Announcer: This podcast is a project of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency committed to building creative communities and inspiring creative minds.
Roger Brown: Using music as a tool for social change, for empowering underserved communities, for letting young people have a sense that they have mastery of a topic and therefore they can be a software engineer, they could be an entrepreneur, they could be a teacher, they could be a doctor– we see that as a vital role of music and the arts in larger society.
Anita Walker: Hello, I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud, and joining us today are Richard Ortner, who is the president of the Boston Conservatory, and Roger Brown, who is the president of Berklee College of Music. Thanks for joining us today.
Roger Brown: Delighted to be here.
Richard Ortner: Good to be here.
Anita Walker: We’re going to spend a little bit of time talking to the new configuration of your two amazing universities, but first I want to talk about what really prompted a conversation, that I think dates back, oh, a few years, as we’ve been watching an absolutely dramatic change in the way people consume music and the way people make music. What’s happening?
Roger Brown: Well, I think one of the big things that’s happened is the demise of the gatekeeper model. Used to be if you wanted to be a musician, you prepared your skills so that someone– let’s say a record label– would hear you and say, “That’s someone worthy of investment.” These days the record label doesn’t take an interest in you until you have a YouTube following of several million subscribers. <laughs> So the model is not preparing yourself for the gatekeeper so much as trying to reach your audience, the likeminded people who have an affinity with what you want to create musically or artistically, and proving yourself directly. So I think as a school, it’s less of preparing people to meet the gatekeeper and it’s more preparing people to take the initiative and have the audacity to believe, “I’m entitled to be an artist. I’m going to be an artist. How do I make it happen?”
Anita Walker: Sort of this idea that actually is prevalent in all fields, which is it’s not just about finding a job anymore, it’s about making your own job.
Richard Ortner: Exactly. Yeah. The same is true in the worlds of classical music and Broadway stage and dance as well. The statistic that we hear rolled out this year among conservatory presidents across the country is that last year we gave degrees to 9000 clarinetists, graduate and undergraduate, and last year was a great year because there were 11 openings in major symphony orchestras. There are still people who want to study the clarinet, and the reason is that they’ve got something to say, and this– the digital revolution enables them to say it and to create lives in music that look nothing like the patron-driven model that was in effect 25 to 50 years ago.
Anita Walker: But is it enough anymore to go to school to learn how to play a musical instrument well? Isn’t there more you need to know?
Roger Brown: Well, I think it’s still a wonderful thing to learn how to play an instrument well, but that’s not– that’s a necessary but not sufficient skill set to be successful, and if anything– and one of the things I feel like with our own students at Berklee– and Richard probably agrees– is it may not be the incremental hour in the practice room that makes the difference. It may be deciding to put together a band or a group or a concept, have an artistic vision for what you want that group to do, work up a performance. One of the things I’ve been drawn to the Conservatory for is that our students tend to be really, really excellent on their instruments, but when it comes to stagecraft and performance and acting and dancing and choreography and the skills that a modern, contemporary musician often needs to have, we don’t teach very much of it, and the Conservatory, because of its music theater program and its dance program, is one of the world’s best at that. So part of what I view as the logic of the merger is: Let’s equip our students so that when they show up at the audition, they’re not only the best musician on the stage, they thought about how they should dress, what they should look like, how they should perform. They have some way to embody the music in their performance, which is something that historically has not been on our radar screen at Berklee.
Anita Walker: And what does Berklee have that you don’t?
Richard Ortner: Well, there’s a great cognate on our side. Our students, Conservatory students, are the ones who are taking the deepest possible dive into perfection of their craft, but they’re less well equipped to get it out there with a YouTube video, and Berklee’s long and deep expertise in production, technology, engineering, and today in all– everything having to do with the digital realm– is exactly what our students need in order to move them to the next level of career preparedness. Interestingly– Roger and I have said this together many times, and we’re watching it happen– the students are way out ahead of us on this. They’ve been collaborating for years. They are now, with an institutional platform for collaboration, really running ahead with this, the idea that our orchestra will be playing music written by Berklee film-scoring composers as well as our concert music composers in the new soundstage, the new recording studios that Berklee has built, and being able to get it out there so that everyone can hear it is simply a leg up on, we think, every other school or university setting in the country.
Anita Walker: Oftentimes we don’t really think of our institutions of higher education as being out front. <laughs> True? I mean, this is really a leap. This is visionary. Why? Why are you doing this?
