Juilliard Must Modernize, or It Will Disappear

Edited: March 9, 2021, 12:47 PM · https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/features/juilliard-modernize-classical-music-education-1134208/?fbclid=IwAR3pHeWoTDpvsWtPyaKWJs5sDen1a0TzKn5aFRFDBg5TLxdJw6aUxjsQQFY

Replies (59)

Edited: March 9, 2021, 8:01 AM · Never heard of Springsteen?

It's not Juilliard's fault this person does not have a broad cultural exposure. It's either her fault or her parents' fault or her violin teacher's fault. Rock, jazz, pop, bluegrass, and other genres must have been deliberately hidden from her to have arrived at that level of ignorance.

It doesn't need to be that way. Rachel Barton Pine is well known for being a metal-head. I suspect Ms. Pine just had more innate curiosity growing up, and parents who were open to letting her explore it. And maybe enough raw talent that she didn't need to spend 7 hours practicing every day to the exclusion of the rest of her childhood -- exclusion that is largely deliberate if you believe the legend of the "tiger mom."

Juilliard will continue to prepare students for the orchestral market as long as there are students, like the one mentioned in the first part of the article (I could not bear to read further), who are willing to take out behemoth loans to get that very education for their chance at a salaried job as a section player. If you don't want the "problem" to exist, don't finance it!

Open your eyes! Know what you're buying! If you want to drive a 1967 Pontiac GTO, don't buy a 2021 Dodge Caravan, no matter how many cup-holders the salesperson says it has. But if you want to join the local Jeep club and drive in the part of the Fourth-of-July Parade that has all the Jeeps, then, yeah, you need to buy a Jeep.

March 9, 2021, 9:10 AM · Less than 30% of students go on to work in the same field they studied in college. So is it a problem that the vast majority of those who study music at Juiliard don't go on to work in the music industry? Probably not.

Going to college and successfully mastering a skill is beneficial in many ways far beyond the actual subject matter. College graduates average far higher salaries and far lower unemployment rates than those who didn't attend college.

If classical music is a young adult's passion, there's no reason they shouldn't pursue that passion out of fear that they will not be able to make a living playing classical music.

Now the high cost of attending college is another issue all together!!

Edited: March 9, 2021, 11:00 AM · I don't think not knowing Springsteen is a SIN, or a sign that you are musically illiterate in the modern world. Just because you like Bruce and he is very famous does not mean you have to be living in a hole if you don't know him. Indeed I love it, I love that people whose profession is music doesn't know someone that is musically so famous. I love people that focus on the things they like and don't care about what's famous, what's on the radio, what's on the news, what's news today, etc, etc, etc...

Besides, there's something that really annoys me about the term "knowing people or things". In example:

- Mark, you are 21, do you know who is Mozart?
+ No.
- Wait what? Never heard of it?
+ No?
- OMG, where have you been living???
+ Earth, all my life.
- Does anybody in this class know who Mozart was?

and here goes the annoying part...

* Everybody except Mark: YEEEEEEEES! A musician! Mark you suck! Noob!
- Of course! Thank God... ok, so, somebody, name a piece
* Silence...
- No one?
* Silence
- OK, his name?
* Silence... (boy in the back) isn't Mozart his name?
- Okay... can somebody tell me where he was born, what country at least, or where he lived?
* Silence...
- When he was born, anybody please?
* Wasn't it nineteen... something? ... or...
- Sing a melody of his?
* Ta ta ta taaaaaan?

March 9, 2021, 10:56 AM · With all due respect, Jason, a degree in violin performance requires a lot more work than a degree in French or other humanities. The humanities are the degrees that account for the majority of people who end up pursuing careers in other fields. Moreover I believe that degrees in the humanities provide more transferable skills than in music (or in the sciences for that matter). You learn how to learn in college. Violin students spend the vast majority of their time learning and fine tuning a set of specific, hard to learn manual skills.

Having said that: I don't like the pessimistic tone of the article either nor the attempt to blame Juilliard for the author's astounding ignorance (not only is Springsteen a big animal in music, he has made himself an important animal in politics as well. The number of Americans who have not heard of him must be very low indeed).

A big part of the problem that the article describes is not new. Classical music has been dying ever since I was a boy. Yet it is still around. And while music as a career is now even more competitive than ever it has always been competitive. Many many young people (many more women than men back then) who studied violin and graduated perfectly well had to be content with teaching little children the beginnings of their craft. (BTW the complete absence of any mention of the teaching career path is another weird thing about the article--in addition to ignorance about Brude Springsteen). Don't get me wrong: Teaching is important and is a good career choice and is not all that easy either. But most people who study music dream of being a soloist, then scale back their dream to an orchestra job, then end up not being able to make that happen. It is hard to stomach.

