Thursday, April 9, 2015

Musicology and the Entrepreneurship of Ideas (II)

by Christopher J. Smith
Part 2 of 2 parts.
In July 2007, in a blog-comment, I argued for the philosophic and practical value of such intentional outreach amongst one’s colleagues and peers:
Something I have not yet seen in the comments, however, is something I have taken to include in all my own mentoring, both in-house and remote, at both graduate-student and pre-tenure professional levels. It is, simply put, the candidate’s responsibility to be an effective, approachable, collegial, advocate for his/her teaching, service, and research/creative activity. In the world of academia, almost no one has time to keep up with colleagues’ achievements in a consistent or informed way: not their awards, their new creative works, their grants won, their students’ accomplishments. We are all simply too busy to keep track of colleagues’ professional development, no matter how much we might wish to. Yet it is essential, for our own individual professional advancement, that colleagues (on tenure, promotion, and budget committees, for example) should be aware of our accomplishments.
This means that each candidate must take time to develop skills at conveying his/her achievements. There are a lot of different ways to do this, and many are even tactful and un-self-aggrandizing. In mentoring, I make sure to talk about, assist with, and demonstrate such “outreach to colleagues”: I have found it not only fosters a friendlier collegial atmosphere, but also makes it much easier for committee members and superiors to arrive at accurate, well-informed, and positive evaluations.

In October 2008, I wrote about presentational flexibility: the capacity to recognize and adapt to contrasting venues and audience profiles:
One of my pet peeves about academia is the degree to which we prioritize and reward very finely-argued and subtle arguments presented to one’s peers, while de-emphasizing or failing to reward effective and accessible presentation to general audiences. This beefs me because I think the latter—speaking “outward” to a wider audience—is a lot more important than we sometimes credit, while the former—speaking “inward” to our very small circle of co-expert peers—is less significant, in terms of overall positive impact, than we presume it is. Moreover, speaking “outward” is a much closer parallel to the actual day job that we do, which is teaching. It’s good to be a scholar, because it drives our own individual inspiration and continuing curiosity, but it’s equally important to be an advocate for scholarship—to be able to frame, present, and argue the value of our insights to wider communities.

photo: Tif Holmes
It’s easy to respond with the accusation that mandating wider outreach runs the risk of dumbing-down content, but I think that’s an excuse, employed by people who don’t really believe in the value of teaching or of being public intellectuals. We need to be scholars and teachers, researchers, and advocates. Learning to succeed at both sides of these dyads—just like learning to teach undergraduates and graduates and continuing-education students—is an essential part of what the role of a public intellectual can be.

Peter Burkholder teaches that “you should be able to articulate the point of your research in the scope of an article, a lecture, or a dissertation—or of a public talk, a note-card, or a single sentence.” I’ve extended that aphorism, with my own students, in a parallel fashion: “you should be able to articulate the point and the relevance of your research to any audience: expert or non-expert, student or colleagues, undergrad or graduate, specialist or generalist, in any medium: scholarly or popular print, radio, television, lecture, conversation, or conference question-and-answer period.” This is how to be a public intellectual; this is how you renew and revitalize the argument that historical, sociological, musicological, intellectual expertise and insight have something to say in a changing public world.

In November 2007, when our school's director was heading off to the annual meeting of the National Association for Schools of Music, in response to his (bold-face) prompts I responded:

future of art music — the roles of our institutions in developing public understanding and support
We need a redefinition of both “art music” and the role of the public arts, in order to redefine our institutions’ role in these areas. As long as we are associated with hierarchized models of musical value—models which seek (speciously) to identify inhering greater or lesser value in one music idiom versus another—we are tied to out-of-date and potentially biased perspectives. It is my opinion that a major factor in the erosion of public understanding and support for “art music” is precisely this hierarchizing tendency: the tendency to say “this music is good for you and you should listen to it and fund it, whether it speaks to you or not; and that music is not good for you, it doesn’t merit study or funding, and so we in education don’t have to deal with it.” In the face of such a condescending and dictatorial perspective on any music that doesn’t “measure up,” is it any wonder that more diverse audiences have lost interest in “art music”? In fact, perhaps we also need to retire that term entirely. Duke Ellington said “there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.”