Roger Brown: Well, one of my thoughts is we know we’re preparing our students for a brave new world, and that they’re facing a different set of challenges, and some people might argue the greatest challenge is that the musical artistic community has ever faced. We also know there are new opportunities that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. So wouldn’t it be awful if we tried to prepare our students for that but we’re unwilling to make some of the same changes to the way we think about ourselves and the way we operate that we expect our students to deal with? So it’s trying to create a culture of creativity within our institutions that says we can’t just do things the way we did them 50 or 100 or 150 years ago. It’s a very different world, and these young people are taking an enormous risk. They’re placing an enormous bet on us that we know what we’re doing, that we’re going to actually give them– they know we can’t promise them fame, success, Grammys, major orchestra gigs, but we should be able to promise them that we’ll improve the odds, that they’ll have a much better chance of pursuing that dream if they have submitted to the program that we’ve designed for them, and shame on us if we’re unwilling to change to help better prepare them for that.
Anita Walker: You’re looking not just about a different way that a curriculum is prepared, but a different business model.
Richard Ortner: Sure. As Roger was saying, it is certainly our job to create career preparedness in them, and that means a whole different set of things than it did even 10 years ago. But I think it’s also our job to look at issues of access and affordability in a way that echoes the creativity of our students. The instructional cost model for a studio-based education is necessarily an expensive one, but what can we do to create a greater degree of access to those models? And I think Berklee has already pioneered several ways in which to look at that question, and we want to be part of that conversation.
Anita Walker: We’ve talked a little bit about how you are seeing the future for a student who comes and wants to have a career in music, but both of your institutions have also been doing a lot of really high-quality and excellent work around where music can be applied in other realms. When you said “access”, it reminded me about the work you’re doing with young people on the autism spectrum, with what you’re doing in music therapy. Do you see that as still part of your portfolio?
Richard Ortner: Mm-hmm.
Roger Brown: Very much so. Yeah, I see it as a bigger part of our portfolio going forward. Let’s face it, most of those clarinetists are not going to be playing in major orchestras, but they could music teachers, they can give private lessons, they can work in schools, they can do music therapy. There are a lot of roles that we’re learning where music can have a huge impact on society beyond just being a performer or a composer. So absolutely, and we have the City Music program that’s now reaching 28 thousand young people in middle school and high school around the U.S. and Canada, and the idea there is not to train more musicians or more people who are going to go to music school. Every now and then we discover one, and that’s a great secondary <laughs> benefit to Berklee, but the major purpose is to help prepare people to live more productive lives, and we believe a good music education is a big part of that, especially I think in middle school, where it’s– there’s so many shearing forces that want to tear you down and make you lose hope. If you have mastery of an instrument, you’re in a band, people– you have a musical identity, that– it certainly helped me in middle school, and I think it has helped a lot of people. So using music as a tool for social change, for empowering underserved communities, for letting young people have a sense that they have mastery of a topic and therefore can be a software engineer, they could be an entrepreneur, they could be a teacher, they could be a doctor– we see that as a vital role of music and the arts in larger society.
Anita Walker: Richard?
Richard Ortner: Absolutely. This notion that Ben Cameron rolled out so eloquently some time ago, distinguishing between social practice in music and civil practice in music– social practice being, “I play Beethoven. Come hear me play,” civil practice being, “Here’s what I do. What do you do? What do you need? And what can we do together?” Our young performers, whether they’re actors or musicians or dancers, seem to come with that mindset more today than ever before, and we want to create pathways into the community such that their integration into the community post-college is as seamless as possible.
Anita Walker: We’ve talked about what the differences are in your two institutions and how they’re complementary. What’s really clear is you’re also coming from a similar ethos, a similar philosophy about the role of music in our world. What do you think, in your conversations that started 10 years ago but are really coming to fruition now– where are you taking the quantum leap? What’s the biggest stretch that you’re both taking as you come together?