March 9, 2021, 10:56 AM · Easy, Paul N:

Symphony number 1, symphony number 2, symphony number 3.... ;-)

This article sounds like it was written by a very earnest, sheltered Mormon kid that just made it to the big city - I guess the lecture is fine for other sheltered Mormon kids, but it's just bizarre for people that grew with a tv or a radio.

I took literature classes in college, and we didn't read, say Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, or Tom Clancy books in order to understand popular fiction. That didn't stop anyone from reading whatever they wanted in their free time.

I can't imagine how someone becomes a Bruce Springsteen fan while living outside of New Jersey - My buddy once had a live Springsteen show playing at his house, and the man was screaming at the top of his lungs for 3 hours - I was amazed that he didn't lose his voice or energy, even if I don't care for the music.

My parents were classical musicians, and didn't play me music outside of classical, but me and my brothers managed to get into jazz, rock, rap and other genres pretty easily.

What I do agree with is that a music school really should try and train musicians to play less "four square" in the context of other genres, so that they really are equipped to play stuff like jazz, folk or pop. Whenever I hear pop arrangements for string quartet, they sound unbearably stilted, because they don't tend to have the technical skills for playing "in the pocket" because of the way classical music and counting tends to be structured - These are important learned skills. It's not the fault of the music they are playing, but it's a big pet peeve of mine - I'm not saying there aren't SQs out there that can't do it, but it takes work to speak a different language without your native accent.

March 9, 2021, 12:26 PM · At the end of the subject article (if you bothered to read that far) you will read that the author "is a violinist and writer based in Manhattan. She has performed on the motion picture soundtracks to Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars, as well as The Greatest Showman, and Joker."


March 9, 2021, 1:54 PM · Well gol-dang it, if the writer is a New York gig musician who has performed once or twice in a backup role for Bruce Springsteen, what higher level of violin playing could there possibly be? LOL
March 9, 2021, 2:07 PM · David, in terms of hourly wage, probably not much!

Enjoying Bruce Springsteen is one thing -- having never heard of him is another. But that's what happens when you're not allowed to have sleepovers.

Edited: March 9, 2021, 2:57 PM · You all are revealing your age. She graduated from Juilliard in 2013. Someone who was born around 1990 and hadn't heard of Springsteen? It's not that unusual except if they're from New Jersey. In the 2000s, he was already an old guy that dads with beer guts listened to. He was irrelevant to the mainstream tween, unless the kid was a rock snob who was discovering the oldies.

Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, and Kanye West were bigger with her age demographic. I bet she had heard of them, but that wouldn't fit her story of classical musicians being out of touch.

March 9, 2021, 4:14 PM · Juilliard has some gas left in the tank. It’s goal of training highly skilled musicians is being met.

As a vocational institution it may be lacking, but that is not what art is about.

I personally think the tuition at educational institutions is vastly inflated. People are willing to pay those rates because of perceived advances in career, as opposed to the value of the knowledge. Like many pyramid schemes we find that a lot of people buy in only to find that the vocational part does not pan out.

March 9, 2021, 7:46 PM · I don't listen to rock music at all, but I have heard of every musician or group so far listed on this thread. I'm not sure I could name their biggest hits in every case, but at least I've heard of them.

Still Freda's point that the facts in the article were curated toward its broader thesis is well taken.

March 9, 2021, 9:21 PM · Bruce Springsteen is just an example. I think the main thing is that colleges are not preparing musicians to be versatile or even set them up for a career.
I was doing a lot of different things at college - world music, jazz etc. and my violin teacher was trying to encourage me to put all of those things aside and focus on the repertoire. My composition professor was pushing me and everyone else to compose avant-garde music the likes of which very few people want to hear. These professors have cosy secure jobs and often have never had to work in the real world.
March 10, 2021, 12:31 AM · I still think that it is the wrong perspectives be to look at this from the perspective of employment. It simply makes no sense to spend inordinate amounts of time as a child and adolescent practicing, going to conservatory and then getting a masters to earn 25k. The employment stats are abominable. Many college music departments are closing or being reduced on this account.

I suspect that people who decide to do this are dedicated to the art. I believe Juilliard will continue because of its contribution to the art rather than any benefit to employment. I believe their ability to dramatically increase the employability of their graduates on the basis of changing their curriculum to be more focused on pop music is minimal. In fact, more and more pop music uses fewer acoustic instruments.

