I write to you at the start of the Peabody Institute’s 2017-18 academic year, our 160th year in existence as the oldest conservatory in the United States. This year we also celebrate our 40th year as part of Johns Hopkins University.
The start of every year is always special, full of excitement and possibility. This year is perhaps just a little more special as it’s a year of real “firsts” in many important ways at Peabody.
First, this year we welcome an unprecedented twenty-five new faculty members. I’m reasonably sure that there has never been another academic year with so many new faces, perhaps since Peabody’s beginnings. You’ll hear about these individuals as the year unfolds. But we could not be more excited. The greatness of Peabody is without question found in its faculty, and these new appointments build strength on strength.
Another first is that this year we launch the Breakthrough Curriculum focused on enhancing the skillset of every student at Peabody around what it means to be a musician and citizen artist in the 21st century. With the implementation of the Breakthrough Curriculum, Peabody puts a stake in the ground by committing to the belief that being a great musician today requires both excellence and a facility with other critical skills that allow artists to bring their musical training to life in meaningful and practical ways.
Twenty-five years ago, American orchestras began a conversation about what would happen to their core focus on excellence in performance if orchestras broadened their programming and missions to more deeply encompass education and community engagement. The fear, which was ultimately unfounded, was that excellence would be compromised. In fact, the opposite was true.
One can see an identical conversation today in our music schools and conservatories – a fear or belief that if we ask students to stretch beyond the traditional focus of mastering performance skills, then the core will be jeopardized. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their fabulous book about visionary companies, Built to Last, call these kinds of false choices the “Tyranny of the Or” compared to the “Genius of the And.” We must embrace and teach the “Genius of the And.” It is possible to be both an outstanding performer and a citizen artist – indeed it’s necessary to be both. Now, Peabody has taken this critical step to place itself at the forefront of this work.
As part of this, this year we introduce a reimagined ensembles program that emphasizes a broad range of eclectic ensemble experiences for students, similar to what they will experience ultimately in the professional world. As an instrumentalist, for example, students will have the opportunity to play across a range of experiences, from orchestra to chamber orchestra, to studio orchestra, and many others. It is our belief that through uniquely crafted experiences, our graduates will emerge more flexible and capable of handling the kind of professional challenges that they will face.
And before leaving this, I think it’s important to also note that arguably never in our history has it been more important for artists to fully connect with communities, to help overcome a level of separation and disconnect that we increasingly see in our culture. As artists, we can make connections where others cannot. The Breakthrough Curriculum makes this possible.
This is also the first year of a revamped faculty governance system, unchanged until now since its debut 40 years ago, and which after 18 months of development by the Governance Task Force received the overwhelming endorsement of our faculty last spring. As I noted earlier, the faculty is the focus of what makes Peabody unique. It’s why our students choose Peabody. So, it’s important that our faculty be deeply engaged in the work of Peabody, in formulating its direction and in the life of the Institute. This revamped governance system, from the new, expanded role of our department chairs, to critical committee work, will engage faculty in new ways that enhance ownership, involvement and accountability.
Peabody’s five-year Breakthrough Plan includes several exciting new programs. This is the first year of recruiting for our new Dance BFA program in the Conservatory under the leadership of danah bella who arrives at Peabody with a strong record of professional dance and program building, as well as the first year of recruitment for the equally exciting Music for New Media program with its focus on cutting edge composition for video games and virtual reality under the leadership of Thomas Dolby. Both programs will have their first cohort of students in fall of 2018. I am enormously excited about adding these new activities to Peabody.
This is the first year of an expanded commitment in our programs to musician wellness, as demonstrated by a week-long focus on this critical area in orientation this year, and supported by plans to open a clinic on the Peabody campus for the treatment of performance-related injuries as part of the Music and Medicine initiative with John Hopkins Medicine. There is nothing more important for artists than learning how to use and preserve their precious assets – their physical wellbeing in light of the career demands. We are committed to making sure that Peabody leads in this area as well.
And finally, we have launched a new website which greatly enhances our ability to project Peabody’s academic and artistic excellence and shine a spotlight on the work and successes of our faculty, students, and alumni. Please take a look at the new Peabody.jhu.edu and share it with the young musicians in your life.
As I said, a year of firsts in so many ways. We look forward to watching it all unfold, and I look forward to future updates on our progress.