February 10, 2012
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we approach both education and work in our current culture. Though these are large, wide-ranging subjects that obviously exceed the scope of a short blog post, I would nonetheless like to offer a couple of related observations.
A little background: Over the course of the last week, I attended the excellent El Sistema inspired “Take a Stand” symposium hosted by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and produced in partnership by the L.A. Phil, the Longy School of Music and Bard College. I also participated as a chorister in the L.A. Phil’s monumental Mahler Project, specifically in the performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony under the baton of Maestro Gustavo Dudamel. For this performance, the L.A. Phil was joined by, among many others, the extraordinary Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.
We often speak in hopeful, utopian terms about art changing lives, but here in actual fact was an opportunity to both explore theories and to observe and participate in the actual outcomes of this familiar but radical notion. The Bolívars are of course a living testament to the successes of El Sistema in Venezuela, but more broadly, they allow us to see in concrete terms what is actually possible when the joy and discipline of musical training is integrated into the daily lives of students and their families.
To our often fractured and fragmented communities, music can be medicine. Though pedagogical specifics can and should vary from setting to setting, there are certain foundational points that I would suggest need to be considered (and in some cases, reconsidered). First and foremost: what is the purpose of musical training? Is it to produce the next concert hall superstar (leaving anyone who doesn’t achieve this position in the half light status of an “also ran”) or it to develop healthy, productive citizens (who might also turn out to be concert hall superstars)? I would opt for the latter. Broadening this out a bit, one could also ask what the point of education (including arts education) is generally. Is it to confer status and bolster financial potential (for a smaller and smaller portion of the population) or is it to create healthy, productive citizens capable of imparting direction and meaning to their own lives, whatever their particular talents? Again, I choose the latter.
So how to proceed? The many groups of skilled and dedicated individuals that came together to make the “Take a Stand” symposium inspiring and productive, and the over one thousand musicians (both professional and amateur) that joined together to create the epic performance of Mahler’s mighty 8th Symphony on Saturday evening point the way. We at LACO look forward to producing our next Meet the Music and Family Concerts later this month and we are exploring ways to build on our present programs in order to meet an enthusiastic and growing constituency. There is much to be done, but if we work together as a community that is committed to improving lives through music, there is much that can be done. Stay tuned.