March 10, 2021, 11:42 AM · @Albrecht, I studied classical guitar in college, but like most, chose a different career path afterwards. While I did spend countless hours refining my skills, I also learned a great many other lessons in class as well as life lessons outside of class. Time management, independence, dedication, work ethic, critical thought... While the subject matter itself did not relate to my current career, the experience and knowledge gained enabled me to achieve what I have.

I believe that as long as you are grooming your mind to continuously learn and refine how you learn best, you are enhancing your ability to achieve a greater level of success in your future. Obviously, studying a subject that relates directly to whatever career path you choose would be optimal for landing a job in that field right out of college, but given the stats, it's not a requirement.

As long as there are kids growing up with a passion for classical music and dance, Juiliard will live on. Keep in mind, they graduate after a 4-year course of study in their very early twenties with decades left to learn new skills and wear many different hats.

Edited: March 10, 2021, 12:52 PM · Being in a music program right now, I'd say many of the kids my age have a pretty good awareness of actual music trends. A couple of em are into prog rock and funk and all sorts of other genres. A few of them also like 20th century Russian music, which should be a theoretical impossibility. All in all, a fairly diverse group, although they all have great enthusiasm for classical music (obviously) and little interest in actually playing that other stuff.

Some of them are also totally sheltered. Usually it's the ones from rich families, which is an interesting observation.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with my school. I think music schools exist for a specific purpose, which is upholding the classical music performance tradition. If they're declining, I don't think they need to modernize; maybe it's just a dinosaur and it's time for it to go extinct. Certainly as someone with very broad musical interests, I don't feel the program helps me do anything except classical. I don't think the environment is even conducive to musical innovation. Try to imagine if R&B evolved out of a university! They'd have got caught up in the analysis and technicalities and there would be no room for the sort of random mutations that drive popular music.

March 10, 2021, 5:48 PM · As far as Springsteen is concerned, it would be better knowing Ella Fitzgerald or other jazz players.

As a viola maker, Ella Fitzgerald clarity, easy of emission, dynamic range, colours, texture and focus is all I want from my violas.

March 10, 2021, 6:29 PM · Perhaps, to keep Christopher happy, perhaps Juilliard could engage Roberts Balanas, Lyndsey Stirling, or Tessa Lark, or all three, to give some masterclasses? Or someone else I've forgotten? (I doubt that either Yo Yo Ma or Kennedy would be available).
March 10, 2021, 9:35 PM · Lindsey Stirling could probably give a music business masterclass!!
I don't think they should have a Bruce Springsteen unit or something, that seems ridiculous, but it's more the attitude. I haven't attended Julliard and was at music college in the 80's so I don't know what the current attitudes are. Certainly back in the 80's there was still this idea of focus on the violin repertoire to the exclusion of all other things. I could tell you a bunch of stories: a violinist who got chucked out for playing Irish music when I was at Guildhall and so on. My teacher told me, back in his day at the Royal College, how saxophones were banned for wind players. Teachers telling me that other styles would ruin my technique and so on. Talking to classical violinists at Guildhall and telling them I was there doing a jazz post-grad I would get the response, "fun!".
The focus of classical players becomes tunnel vision to the exclusion of what the world is doing around us. You can point to certain more popular artists and scoff but there is a lot of good music going on outside of the classical world. People just as dedicated and artistic. Usually there is just a misunderstanding of the musical criteria, context and aesthetic. I guess I was a high art snob for a while but having started late I had years of listening to mainly popular music that would still feel nostalgically meaningful to me even as a trained musician. So, I get it.
Surely it's important to be aware of what the world is listening to even if it's not your thing. Rather like watching the news to see what's happening in the world.
Also, a college needs to prepare people for employment.
Edited: March 12, 2021, 8:50 AM · Deleted duplicate post...
March 10, 2021, 10:21 PM · I'm not a music major, just an amateur, but from the article alone, I fail to see how exactly did Julliard failed to prepare people for employment.

The author, who studied at Julliard, who had never heard of Springsteen, got a job to work with Springsteen, and seemed to have completed the job alright. That sounds like she was well-prepared, just happening to not know a famous name.

If anything, music majors seem to be much better prepared than computer science majors. Programmers rarely know what they are doing the first month of their job.

Edited: March 11, 2021, 12:04 AM · The part about Julliard not surviving is obviously headline hyperbole and not worth contesting as such. At the very least it would survive as a degree printing institution on the basis of its supposed name alone.

