Testimonial #25: Annie Gordon, Performing Musician

“To have a career based solely in performing is no longer sustainable or relevant in today’s society and economy. I am proposing a paradigm shift. I propose that every musician out there, particularly those who define themselves as performers, recast themselves as performers and educators. We all have the responsibility of producing music of the highest quality and fostering the appreciation of that art.”

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

The classical music world is facing a crisis. Audiences and general appreciation for our art are dwindling drastically, orchestras are folding left and right, and money is tight in the majority of musicians’ pockets. The average partron’s age is on the rise and will continue this way until, inevitably, it cannot rise any further. Many arts journalists and commentators are speculating on the “death” of the classical music audience (click here for related article that summarizes the situation).

This is old news. Many already have conceived and enacted innovative action plans, but most plans call for external, perhaps superficial, change. Freshen up the concert repertoire; change up concert venues; liven up performances; integrate alternate art forms; make the concert experience more accessible to the general public. These solutions, however, are only band-aid solutions that avoid the more pressing, fundamental change that is needed. Both the problem and the solution to the classical music conundrum lie deep-rooted in the very definition of what it means to be a “musician.”

The future attendance that we do not want in our concert halls

Today, the definition of musician is pigeonholed to encompass only one, highly specialized skill: performer, theorist, composer, historian. That’s the problem. As musicians, we are preventing our own art from flourishing because we do not value with equal intensity our roles as music educators and mentors. To have a career based solely in performing is no longer sustainable or relevant in today’s society and economy. I am proposing a paradigm shift. I propose that every musician out there, particularly those who define themselves as performers, recast themselves as performers and educators. We all have the responsibility of producing music of the highest quality and fostering the appreciation of that art.

The role of educator can take many forms — a tutor to private music students, an elementary school band director — but the definition is by no means limited to these roles. To my mind, a music educator spreads awareness and appreciation for classical music as an art form and is a “music mentor” to someone less knowledgeable about classical music.

This semester I am the only student enrolled in the course titled “Music in the Urban Schools.” This fact comes as no surprise, in light of the unfortunate fact that music education classes, and the education field in general, carry a stigma among performance degree students studying at conservatories. Careers in education are generally regarded as back-up plans, and music education classes are viewed as irrelevant to those in hot pursuit of a career in performance, composition, or theory. It is time to let go of the utterly backwards stigma against music education within the conservatory setting.

Now more than ever, with the pressing issues of failing orchestras and lack of societal interest in the “high” arts, music educators are our most valuable commodities. And our most important consumers are children. Children are the future audience members and supporters of our art, and yet they are incredibly malnourished in the arena of classical music. We wonder why our society is overly saturated with “popular” art forms. These are the artists who are baiting children with their convenient accessibility. Pop artists are lucky that their art is much more easily understood, but with a little TLC, ours could be as well.

Every individual’s spin on the role of a “music mentor” will and should be different. Some musicians do well teaching in a classroom setting, others in a private lesson setting. Both are fantastic and effective ways to reach out to young children, and foster awareness and appreciation of classical music. Yet others may not feel so comfortable in these roles, and we need to broaden our sense for what can be an opportunity to spread appreciation. The same goals can be accomplished outside of the teacher-student relationship, as well. I implore musicians with personality types less conducive to teaching to consider more personal music mentoring relationships with individuals.

The educator’s role for a musician should extend to all of those moments of contact with young people, and in fact with adults. So the ideal paradigm shift eliminates the mindset that outreach is a one-time requirement, an onerous contractual stipulation for a performance position. Yes, we see it as an obligation and not an opportunity to help our entire field — we see it as a graduation requirement for a conservatory, or a contract requirement for an orchestral musician.

The danger of course is that single events create little lasting impression and, at worst, bore children and dissuade them from taking an interest in the art. The most rewarding experiences come from long-term, well-developed mentor relationships. The key is creating a contagious atmosphere of love and respect for music. So outreach events should only be prelude to cultivating deeper, lasting contact. That more enduring relationship is accomplished through enthusiasm and recognition of one’s role as a source of stability, creativity, and artistic growth in students’ lives. No one person can change the world, and no one musician can change the trend of declining audiences and declining interest. However, if we want to change the state of the field, we must realize that this change first begins with ourselves and our mindset.

