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The Opportunity of NOW

The last year has been tough, with COVID disrupting just about every aspect of our lives. But might there be a gift in this moment for music and education?

This post is excerpted from a keynote address I offered for a Dec 2020 Summit sponsored by Yamaha.

Let me start with the obvious...

COVID sucks!

To date, it has claimed the lives of almost 2.5 million people worldwide. This pandemic has decimated parts of our economy, exacerbated social inequities, and torn families apart. Closer to home, in music education circles, COVID has completely disrupted the status quo.

I'm guessing most readers will agree, this has been a tough year.

Yet as a leader and creative artist, I have to wonder: Might there be another way to view this period? Could there be a silver lining?

What is the OPPORTUNITY of NOW?

Throughout history, we've seen great individuals and organizations find or rediscover their voice when confronting adversity. Meaningful, positive change often grows out of suddenly restrictive conditionssomething we clearly face now.

And it's not like everything was hunky-dory before COVID.

For years, even decades, thought leaders in higher education (myself included) have called for deep systemic change.

We have argued that programs must evolve to remain relevant and attractive. That the traditional approach to many things we dolessons, ensembles, theory, history, music education, faculty meetings, tenure & promotion—may not be in the best interest of students, communities, or even the sustainability of our programs.

To be sure, there has been progress. Many programs now place greater emphasis on issues like entrepreneurship, community engagement, and wellness. These are positive developments, and we should be proud of such evolution.

Yet we have not gone nearly far enough.

Here's an example. In January 2019, I directed Carolina/College Music Society Summit 2.0. This sold-out event was largely designed as a problem-solving GAME, where 250 music faculty and administrators were divided into interdisciplinary teams and challenged to reimagine undergraduate education.

Part of this event involved BIG Idea presentations (short TED-like talks), where invited leaders pitched bold innovations and fresh visions. Many were quite inspiring.

But I failed in at least one instance.

The goal was to identify a faculty member teaching a core subject (e.g. theory, history, applied, ensemble) who required/empowered students to create MUSIC VIDEOS.

After all, how can you possibly succeed as a 21st century performer or educator without video literacy and a digital footprint?