Springsteen is also effectively hyperbole - a self-plug by the author for apparent relevance but no real musical significance. His reference actually diminishes the author's argument as it seems to value historical fame in a similar manner to which she objects to "outdated Beethoven".

That aside, I think her general points have validity, and especially in contrast to "outdated Beethoven" from the perspective of it having been and being done ad nauseum already and the need for new music. Beethoven didn't sit still in his own time, and wouldn't expect us to either. I hear Jazz in some of of his music, so I'm certainly inclined to believe that he would have incorporated more modern rhythmic elements in his work if was able to compose in the present. Which is not to say that he would have been churning out music along the lines of Springsteen.

Which is also not to say that the classical music of the late 20th century is remarkably good and better than ever. I think it declined markedly for several reasons including the wars, and that need not continue to be so in this century. However it won't change if we just keep on playing Beethoven.

Edited: March 11, 2021, 4:22 AM · Springsteen.
Yes, the real question was whether you have heard of him or not.
And that is age-dependent - as Frieda says, he is already old.
Quizzes always have a contemporary demographic - try playing original Trivial Pursuit nowadays!
I read the New Musical Express in the late 70s. That was when Springsteen was rising to fame in my eyes (in parallel with punk rock). He was played in our common room at school, but nowhere near as much as Lynyrd Skynyrd. I've never been a fan of his.
Very recently someone a little younger than me in our uke group insisted we play Dancing in the Dark. I watched this video. I see a pretty boy smiling and prancing self-consciously while singing a supposedly profound song. I find it slightly emetic and also think Springsteen is over-rated.

Juilliard will thrive - there are a lot of young Chinese and American musicians who can afford to study there - as long as Covid can be forgotten quickly, and money-grubbers don't decide virus research is more profitable than music.

March 11, 2021, 6:51 AM · I had no idea Beethoven had a sell by date. I am going to start sniffing my scores.
March 11, 2021, 9:08 AM · Buri, don't panic - It's only a sell by date, not a use by date! And third world countries will still accept some goods past their use by dates (e.g., USA and UK, Germany, etc.)
Edited: March 11, 2021, 11:55 AM · Well fermented composers are good for gut health.

[Edit: Brava, Stephen!]

March 11, 2021, 10:51 AM · But then they are decomposing.
March 11, 2021, 11:30 AM · You know, I just don't see the absence of multigenre music teaching, although I acknowledge that this might be because I live in the bubble of a big, multicultural city with a rich musical life that crosses genres.

Suzuki camps -- something of a bastion of tradition -- frequently now offer a fiddling elective, and often, an improv elective. (And check out "Supernova", multigenre recorded variants on the Suzuki music, which is getting popular in the Suzuki community for group lessons.)

My community music school -- and from what I've seen, the community music schools in many other cities -- offers not just classical, but instruction in many genres. Some of that instruction is specifically designed for classically-trained players (whether children, teens, or adults) who are crossing over into another genre. Indeed, of late, they've been showcasing faculty performances in other styles. (Most of them are gigging/teaching freelancers, and like many modern freelancers, are multigenre.)

Talk to a young freelancer and there's a good chance that they play in a band.

Edited: March 11, 2021, 12:05 PM · That's good to hear Lydia hear and yes, things are changing gradually. One thing I'll add about Suzuki and any other method involving a book is that you will never see copyrighted tunes in them. I think this is a problem because it is always going to be public domain music from the past as copyright lasts 75 years or so now.
As for Julliard or anywhere else teaching multi-genre classes, maybe that's not the point. Perhaps there should at least be, as an example, some instruction in being a studio musician - certain techniques and etiquettes etc. In the session music world, string players have a bad reputation, not just for inflexibility but also attitude. String sections reading the newspaper between takes, playing chess, not taking any interest... Maybe this is an old attitude but I've heard stories of people finding it very creatively off-putting or being unimpressed by attitudes. Professionalism sometimes means putting one's own tastes aside. I've seen this change for the better but I don't think colleges play much role in setting up students for certain real life situations.
March 11, 2021, 3:10 PM · "One thing I'll add about Suzuki and any other method involving a book is that you will never see copyrighted tunes in them."

Instead, Suzuki took a German beer-drinking tune and claimed authorship of it (Allegretto in Book 1).

Anyone who wants a book of Springsteen tunes (or Bryan Adams or Robbie Williams) can find one on Amazon, probably published by Hal Leonard or such.

