This past week, I spent 6 days as an artist ‘in residence’ at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). In addition to working with the students in the school of music and performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, I spent much of the week playing for and speaking to large groups of non-music majors, who as part of their general education curriculum take classes exposing them to music and other arts. I was truly impressed by the commitment UMass showed to giving everybody an opportunity to experience art.
In one week, I spoke to nearly 600 college students who, over the course of the year, were covering everything from traditional Sonata form in the Baroque and Classical periods to Indian Ragas. We talked about the ‘inner workings’ of the Mendelssohn Concerto, the Romantic period, the 20th century composers on my new album, dissonance, and even 12-tone music. Over the course of these classes, I probably heard and answered upwards of 150 questions, many of them great, well-thought-out points – some of them concepts about playing that even I myself will continue to think about.
More schools and universities need to learn from programs such as this. Music, much like all art, is a reflection of life. Better than anything, it can capture a sad, happy, angry, or even twisted moment in time and beautifully mirror it for all to see. Music can help us understand further, reflect and relive, and express what we feel compelled to say during the times when our words helplessly succumb to the rush of thoughts and emotions.
Music is important – and that’s putting it mildly. So why then is music (the arts) always one of the first things to get the boot when things get tough? Even though this is somewhat of a blanket generalization, I think most would find it hard to deny the diminishing regard for arts in education, particularly in public ones. The knee-jerk reaction to cut the arts as a stopgap budget measure, especially in the United States, is an abominable disservice to our future. The result is an entire generation with limited or no exposure to the arts. Access to quality arts education should be a right, not a vague possibility.
But the point of this is not to be negative; it is to raise awareness about what we are doing right and how we can continue to perpetuate it. There are a number of exemplary programs that aim to counter this downward trend, such as the El Sistema program, which aims to directly involve young children, often from low-income backgrounds, in an intense orchestral musical experience, as has been so successfully accomplished by the Sistema program in Venezuela. This includes, as I saw this week, schools such as UMass and its efforts to bring music to as many as possible.
Of course I’m not saying the goal should be to churn out leagues of musicians (that would mean too much competition for us!), but rather to simply provide everyone the opportunity to be exposed to this vital form of human expression; to allow us all to look at the musical “reflection” and see life staring us right back. Imagine if today we all sat down to listen to some Brahms, Beatles, and Louis Armstrong, just perhaps, we might learn a bit more about ourselves…and others too.Tweet
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