University of Oklahoma

As we stand on the edge of the twenty-first century, schools of music face enormous challenges, both in the present and for the future. If we cannot today design the school of music in the year 2020, our role as music executives is to identify issues and develop tangible strategies to address them.

Surely the future is rooted in the p r on Music Education of 1963, which was conducted principally by musicologists, composers, and performers.

The Tanglewood Symposium brought together music educators and representatives of business, industry, and government, and it produced the Tanglewood Declaration, at that time the profession’s most important vision statement. The symposium and its resultant declaration were informed by the three monumental catalysts for change during the 1960s: school reform, civil rights, and technology.

In 1974, the National Commission on Instruction published The School Music Program: Description and Standards, which came as a recommendation from the Tanglewood Symposium. These standards were a prelude to the National Standards for Arts Education, written in response to the congressional mandate set forth in the Goals 2000 Act of 1994.

Vision 2020 emerged in 1999, some three decades after the Tanglewood Symposium, when the MENC and The Florida State University cosponsored the Housewright Symposium on the Future of Music Education.

So, with all of this serious discussion going on, along with the adaptation of national standards for arts education, it is time to ask ourselves several questions: Are we better off now than we were in the 1960s? Do we receive the federal and legislative support, both financial and moral, to implement these standards? Do we have the infrastructure within our legislative and educational institutions to support their implementation? Have we, in fact, adapted our curricula to meet the improvements suggested by the standards, not only for our students, but also for our teachers? How many of us actually see these standards as the way to true educational reform?

In order to get some perspective on the issues surrounding schools of music in 2020, I turned to my professional colleagues of the NAMESU group (National Association of Music Executives at State Universities). NAMESU is a group of fifty people, each representing the flagship institution of one of our fifty states, and we meet once a year to discuss the many challenging issues that face us all. Although we represent public institutions, the cross-section of experience from both the public and private sectors is impressive. I asked my NAMESU colleagues to respond to a survey posted on my Web site. The survey consists of questions in three categories:

Music and Culture: How does society support—or fail to support—music and music education? How should schools of music respond? The second category is curriculum: What should schools of music be teaching in 2020? And the third is technology: Can technology help solve the challenges we face?

Music and Culture

Let’s discuss music and culture first: Many of us remember the 1960s as a golden age of music education: not only was education in the post-World War II period a growth industry, but classical music was a real presence in our lives. The rise of FM radio and the 33 LP recording put classical music within easy reach, and the Columbia Record Club spread it to the masses. Leonard Bernstein embodied the musician as culture hero and promoted music through the growing medium of television. President Kennedy recognized the importance of the arts and invited musicians to the White House. Americans cheered when Van Cliburn showed the Russians that an American could play as well as anyone. As for schools of music, many of them were run by larger-than-life role models, along very structured lines, preparing musicians for specific lifetime careers as piano teachers, band directors, organists, and choir directors, to name a few.

Then, in the early 1970s, the oil cartel hijacked the economy and the country experienced double-digit inflation. Funding for music instruction in the public schools suddenly dried up. Economics generally began to drive everything, including schools of music, and not necessarily for the better.

But economics wasn’t the whole story. Popular music boomed, while classical music declined. If the number of elderly patrons at concerts today is any indication, we can expect further decline. It is interesting to note, though, that my NAMESU colleagues were fairly evenly divided on the subject: 48 percent expect classical art music to maintain its current audience share, while 44 percent expect it to decline. Perhaps more telling, only 4 percent expect the classical art music audience share to increase.

A more diverse society now cultivates a greater variety of music amid a constant stream of dizzying stimuli—new and unusual sounds, highly resolved interactive visual images, special effects in movies, portable technology, a kind of urgent call to the “higher, faster, louder.” Delivery of mass communications is increasingly by visual means, and the appetite for information has apparently surpassed that for music. Just last week, for example, the New York Times reported that National Public Radio stations, which were once the last refuge of jazz and classical music on the airwaves, have adjusted their programs on the basis of market research to replace music with programs of news and information.

Of course, if economics seemed to play a disproportionate role before 9/11, it will now do so even more as the nation seems poised once again on an era of massive deficits.

Amidst all of this, two-thirds of NAMESU survey respondents think the current period of music education is better than any previous period, citing

Not surprisingly, 100 percents of survey respondents expected the cost of music education to increase. In February 2000, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held a two-day investigative hearing on the rising cost of college tuition. Senator Joseph Lieberman said,

Over the past twenty years, tuition has more than doubled at both public and private schools. Yet, subsidies to schools, in the form of state appropriations, as well as aid to students and their families, have failed to keep pace.

