very same program on February 12, 2015 that Pablo Casals played at Peabody exactly 100 years earlier.  That is the kind of history we steward.

At the same time, we can’t be captives of that history.  We have to make new history, reinvigorate ourselves and our institution, and build on it.  Students today have to be trained for a world that is very different from the one we trained for.  We face the task of how to get young artists ready for a hugely challenging, constantly evolving world.  We face the challenge of how Peabody plays a role in making sure there will be audiences in the future.  You are all part of this.

Peabody is a rich and complex institution that has the conservatory at its core, but must find new ways to reinvigorate that part of us, while building new opportunities that surround and strengthen our core work, and project the Peabody brand far and wide.  There are four essential pillars to this effort.  Bear with me while I articulate these – it is important that we all think about the big picture.

First: we must elevate the Conservatory – we ought to be, and be recognized as, every bit as good and competitive as the most competitive programs at Johns Hopkins, on a par with medicine or international affairs.  It’s about excellence.

The second pillar; we should own the interdisciplinary space where music intersects with other subjects.  No university and conservatory can really lay claim to that the way Johns Hopkins & Peabody could if we set our minds to it.  We’ve got a great start on that through programs like Peabody at Homewood and our select double-degree program, but we need to do much more.  And we will.

The third pillar is Innovation – in our on-line potential and in our curriculum; our on-line space should be a window to the world both into and out of Peabody.  Later this fall, Marina Piccinini will do a master class with flutists on-line from our fabulous new space that we’ll dedicate this afternoon; we should be doing this all the time.  And we should be a leader in the national conversation about music.

The fourth pillar is our community and our connectivity to it.  We have an obligation as a major cultural institution to be part of our community, to build bridges and partnerships; if we want you, our students to have careers, we need to see ourselves as being in the audience development business.  Our Preparatory is a great avenue for this, but it shouldn’t be the only one.  The Conservatory has an equally important role in this.  And this will pay dividends directly back to Peabody and its students.  Learning to be educators, communicators, advocates, and integral community artists is essential to future success.

If you’ll forgive my orchestra reference, the most successful orchestras today are those that maintain the classical concert as their core business, but have expanded and broadened their vision beyond that, and in doing so have expanded their audience base and resources with new series, innovation, community connectivity and partnerships.  We have to do the same.  We have to build around our core business, the conservatory, a rich array of areas that will broaden our base, expand resources, and project the brand of Peabody nationally and internationally.

So what does all this mean for you, the students as you either start here or return?  I’d offer this advice.

Throw yourself into your work – this is your chance to learn as much as possible – revel in it.  You have to want this bad.  If you don’t, you’re in the wrong line of work.  At the same time, take care of yourself.  You have a lifetime.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Your instrument or individual area of focus is essential.  It is primary.  But not enough.  Experience everything – go to concerts, hear colleagues, hear faculty, interact, see the city, go to the BSO, go to hear different kinds of music, go to New York to hear things, go to Washington.  Walk across the street and see some art. Find a way to do things at other parts of Johns Hopkins University – take a class; find a way to gain the broadest perspective possible, even as you master your craft.  Take your music off campus and be part of the larger community.

Think about being a musician from the broadest perspective possible – even if you’re lucky enough to get into a major orchestra or achieve your greatest dream as a soloist, you’ll be called upon to be a communicator, an educator, an advocate.  If you think you can get away with just being a great player, you will be surprised.  Be prepared to do much more.  Learn to be flexible.  You have no idea of where this career may take you – be open to anything.

Remember that you will have to develop your own path, you’ll have to find a way to make a successful life, now is the time to learn how to do that.  Don’t wait until you’re out in the world to think about this.

And to inspire your thinking about this, later in October we will bring together voices with a national perspective on the arts for a discussion here at Peabody about the future of classical music, and how the world in which we all exist is changing at a breathtaking speed, forcing us to rethink old assumptions, and create new ones.

Finally, this is your time to work, try things, experiment, learn, make mistakes, challenge yourself – make the most of it.  I look forward to meeting every one of you in time, and making sure this is the best experience possible for you.  Good luck and have a great year!