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The Eastman Initiatives--
and the Art of Music School Maintenance

"I'm impressed with the writings of Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila," says James Undercofler '67E, acting director of the Eastman School. "Pirsig says that if an organization or an individual remains static, it dies eventually, but if it is dynamic it lives.

"Here at Eastman, we could sit back and just be the Eastman School of Music --but that would be risky."

In favor of dynamism--and under his direction--the school has embarked on the Eastman Initiatives, a series of educational innovations that address the rapid changes taking place in the music world today. As audiences for jazz and classical music dwindle and jobs become harder to find, musicians must "create a new relationship with their audiences," in Undercofler's view. "I really hate the word 'entrepreneurial'--but we can create our own careers."

Last year, he and a 20-member steering committee--including faculty, administrators, and students -- studied what changes should be made to the curriculum. Recommendations have been made, and some early steps have been taken, in four areas:

"At this point, Eastman is so dynamic that the whole music world is holding its breath," says Undercofler. "We're improvising, in a sense, because we're making changes even as we're discussing them." To underscore his point, he mentions a talk he gave recently on the Eastman Initiatives at a conference of the National Association of Schools of Music. As if still in disbelief, he adds that there were 130 music-school deans in the audience.

"When I finished, the dean of one prominent school, a friend of mine, came up to me and said, 'We're all wondering why we didn't do this first.'

"I looked at him and answered, 'And we're wondering, why did we?' We're kind of on the hot seat."

Still, it's clear to Undercofler and his colleagues that somebody had to do it. And sooner, rather than later.

Harking back to the school's roots, he believes that George Eastman would approve of all that's going on. As far as Eastman's philosophy of music education was concerned, "he was all about building community."

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