Richard Ortner: Other than the institutional and organizational challenges, which are very real– bringing together two schools of unlike size– the happy accident of history is that we’ve been next-door neighbors for the last 50 years, and that our buildings are cheek-by-jowl, and that our students have been eating in the Berklee cafeteria since it opened two years ago. So there’s this natural affinity. But I think for me the biggest challenge is bridging the divide between what are considered the classical arts and what are considered the popular arts. Those distinctions are dissolving– probably started dissolved 20 years ago. With artists like Dawn Upshaw, singing songs of Vernon Duke and listening to Joni Mitchell growing up, and then coming to Schubert and Stravinsky a little bit later– that is the model for most of our students. I think you know that our dance division– highly regarded in its roots in ballet and modern dance– modern with a capital M, right?– meaning everything from Martha Graham to Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor– is now voted the number one contemporary dance program in the country. That’s the left turn that this is taking. The leader of the program, wonderful Cathy Young, her scholarly interest is in jazz dance, in how social dance becomes concert dance. That is happening in all three of the disciplines that the Conservatory specializes in. So the dividing lines are quickly crumbling, and we want to make sure that our students have access to Berklee’s, again, history in jazz, contemporary music of all kinds, increasingly in world music. The days when a well-trained classical musician could be aware only of Northern European composers of the last 200 years, that’s over, and the kids know it themselves. Again, we will be led down this path productively by our students, I think.
Anita Walker: How about you, Roger?
Roger Brown: Well, that was well said, so maybe I should not say anything.
Roger Brown: But I guess the thing I would say is that maybe another big leap we’re making is to see ourselves not as the holders of this knowledge and this sort of secret craft that we share with our students and that allows them to join the guild, but as people who are trying to empower the dreams and aspirations of the students themselves, so that we’re not trying to teach them to do what we know how to do; we’re trying to empower them to do what they’re destined to do, what they’re meant to do, so they’re actually creating the music that people will be studying 50 years from now, as opposed to simply being excellent craftspeople who appreciate, admire and understand it; and I think that is a real shift in– even though it sounds easy to say– I think the model of music education has been one of master passing knowledge to student, and really owning no responsibility for what happens to that student. Sort of like, “I gave you the craft. You’re supposed to figure it out,” to a model where we say, “We own that too. We can’t promise anything, but we own responsibility for helping prepare you for this world you’re entering.”
Anita Walker: So the last question I want to ask you, because it is so rare to have an opportunity to be together with such visionaries and people who have such experience and foresight into really the future of something that we all, as human beings, expect and provide such incredible joy and satisfaction to all of us. But the way we consume music has changed so dramatically. I mean, I still have the vinyl records– I actually have one of those record players that you crank up– and keeping up with everything from records to cassette tapes to CDs to iTunes to streaming to– what’s the future for the consumption of music? What are you seeing out there?
Roger Brown: Well, obviously there’s probably no sector of the economy that’s gone through a more radical change than music. The hopeful picture is that if we can people to stop file-sharing and start streaming– even though streaming revenues are much lower than, say, CD sales were, or even digital downloads– but streaming revenue sources and an annuity that can continue day after day, year after year– imagine if we could monetize music consumption in China, India, Brazil, places where artists– Michael Jackson did not get many royalty checks from China, even though a lot of young people in China could see all his songs. So if we can monetize music the world over with micropayments for streaming of music, then the pie could get bigger, not smaller, and then we have the democratization of music that we’ve seen, where people can find it and have access to music. The other thing we’re seeing is the fusion of media. My children watch music. I mean, they’re more likely– the number one streaming source of music is YouTube, so people are– sometimes they’re just listening; other times they’re observing a music video or watching the band perform. So that convergence of media is a very powerful phenomenon. With the explosion of TV series, all of which have really good music– and there are a lot of musicians earning a living writing for all those TV series that we’re binge-watching. So there are a lot of new modalities in which we’re consuming music, and the key is just to make sure a little fraction of the revenue of that goes to the artist, and the pendulum swung way towards the technology companies who have made all this possible– the Googles and the Apples and others– but I think it will rebalance as the artists start to stake their claim and say, “I created this content. I deserve at least a little bit of a share of the revenue.”
Richard Ortner: Same thing is true. I think music has moved further in that direction than either dance or theater, where the creators still try to hold onto the rights ferociously. But as Roger said, for dance, for theater, for classical music, the go-to location when you want to see something, when you want to hear something, is YouTube. So those rights conversations are already 15 years dead and gone. The question of how that portion of intellectual property, as opposed to performance, is monetized I think has yet to be sorted out.
Anita Walker: Richard Ortner from the Boston Conservatory and Roger Brown from Berklee, coming together to create an amazing vision of the world of music through higher education. You’re going to be leaders. We’re going to see a lot of things happening around this country and around the world as a result of what you’re doing. Two creative minds, out loud.
Roger Brown: Thank you for having us and thank you for all that you all do at Mass Cultural Council, because it’s an ecosystem and we all need each other to make it stronger and better.
Richard Ortner: Well said, Roger, and thanks, Anita.
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