March 11, 2021, 3:18 PM · Yeah yeah Paul. I'm going to personally see to it that all Beethoven music at Julliard is burnt and replaced with scores of Bruce Springsteen - obviously!!!
Edited: March 11, 2021, 3:50 PM · I don't see how an institution that already has plenty of applicants and interest around it (and that is all PURELY because of its classical music education) is going to die out? If Julliards already is successful based solely on that, why would they need to expand into other forms of music? The talented prodigies who are interested in classical music training are still present in droves, and there is no proof that they are dying out. So... why would Julliards die again? Because they don't feel the need to branch out into other forms of music in order to have mass appeal? Julliards was never aiming for mass appeal anyways. They want PRODIGIES and super hard workers, and that audience will already know about these schools through their teachers (who guide their talent) or self-conducted research (out of their passion for the art).

It's analogous to saying that Mexican restaurants are going to die out from California because they don't have a separate Starbucks stand in them (like in some grocery stores in California do)? What is the logic in that? Is it just me or does the author not clearly support her thesis at any point?

Edit: If a musical snob (as the author claims that there are many snobs present in Julliards) is going to Julliards and they find out that Julliards now requires students to learn lesser forms of music, wouldn't that actually hurt Julliards's holy reputation that they established?

Edited: March 11, 2021, 3:53 PM · I don't know exactly what the author is suggesting but I don't think it's so much the lack of study of other musics but more a problem of being blinkered to the world of music making outside of the classical repertoire. Personally I think strings education is too focussed on preparing somebody to be a soloist with a second prize being a career as an orchestral player - or bust... It's just not so imaginative career-wise or even artistically.
Edited: March 11, 2021, 4:26 PM · So Julliards should prepare violinists to play folk and pop gigs in bars, weddings, and the like for minimum wage?
Edited: March 11, 2021, 4:49 PM · Juilliard’s objective in the classical music division is to train classical musicians, and not the next Britney Spears. If you want to pursue non-classical music studies, you can go to Berkelee College of Music in Boston. Why should Juilliard be something it is not and compete with other schools in an area they don’t specialize in? Would you go to a Chinese restaurant and order pizza or lasagna? The author of the article didn’t illustrate why Bruce Springsteen is so important to know about other than the fact her husband thinks he’s great and that Springsteen is a famous and popular living musician. Should schools like Juilliard form their curriculums based on those arguably shallow principles?
March 11, 2021, 5:23 PM · One thing that the pandemic has brought home-- there will be the need for some literacy with on-line technology. Teaching, chamber music, business meetings, etc. I am guessing that most traditional conservatories didn't necessary nurture that kind of knowledge.
Edited: March 11, 2021, 7:28 PM · Mike Liu said:
"So Julliards should prepare violinists to play folk and pop gigs in bars, weddings, and the like for minimum wage?"
Mike, you should be aware that the world of music making is vast and both pop and classical are just fragments of a whole. I'm sure you are aware but just making a point. I think the weakness of many college trained classical musicians is that they cannot cannot come up with something of their own just as Beethoven did back in his day. We are artists and, making a living aside, can be creative both in the music we produce and in the contexts in which we make it happen. Making a living as a musician in any genre is another matter of course.
Nate, you mention Britney Spears. Of course it would be ludicrous to select a certain pop artist to be the focus of study in a music conservatory. However, you do know who Britney Spears is as an artist from the 90's just as Bruce Springsteen is an artist from the 80's (I'll admit my ignorance of Bruce Springsteen beyond 'Born in the Usa'!). To not know who these popular artists are, means you have lived under a musical rock, seeing as they are not even current. Isn't that what the author is saying? That highly trained classical musicians have little cultural awareness? It has nothing to do with selecting a genre or artist as valid (in one's own opinion) or not.
Edited: March 11, 2021, 8:18 PM · Most of my friends Christopher, who have a classical training at top conservatories, know who those popular artists are. It was thanks to my classical training (which I’m very grateful for) that enabled me to perform with Sting and to record on many Hollywood soundtracks for Paramount and Disney with Grammy Award winning composers, while sight reading the whole time!

For those that don’t follow pop culture, it’s their choice. But in my view, it’s not a classical music conservatory’s job to teach pop music or other forms of music (as wonderful as it can be). You can learn about all of that stuff on your own, especially now with all of this great digital media or you can go to another school like Berkelee which specializes in alternative styles.

With that said, there are areas I think conservatory college programs in the US can improve on. It’s well known, there’s little to no serious academic work in reading and writing, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, or the study of economics at many of these conservatories. So I do partially agree with the writer that a change to curriculum could be good, but it should be a change towards offering serious academic courses not watered down music courses.