We should seek an inclusive, culturally-informed, and functional definition and valuation of musical idioms. If a musical idiom speaks to a group within the population of American culture, if it provides meaning and enhances quality of life for that group, then we in education should both recognize and advocate for this value. Any other criteria for value are dated, biased, and exclusive—and they work against our continuing relevance.”
clientele and community:
We should reach out to local and student constituent communities, celebrate their musics and musical values, and make space in concert programs, general education, and public advocacy for those diverse musics.
faculty and students:
We should facilitate, encourage, and fund programs which permit music faculty and music students to perform service as resources to the community: playing, teaching, and talking about the ways that music creates social, community, and human value. We cannot be isolated in our classrooms, teaching studios, or recital halls. We must reach out: to public schools, social-service organizations, city and county governments, employing every persuasive demonstration of the value of music (by both performing and talking about music). We should volunteer our expertise.
Suggestion: Every music program should have a “music volunteerism” office or officer, who can field requests from community educators, organizations, or groups and channel music faculty or students into such service throughout the community.

Rationale: The most persuasive argument in support of music’s irreplaceable contribution to public and individual quality of life is to make that contribution: to demonstrate an inclusive, non-hierarchical, culturally-diverse, and passionate commitment to music as a tool for creating community. Every music program should seek public performance, education, and advocacy opportunities—and such service should count significantly as part of tenure dossier considerations.

[We should] continue to argue passionately for the value of fine arts education as part of both the complete university experience, and as part of public community life. In Texas, this is easier: band, choir, and orchestra are accepted to be essential parts of primary and secondary education. Seek language and metaphors that connect these elements as essential continuations in the tertiary arena; e.g., “we educators and you parents and your children have all worked so hard, have given so much time, effort and money for so many years, to make music a part of your child’s life; why would or should we abandon the wonderful contribution that music continues to make in the very important years of college?

This means advocacy: every faculty member, every staff and administrative member, needs to be provided with language, talking points, printed materials, and most importantly a sense of mission that will let each one be, and continue to be, an articulate advocate for arts education. Every student should receive, as part of the sophomore barrier, a “jump-start” class (as well as continual reinforcement in classroom, rehearsal hall, and studio) in arts advocacy. Every writing-intensive course should provide for at least one writing assignment on the topic of “why I think music improves the life of my community” or something similar. These should then be published on the School’s website and on a Facebook group. Students should receive credit for such writing and the most articulate and passionate arguments should receive prizes.
What should we be doing to advance music and music study beyond our regular responsibilities?
See area I above. Also, much better conceptual, organization, and administrative integration and cooperation between and across academic and performance areas. We need to teach music as an integrated, multi-media, participatory, liberating, ancient, contemporary, revitalizing force for community good, accessible to participants of every age, background, attribute, and so forth. Our teaching, advocacy, administration, research, and development should all seek to do this.
Since I wrote the above series of quotes eight years ago, much has changed for the better. The adoption and integration of entrepreneurship concepts and skills has only been accelerated by the recession and the continued transformation of the performing-arts landscape: my own Texas Tech Vernacular Music Center, for example, now offers a 15-hour “Certificate in Community Arts Entrepreneurship,” courses from within which may be (and are) taken by a wide variety of students who recognize that their own contemporary career arcs will likely require new and much more self-actualized paths, as well as by other students heading toward advanced degrees and careers in Arts Administration. That universities and conservatories are recognizing the value of entrepreneurship for developing careers in the fine and performing arts is a good thing.

But we academic musicians, we musical scholars, ought to opt in as well. There is a role for the public scholar—more specifically a role for articulate, accessible, rigorous, and dedicated discourse around music and society in Western technological culture. If, as I suggested in Part I of this essay, we are again experiencing a wider social recognition of the merit of the classic liberal arts skills of critical reading, writing, speaking and (in the case of music) listening; of the ability to observe phenomena, deduce patterns, and tender hypotheses that explain those data; of the ability to discern aesthetics, values, and meaning across diverse, non-hierarchized, transnational societies—if we (again) conclude that all these have value as practical tools for functioning in a global 21st century, then we must, as professional scholars, pedagogues, and advocates, be prepared to engage, employ, model, and teach these skills.

Such usage helps our own careers, the organizations of which we are part, the students we teach, and the worlds of experience which those students will in the future touch.

There is no down-side to enhanced expertise in engagement. A wider world awaits us.

Christopher J. Smith is Professor and Chair of Musicology and director of the Vernacular Music Center at the Texas Tech University School of Music in Lubbock, TX (webpage HERE). Enjoy his TedX talk, “A Homeland of the Mind”:

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