Before I get into the vegan meat of this post, I should say that when I refer to "classical music," I mean in its absolute broadest definition- symphonic, chamber and solo music from all eras, performed on instruments traditionally found in band or orchestra settings.
Now, on with the post!
As a graduation gift, Heath and Virginia presented all 10 fellows with a copy of Arlene Goldbard’s new book, The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists and the Future. You can read more about Ms. Goldbard and her publications here. Thanks, Arlene, for permitting me to use your words as the catalyst for this post! The fellows had our first exposure to Ms. Goldbard when she spoke via Skype at the symposium/seminario/gathering (affectionately dubbed the “symposinario” by the fellows) we held at the end of March for members of the greater Boston arts and education community. Her short “provocation” at the event was indeed just that, and though I’m only tens of pages into her book, thus far she is upholding her title of provocateur. The following quote sparked today’s blog post:
...our capacity to act is conditioned on the story we tell ourselves about our own predicament and capabilities. ...To even begin to conceive responses worthy of current challenges means removing all barriers to clear sight. For me, this translates into a simple proposition. We need to see like the most committed and skilled artists: eyes wide open, taking it all in, turning away from nothing, cultivating empathy and imagination, venturing forth, taking risks, admitting mistakes, persevering.
This brought so many thoughts bursting from my brain that I had to put the book down and start writing. These musings will (hopefully, if I don’t get lazy) be broken up into a few different posts. Today’s post will touch on my interpretation of “removing all barriers to clear sight,” and what that has meant in my life as a musician, particularly in the last two-and-a-half years.
A large barrier came down several years ago when I fully realized the conditions under which I was able to receive my musical education, and that not every child is so lucky to have these resources (you can read about that here, if you're so inclined). This is how El Sistema entered my life. Since then, I've placed ample thought and energy into removing access barriers to classical music. Some people could certainly consider it a barrier in itself that I still focus on classical music. I've spent all academic year thinking about this, and will undoubtedly continue to think about it for years to come. While I value other types of music and intend to utilize them as publicly desired, I still believe that classical music does not need to be viewed as a barrier to sight or accessibility.
I grew up in a little town just outside of Winchester, Virginia. Winchester is a small and historic city in the northernmost part of the state. Thanks largely to its proximity to DC, the arts scene in Winchester when I was growing up wasn’t nearly as dismal as it is in other communities I’ve seen; but, to say that classical music is relevant to the overall culture of this area would be false. There was no extracurricular youth band or orchestra for wind players. Try as I might, I could never find a horn player to be my teacher; I became a horn instructor myself at the age of 15 because of this. I didn’t know summer music festivals for youth, like Interlochen or Blue Lake, existed until I got to college. Upon high school graduation, I was the only person in my class who was pursuing music as a career. Music was relevant in my personal life, but not in the culture of my community. I chose this path anyway, and there are a number of other people from my hometown who have gone on to pursue successful careers in music education, performance and entrepreneurship.
Additionally, I am the only professional musician in my extended family, which is quite large. My mom and sister, and a few of my aunts, uncles and cousins participated in band or orchestra growing up, but none of them possessed the same passion for it that I did. There was no great musical influence or culture in my family. Yet here I am.
My story is not unique, as I discovered most intimately when I arrived at CCM for grad school. One of my favorite things about CCM is that it’s filled with people who grew up in a similar fashion as I, yet still ended up in the field of music performance. I’m sure this is not unique to CCM, but I’m using it as an example because it’s my personal point of reference. Was classical music relevant in our childhood? Personally, sure; but culturally, probably not. Evidently, it didn’t matter, because we were still deeply impacted by music to the point that we chose to do something out of cultural context with our lives.
Dead European composers could easily mean nothing to me, yet my love for classical music is one of the driving forces in my life. Additionally, being a classical musician has opened my eyes to so many other types of music. I’ve performed with everything from jazz ensembles to polka bands to civil war era brass bands.
|Shameless proof of the civil war era brass band gig|
Don’t get me wrong- I understand that classical music is not for everybody, and it does not have the power to affect everyone in the way it has affected me. That’s totally fine. There are certain kinds of music that I will never like, so I don't expect everyone to join me on the classical music train. I am also fully aware, now more than ever, that I fit two of this country’s primary classical-music-lover stereotypes: I’m white and highly educated. Furthermore, I know that there are far more extreme scenarios than mine of classical music not being encompassed in a person's culture. Regardless, it's still fair for me to say that classical music was not relevant in my culture growing up. Now it’s the number 1 component of my culture, and I can’t imagine life any other way.
Call it a barrier of sight if you wish, but even after countless hours of analysis, I still don't believe classical music as an entity needs to be a cultural barrier. This certainly doesn’t change the way classical music is perceived by society as a whole, or the fact that there are institutional and societal barriers to accessing classical music. What to do about this will (again- hopefully, if I don't get lazy) be the topic for my next post: “taking it all in, turning away from nothing, cultivating empathy and imagination, venturing forth, taking risks, admitting mistakes, persevering.”