March 11, 2021, 8:45 PM · Sorry, the second post of mine was a little driven by frustration. There are definitely more jobs in pop than just small gigs. I hate the idea that a lot of people have of classical music, that it's just old, obscure, and that pop music is what all modern music will be. These people criticize classical musicians for not knowing pop yet they themselves don't know anything outside of pop. I thought this conversation was perhaps going down that road for some reason.
Edited: March 11, 2021, 9:30 PM · hi Christopher,
If we are talking about improvisation, then the idea that the majority of classical musicians, or should I say classically trained musicians, are pretty much at sea. One of the worst examples I can remember is the marvellous violinist and musician yeah Hoody Menuhin trying to do a jam session with Stefan Grappelli. However, it is not actually true that we don’t or can’t come up with something new or original. In fact, every time I play a phrase in a back solo sonata or the Beethoven concerto I am expressing something from inside of me that is as unique and original as I am a unique human being. One can of course, criticise orchestras for suppressing individuality in the inInterests of the whole, but in this case we are striving to reproduce the uniqueness of Beethoven through the individual lens of a great conductor. This can never be described as something that occurs to the detriment of the development of music as an art because music does not actually follow a linear progression of development. Beethoven Beethoven will always be Beethoven and stand as a monument to human potential. Likewise, the greats of all other genres, If they wish to be respected and remembered will hath to create equal value and greatness within their own value system and creative mores.
Edited: March 12, 2021, 6:43 AM · I think this conversation has got too sidelined into pop and Bruce Springsteen! I personally just think that musicians should have a broad awareness of what the rest of the world is doing that's all - not just pop. World music was important to me - it wasn't always about what I was going to play but I do think that by looking at other approaches it puts into stark relief what you are doing yourself and highlights any assumptions you have about making music.
Nate. We are talking big generalizations here. Of course there are musicians who have heard of mainstream artists. That's great you got the opportunity to play for Sting. Imagine if you hadn't of heard of Sting though or thought his work was beneath you. You would have missed a good gig! I've met Sting myself and actually think he is a good artist - unique style, has quality musicians, is not so run of the mill... There are lots of fine musicians that are classified as 'pop': Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Sting even. I'm certain each one of them considered themselves serious artists. Imagine if you had been given the skills to arrange the string parts for that gig. Your fee and perhaps even your artistic satisfaction would be somewhat higher! Back in my day they didn't teach that kind of arrangement - they taught Bach harmony.
Edited: March 12, 2021, 8:51 AM · Duplicate...
Edited: March 11, 2021, 10:37 PM · It's unfair to criticize classical music conservatory teachers for doing their work. Many of the students won't necessarily be gainfully employed but that is not Juilliard's fault, but the way life in music is. You can do well, and some really do, but it is not a guarantee. It is also a problem with the smaller name schools.

Study your violin performance degree because nothing else will do. If you are looking for a more secure manner to make a living, go for something else. Even being a really great violinist won't ensure a lucrative career in music. In my opinion, music school degrees are worth it for those who have their heart into them, although they can also get quite expensive for most in the case of the big name schools.

(For what it's worth, there are also "music business" classes/seminars in many of these music schools.)

March 12, 2021, 8:56 AM · Stephen - I hear you. It's an interesting topic of discussion though. You mention classical players not being able to improvise. I've commented on this before but I think one of the main points is that string players are told that if you have consummate technique then you can turn your hand to anything. That's not really true - it doesn't give you the ability to improvise, authentically play another style or even play by ear necessarily. If you haven't worked on those things then no amount of technique is going to make them magically happen.
March 12, 2021, 12:09 PM · One could have a sort of linked classical-pop study modules: e.g., Samuel Coleridge Taylor linked with Taylor Swift; Heinrich Biber with Justin Bieber; the two Engelbert Humperdincks. etc.
Edited: March 12, 2021, 12:39 PM · I think classical players can improvise, but it is not often required for classical music itself, save for a few ornaments here and there, added notes, and cadenza playing. Telling an accomplished Juilliard student to "improvise something for me!" and expecting a jazz or charanga improvisation for someone who does not personally cultivate those styles (for instance) is not going to have the best results. But I bet the same players would be able to improvise in whatever genres they are familiar with (including classical). Great technical training is not the enemy of improvisation. Anti classical music schools thinking tends to go to extreme lengths to (mostly unsuccessfully) prove its point.

When a player needs to improvise in another style, he/she will do it, because of personal interest in those styles. They will seek to get better on their own. Juilliard is not responsible to "broaden" anyone musical pursuits beyond their intended scope. There are other schools for that.

In short, blame the student, not the school, for being musically contrived. Even within classical, it is up to each player to broaden his/her own repertoire beyond the required and hackneyed. A good teacher can only do so much.

Feel free to disagree. I am sure I won't convince anyone who already has his/her mind made up about these issues. Play what you love.

(My apologies for repeating much of what others had already stated-I realized it after posting. Will leave it unedited as a sort of "I agree with some of the posters above" statement.)

March 12, 2021, 2:41 PM · I would think that the ability to improvise would be dependent on one's familiarity with the music.
Edited: March 12, 2021, 3:15 PM · It's also a very different skill that involves inhibiting a lot of conscious control and monitoring in our brains. Classical musicians will have a leg up because they have the technique to know how to make a particular sound, but since classical musicians are training very conscious control, they don't have the skills built up in the other direction as a result of their training.

Someone with a PhD in English, say, who has a wide vocabulary, or an actor, who can bring a characterization to life from a script, does not necessarily have the particular skill to freestyle rap or to perform improv comedy.

March 12, 2021, 3:28 PM · Adalberto.
I'm not saying great technical training is the enemy of improvisation by any means and I'm certainly not anti classical music. Also, accomplished players of other styles are just as serious about their technical training. I am saying that great technical training alone will not make the skill (of improvisation for instance) appear. If you have always only read music to play then that is how your brain will make it's connection with the music. I've know plenty of big-band players who sight read like demons and can improvise just as well. They developed both skills side by side.

I agree it's not up to the college to teach every style. However, back in my day I did come across teachers who would discourage students from playing other styles (I even have an old violin teaching book that talks about how you will mix with unsavory characters if you play other styles of music - I must scan that and post it some time). The further back you go the more extreme this was. This may not be the case these days - I don't know. Maybe Julliard, for instance, is more open minded these days. Students should at the very least not be discouraged.
This conversation has focussed on pop as the author of the article was talking about knowledge of popular culture. However, I would suggest it more valuable is for a string player to hear a whole range of string playing from different cultures whether one is going to play those or not. It throws into perspective one's own culture and the style that has been chosen. The violin can be played so many different ways. For me as a young classical player it was a revelation hearing South Indian violin and how different that was - but on the same instrument I played. Sometimes it's just about perspective and being informed rather than living in a cave.

March 13, 2021, 10:34 AM · There was a book out 20 or more years ago called “The End of History” :) Cyclically, in the art world, the “End of Painting” is announced. I make pottery for a living, deeply rooted in the past and have heard prediction of its death repeated throughout the 40 years I’ve been doing it. As far as I can tell that community through Instagram and other strategies is doing better than ever. A decision to follow any path in the arts is a risky one.
I don’t think Juilliard has anything to worry about.
March 13, 2021, 11:33 AM · Wow, so many really thoughtful comments on here!

My two cents. First, I think it’s useful to remember that the issue of what Juilliard should or should not include in their curriculum is a mission and branding issue which belongs 100% to Juilliard and is not really ours to choose. But, since we’re debating it anyway, haha, I just want to observe that it seems to me that the real issue we are all dancing around is fundamentally about attitude--that classical disdain for lowly popular idioms. (Never mind the fact that virtually all of classical music was written in the popular idiom of its time and place, and things like improvisation were taught to music students and expected of players, just as they are in the popular idioms of our time. Just sayin’.)

We all know that snobbish whiff of elitism and superiority that comes with that Juilliard diploma. It took me years to shake it off. I like to joke that it took me years to forget everything I learned at Juilliard, but that’s not just a reference to my bow arm. And, of course, it makes for a better joke, but the truth is that I didn’t lose that Juilliard bow arm, I built on it.

But I did lose the attitude. And when I did, a door opened to the richness of the wider musical world. I understand the laser focus needed to compete in the classical world. I’ve lived in that bubble. But at what point does that musical purity become musical malnutrition?

I think the attitude issue is important and not just a matter of gossiping about our colleagues because it is a mindset which is at odds with the general zeitgeist of social equity. Classical music, for all its myriad virtues, sits in an awkward place in this moment of wokeness, something that Juilliard is well aware of, as are all the orchestras. Is it still OK to proudly trumpet being the elite in an elite field? Is it OK to be proud of that musical narrowness?

Juilliard is the epitome of exclusivity. That’s a big part of their brand and their mission. And to some degree, that attitude of elitism is cooked into the brand and mission of most orchestras. It will be interesting to see how they can balance that exclusivity with a culture struggling towards greater inclusivity.

