pupils are not taught pizzicato

con•serve (verb) – protect (something, esp. an environmentally or culturally important place or thing) from harm or destruction

several times in the past two weeks, i’ve been presented with the question of how to fix the conservatory. the first thing i say to myself after being broached with such a question is, “is it worth saving?”many call it a giant pyramid scheme while others refer to it as the thing we need most right now in the world. many think my view on the dilemma is pretty radical (destroy it all) but this stems from the idea that there is an inherent badness in the institution we have created.

the definition of conserve above sounds important and places at the heart of the conservatory some sort of validity: we are preserving our institution, that of art music with a capital A, from harm and or destruction. but in the recent past, we have become the destroyers. the western classical art music tradition is one so tied to the past that conservation has become an addiction. unlike our predecessors who lived in the music which we now revere, we shun the music of now. yes, it is being made, produced, consumed but not conserved. and we have no excuse. the likes of Ives and Cage are not newfangled — in many ways they’re severely outdated. it’s been a hundred years but, as in geologic time, that seems like a nanosecond.

the great museum of the conservatory conserves bad habits and outdated ideas. many are failing because they don’t live in the real (non-musical) world. so what do we do, do we tear it all down and start again? for me, as much as Bach shaped my life, what squarely placed me on my way was Berg. and composers will survive, they always do. Bach was lost to us for 150 years and then, as if it had been predicted, came back to us. there’s no need to “conserve”, we are not mother hens. the only ones who can destroy our art is us.

none of that answers my initial question and i don’t think there is an answer. as a product of this system, i am very grateful but i am also grateful for the fact that i refused to let myself be swallowed up by it. there is an inherent protection in teaching our students everything about our world. they will learn to take care of it, do what’s best for it. trust in that and let it be a living, breathing thing before the conservatory turns into a mausoleum.


sorry i’ve been away for so long. as you can guess, i was busy. but my thesis is finished and i am a new woman. if you’d like to read the document (Poetry of Women, History of Men: The Role of Women and Gender in Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia), you can find it here: http://drp.ly/P57bZ let me know if it was worth all of the work. 🙂

i’m not only back to blogging but back to writing prose as well. i’m writing a short story entitled “Memoirs” about a young girl who lives on the edge of reality and recounts her childhood through music. you can find it on my facebook: http://www.facebook.com/imanidmosley

more to come, folks!


2 thoughts on “pupils are not taught pizzicato

  1. Rose says:

    Hey Imani!

    I just wanted to say I love this post. I’m glad someone else notices and is concerned with two of the things that piss me off the most about music conservatories – the emphasis on “old masters” over new music (and the fact that so many performers are allowed, even encouraged, to feel like they can completely dismiss all music written in the last 75 years) and the ignorance of the fact that, as I like to put it, “you’re a human being first and a musician second,” and just because something doesn’t relate to music (or doesn’t seem to, at least) doesn’t mean it isn’t worth studying. Particularly the latter.

    I’ve heard the whole “it doesn’t relate to my career so I shouldn’t have to study it” argument from non-musicians, of course. There were kids in my high school who wanted to be doctors and didn’t understand why they had to take history classes. But those people still had some interests outside of biology & chemistry which they wanted to pursue. It’s only at music school have I heard people (in other words, of course) claim that they shouldn’t have to study ANYTHING that isn’t IMMEDIATELY relevant to their major. I’m not going to say these people are the majority at Peabody, but there’s enough of them that it’s kind of disturbing.

    That being said, I don’t think Peabody is responsible. They require more humanities classes than most conservatories, and I’m glad that they continue to ignore the requests of some of my fellow students to lessen that amount. I think part of it is the growing attitude that’s pervasive across academia that college is more about job-training than it is about getting an education. That being said, as I said before I think musicians do tend to espouse these views more than others.

    Which makes me wonder how classical musicians can expect the wider public to want to listen to their output, when they don’t make any attempt to engage with the world outside of music.

  2. Dan Colston says:

    Whoa, I felt like this entry was written just for me! I just had a lesson on pizzicato last week. I also recently (in one of my darker moods) referred to the conservatory education as a pyramid scheme. Are you reading my mind? Or maybe you heard it from someone else. Darn, I thought I was being all clever… Congrats on finishing the thesis!

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