The Rochester Review, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA
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Fulfilling Eastman's Dream

"The old paradigm for music students was that you practice hard, you win the gold medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition, there's a ticker-tape parade for you in New York City, you sign with Columbia Artists, and 10,000 people break down the door in Carnegie Hall to hear you.

"That's been the dream of too many artists," says Robert Freeman, director of the Eastman School of Music. "As a result, they have been inadequately educated to help solve the real problem--which is how to get music into the lives of more Americans."

Nowadays, music is everywhere and nowhere, he says. "One of the problems we have in American society is that we are surrounded by music. And that has played a major role in getting people accustomed to music as wallpaper, a terrible thing."

This isn't necessarily new, however. "George Eastman was asked by The New York Times in 1920, 'Why would you want to establish a school of music in Rochester?' And he said, 'Well, there are plenty of violinists in the country; we don't lack for that. But there's a lack of an educated audience for music. I hope that the graduates of my new school will go out and educate people, to make music a more visceral part of American life.'"

Coming upon that quote 10 years ago set Freeman to thinking about its implications for the curriculum, he says. "I have been working hard in the last decade to make educated audiences a more central focus of what we're doing here."

To achieve that goal, he has three strategies: increasing interdisciplinary work among faculty and students; furthering a series of programs called the Eastman Initiatives that aim to build audiences for classical music; and rethinking and expanding the definition of classical music itself.

"There are two completely different senses of the word 'classical,'" says Freeman. "The first is a label that normally covers everything from Bach to Stravinsky, with Beethoven and Brahms in between. But there's another, completely different notion of classical--as music that lasts, music that's important enough and fine enough to last more than just a month or a year."

To underscore the value of the second definition, Freeman pulls out the program guide from the Eastman Wind Ensemble's tour of Japan in 1992. He turns to the profiles of the young musicians--who, among other autobiographical tidbits, list favorite composers and performers ranging from Bach to VanHoesen (a professor emeritus at Eastman) to Cannonball Adderley to Madonna.

"The whole idea of putting 'good music' in this bin and all else in that bin has broken down," says Freeman. And, in many cases, rightly so. "Take the music of the time of Johannes Brahms: Some of it is magnificent and some of it mediocre. And the same thing is true of contemporary rock. A lot of it is trash, but not all of it." To probe the subject further, the school sponsored a symposium this fall on popular music--the first such forum in Eastman's history (see From Bach to Rock: Re-Orchestrating the Canon).

As for the goal of increasing interdisciplinary activity among faculty and students: More than a decade ago the University established "Bridging Fellowships" that give faculty valuable time and freedom to expand the normal boundaries of their own disciplines through fellowships providing for a semester of full-time study in any department other than their own, University-wide. Eastman faculty have been among the most enthusiastic participants in the program, exploring new fields at the River Campus and also at the Medical Center. And Freeman continues to strive to remove the barriers among disciplines by appointing "affiliate faculty"--those not only with strengths in their own areas but with additional interests and abilities as well.

The Eastman Initiatives project may represent the most ambitious effort of all. It emerged several years ago from the Commission on Teaching Music, made up of 25 faculty and staff members who looked at how to broaden the appeal of classical music. The group's findings are now being translated into initiatives that help students become teachers and nurturers of those educated audiences that George Eastman dreamed of. To that end, the much-lauded Ying Quartet--four young Eastman alumni who spent two highly successful years as musical evangelists in the tiny farming community of Jesup, Iowa, under an NEA grant--has just joined the faculty.

The prime message the Yings bring back to Rochester, says Freeman, is that music is far too important to be limited to the concert stage. "Music is for marching, for dancing, for making love, for eating, for putting babies to sleep, for worshipping God--music is for a lot of things, only one of which is sitting and listening."

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