He cited a report by the College Board to the effect that “four-year college tuitions increased an average of more than 110 percent over inflation” since the early 1980s, and he expressed concern that, as our higher education finance system relies increasingly on loans rather than grants, students are carrying tremendous debt burdens.

Not surprisingly, 78 percent of NAMESU respondents thought that government should do more to reestablish and directly fund public school arts education programs.

So a crucial question is, what strategies can schools of music follow to cope with economic pressure?

But there are many other more imaginative possibilities:

These are just a few tangible strategies that music executives and schools of music can follow to cope with the economic constraints under which we operate.


This may be the most difficult category of all. Music executives are increasingly faced with policies intended to restrict, not expand, the number of available hours in undergraduate curricula, and there is more and more information to teach! So, what we are really talking about is reimagining undergraduate and graduate curricula.

The following topics should be included in this discussion: theoretical and aural skills; concepts of composition, improvisation, and pedagogy; and what to leave in and what to leave out in the teaching of historical musicology and ethnomusicology. For students pursuing a professional career as a creative artist, educator, performer, or researcher, I would also include arts advocacy and grant-writing skills, individual entrepreneurship, understanding the business of music, and also understanding the issues surrounding sports medicine and the importance of healthy body mechanics and ergonomics.

It is interesting to note that 56 percent of NAMESU respondents thought that in 2020, schools of music will teach less classical art music and more popular music than now. When given a chance to include popular music in the curriculum, however, 78 percent included musical theatre, but only 11 percent included fusion, and a mere 7 percent favored including reggae, rap, and hip-hop; one mentioned country and western.


In her keynote address to the National Association of Schools of Music in 1996, speaking of the impact technology has had on contemporary music, the composer Libby Larsen said, “We now have, in addition to the core of classical music education, another core, and that is the core of produced sound [and that] we need to develop a rigorous course of study around this core.” There are many curricular and economic issues, though, surrounding the study of produced sound

and the implementation of technology in music instruction in general. Technology has undoubtedly increased productivity in the world at large, but the relatively high cost of implementation may offset immediate economies. As far as advancing learning is concerned, technology itself frequently has its own steep learning curves. Some technology, such as Finale and Sibelius notation software, MIDI technology, and the electronic setup that permits group piano instruction, has been widely adopted.

The University of Oklahoma, along with a handful of other institutions, has demonstrated that Intemet2 technology, in the form of a musical videoconference, is sufficiently advanced to permit individual applied instruction. This state-of-the-art experience is virtually indistinguishable from traditional one-on-one instruction, and it will become a powerful method of increasing access to—as well as addressing cost factors associated with—both applied and classroom teaching.

Online instruction will eventually bring more students and teachers within reach of one another as well. While all of these technologies are still in the experimental stages, we should assume that they will continue to advance and become more universally available.

Teachers and administrators may be less enthusiastic about new technology than one might think. Only 7 percent of survey respondents think that schools of music in 2020 should offer online complete degree programs in all areas, including performance. Only 15 percent favor teaching online complete degree programs in music history, theory, and education. They are somewhat more enthusiastic about non-degree programs online, with 52 percent favoring that, and 67 percent are for online general education programs. Apparently two-thirds are for online instruction as long as it isn’t about music! It may take a generational sea change in both teachers and music executives before technology is fully embraced as a means of teaching.

We live in challenging but also very stimulating times. Although 4 percent of respondents to my survey are pessimistic about prospects for schools of music in 2020 and 19 percent are unsure, a full 78 percent remain optimistic. Since change is inevitable, let’s resolve to embrace change and to manage it to our best and most visionary advantage.

In closing, I am reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s Charles Eliot Norton lectures, entitled “The Unanswered Question,” which he presented at Harvard University in 1976. In his conclusion, Bernstein summarized the many disparate musical languages that emerged during the twentieth century, and it occurs to me that the “push-pull” tension inherent in the creation of those new sounds of musical communication is relevant to the challenges facing music executives today as we imagine the school of music in the year 2020.

Bernstein wrote,

I believe that our deepest affective responses to these particular languages are innate ones.... And that all particular languages combine into always new idioms. And that ultimately these idioms can merge into a speech universal enough to be accessible to all mankind.... And that their expressive distinctions depend ultimately on the dignity and passion of the individual creative voice. And finally, because all these things are true, I believe that Ives’ “Unanswered Question” has an answer. I’m no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes.