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December 03, 2014

Rossi: Eastman prepares for ‘next era’ of music education

Jamal Rossi
“It’s up to us to educate students who will develop the next era of music so that they can be strong advocates and lead organizations,” says Jamal Rossi about his plans as Eastman School dean.

Jamal Rossi, who was invested as the as the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music at a ceremony in late October, knows that he is taking leadership of the school at a time of change in the music world.

“It has changed dramatically in the last quarter century, largely due to technology. The recording industry has been transformed to something very few people ever anticipated,” says Rossi, the school’s seventh dean. “Symphony orchestras, opera companies, and other organizations face unprecedented financial challenges. Music and musical styles continue to evolve, and the lines between genres continue to merge and dissolve—so what was once very clearly labeled ‘classical music’  today can combine elements of improvisation, jazz, and other styles of music,” Rossi says. “We need to make certain that Eastman students have the preparation and versatility to engage with many styles of music and opportunities.”

While Rossi says that his vision for Eastman involves continuing on the “trajectory of excellence that is the hallmark” of the school, he also wants to develop a curriculum that is adapted to the times. “As the music world continues to change, Eastman must prepare our students to be ready for careers and opportunities that we do not yet anticipate,” he says.

The best way to do that is still by focusing on “the highest level of musical excellence,” says Rossi. “We need to make certain that our students have opportunities to explore many facets of music and perform in multiple genres. And our goal is to elicit curiosity in our students and an awareness that a life in music is a lifelong career in learning. It is through their own curiosity and ambition that they will constantly learn and adapt to a changing music world.”

To fulfill that goal, members of the school are “having a conversation about what we do, why we do it, and how we can do it better,” Rossi says. Already under consideration are new degree programs in areas such as contemporary media composition and convergent artistry. There is also talk of extending offerings, and creating a degree, in music leadership, an extension of the arts leadership certificate that already exists. “It’s up to us to educate students who will develop the next era of music so that they can be strong advocates and lead organizations,” he says.

Among the most important challenges the school faces are financial ones. Rossi says one of his priorities is to increase scholarship support for recruiting and enrolling the best students—something he says is “increasingly competitive.” He also anticipates a significant turnover in faculty in the years ahead and seeks to increase the number of endowed professorships to assist in the recruitment, hiring, and retention of top faculty.

Rossi also points to work on facilities as an important area for action. “We have some spectacular facilities at Eastman—but they’re approaching 100 years old, so there is a good number of capital projects we need to undertake in the years ahead.” He oversaw the $47 million project to renovate Eastman Theatre and construct the Eastman East Wing between 2006 and 2010. Among the projects now on the horizon are renovations to Messinger Hall for the Eastman Community Music School and transformation of the parking lot opposite Eastman Theatre into a mixed-use facility similar to College Town.

Rossi has held music leadership positions since 1989 at three institutions: he was assistant and then associate dean of the School of Music at Ithaca College and was also dean of the School of Music at the University of South Carolina. “I have a very thorough understanding about the challenges and opportunities facing musicians, the music industry, and schools of music in higher education,” he says.

“I am passionate about music, teaching music to future generations of students, and the Eastman School of Music. I consider it a remarkable honor and privilege to be able to serve as the Messinger dean.”

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