March 13, 2021, 11:33 AM · I do think that most programs should offer a high-quality multigenre survey course as an elective. It's useful for all kinds of things if you're gigging, and there are some techniques used in nonclassical styles that are worth learning. Ditto a course of improvisation.

By the way, Tessa Lark does appear to routinely teach masterclasses at top conservatories.

Edited: March 13, 2021, 11:44 AM · I agree wholeheartedly with Tracy. Some ethnomusicology in the elite classical musical programs might open a few minds, but I won't be holding my breath.
Edited: March 13, 2021, 7:44 PM · The ironic thing in all this is that Juilliard and the other elite schools are in zero danger of disappearing because they are the most prestigious. It's like saying that Harvard, Princeton and Yale might disappear if they don't change what they're doing. Nonsense--the elite institutions are are on a fine footing. Look at their billions in endowments.

If any music schools are in danger of disappearing, it's all the marginal, mediocre ones that really shouldn't be training (or pretend to be training) professional musicians. Tiny colleges in the middle of nowhere don't need to be training professional musicians, and nor do most state schools. These are the schools that are perpetually in a crisis of student recruitment.

Once, I had an interview at some school in the south, and the previous violin teacher had apparently stopped recruiting when he got tenure. The chair asked me with a worried look, "what will you do to recruit students?" I've also heard of deans at lower-level schools who harass the studio teachers about their recruiting. Frankly, I'm glad I never ended up permanently in that never-ending rat race and having to recruit anyone with a pulse just to make some quota and save my own neck.

Juilliard? It will be just fine. The important thing, even for the elite students, is to have a realistic view of the job market.

I've played many, many gigs with, among others, Led Zeppelin, Donna Summer, Roger Miller, and many others. There's no special, esoteric knowledge or training required to play pop or country. The only needed skill is to be able to sight read and understand syncopation, and not get lost in the chart if there are some Da Capos or repeats or you are told to vamp while the artist does their patter. It's not rocket science. And you don't have to have heard of the artist, either. All you have to know is A. are you available? and B. are you willing to do the gig for whatever the fee is?

The real question for those gigs is, going forward, whether anyone will be hiring string players to do them, even if Juilliard give them a few token lessons in pop music. It may not matter.

There was a time when it was popular to hire lots of string players in each town. I never played with the Moody Blues, but I know many that did years ago. I also know many people that did studio work. But much of that work has dried up or gone abroad. Country used to use string sections, but it went out of style long ago.

March 13, 2021, 9:02 PM · Tracy - good comments and from a Julliard alumnus! Yes, it's about attitude.

Scott, those kind of gigs you played in a section don't need much adaptation because they are hiring classical musicians for that classical string section sound. Check out someone like Tracy though - that's a whole different ballgame!

Edited: March 14, 2021, 9:19 PM · I think Nate Robinson makes an excellent point that if Juilliard wants to improve in some way, more academic rigor is the better direction than remedial course work in non-classical-genre-appreciation.

But it strikes me that if Juilliard students want a course in consumer economics or Shakespeare, Columbia University is three miles away and will already have entire departments of faculty members who have made those subjects their bread and butter. In other words, Juilliard shouldn't be re-inventing the wheel of liberal education. They should strive instead to be even better at what they already do very well. Their competitors aren't sleeping.

March 17, 2021, 8:34 AM · Thx, Christopher!
Edited: March 17, 2021, 2:12 PM · I got to play with the Moody Blues! So fun! Except I was sad they/we didn't play "The Voice," my fave, at that concert.
March 17, 2021, 5:20 PM · Greetings,
just a small point I’ve found regarding this kind of stuff. The top music colleges in London (I only know about those firsthand) and in Japan make, in my opinion one extremely serious error. That is, they inundate the freshmen with orchestral rehearsals up the wazoo on the grounds that ‘you have to know the repertoire before you go into the profession and there isn’t much time.’
As a result, those middle level players who make up the bulk of the intake, or perhaps a superbly talented player whip, for some reason needs to take two months doing nothing but bow changes (or whatever) simply do not have enough practice time. That first year at college is the most fundamental time to get the chops in order, probably practicing at least five hours a day. On top of that chamber music should be compulsory something like three times a week. This combination should creat a player ideally suited to enter their second year ready to learn how professionals practice while being subjected to the rigors of an orchestral career.
I don’t know in depth what happens at Juilliard, but a ‘day in the life’ video I watched on youtube seemed to show a promising violinist running from one musical training session to another with very little in the way of violin practice getting done. I am sure it is great all round training but for a boring fart like me who would rather just play the violin (you know, what I went there for) I would rather go somewhere else if that is what I would be subjected to.

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