The Classical Musician’s Paradigm Shift appeared in The Muse Dialogue

The results are in! 2,939 Views and Counting!

Here are some of the comments about the pilot episode of First Online With Fran:

Nancy Martinez This video was very inspirational loved it great job Frances McGarry!!
Nancy Martinez My daughter is actually looking to get into performance arts and theater ! So this is really nice to hear
Al Rios Great job! Really love all this! Wow great concept and I am sooo happy you are spreading the word about the arts and how we have to stopping cutting it out!!! Loved it, looking forward to the next one!
Christine Fuchs. So far I absolutely LOVE the interview!! You are so relaxed and engaged. Love the editing, love the dialogue between you & Angelina. I feel like I’m in your living room. Post this repeatedly!!!
Cynthia Shaw Simonoff I saw it and loved it. Passed it on to a friend!
Marie Michalopoulos Warren. Congratulations. What a wonderful, organic interview!!! Wishing you success in your endeavor. Xo
Joanne Dorian • Really enjoy your interview style, Fran! It was wonderful to listen to Angelina’s enthusiasm and passion for the Cherry Lane Theatre, and what it has meant to her as founder and Artistic Director.
Rachel Towers I hope you make it. You have an amazing personality!
I salute you Fran =)
Christen Madrazo Jan 10, 9:26 pm Great interview! Thanks, Fran! ~Christen (Dramatic Adventure Theatre)

Will less art and music in the classroom really help students soar academically?

Will less art and music in the classroom really help students soar academically?
By Tyleah Hawkins
Journalism students at Howard University’s school of communications were deeply engaged in this year’s presidential campaign as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney battled for the White House. The students wrote widely about the candidates and the issues. Some traveled to Ohio, a key battleground state, and wrote about classmates who canvassed voters there as volunteers for the Obama campaign.
Others wrote about college students struggling to pay rising tuitions after their parents had lost jobs and homes to foreclosures. One student wrote about black Republicans who supported Romney and their status as double minorities – minorities within the Republican Party and among black voters who largely supported Obama. Throughout the year, students reported on the economic and social challenges that working people and poor communities were facing, issues that were being neglected by candidates singularly focused on the needs of the middle class.
And on Election Day, the students covered everything from problem-plagued polling stations to election night parties and spontaneous street festivities in front of the White House. The Root DC is publishing some of the students’ work, starting with the story below by Tyleah Hawkins, a sophomore, about the impact of funding cuts to public school arts programs in poor communities.
Schools across the country have slashed their arts programs in the wake of major funding cuts by state governments struggling to balance their budgets during the economic downturn.

(Oscar Perez/Associated Press) According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 95 percent of school-aged children are attending schools that have cut funding since the recession. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods that faced budget cuts were able to make up for their losses through private donations, while schools in impoverished neighborhoods have not.
As a result, schools in areas serving children from low-income families have reduced or completely cut their arts and music programs. These programs tend to be the first casualties of budget cuts in hard-pressed school districts already struggling to meet other demands of the academic curriculum, and they are rarely restored. Some school districts don’t have much meat left to cut from arts programs that had already been reduced to bare bones after repeated funding shortfalls over many years.
“The cuts that have been occurring for the past couple of decades … however, with this recession, many arts advocates such as myself do not have a clue when some programs will be brought back,” said Narric Rome, senior director of Federal Affairs and Arts Education at Americans for the Arts, a national organization that promotes the arts. “The entire system is very unstable; teachers are laid off one school year and brought back the next, or most times not brought back at all. If we are lucky enough to bring these programs back, they won’t be for a couple of years. Which means some students who are in school during these difficult economic times will completely miss out on the benefits of arts education.”
Although arts and music programs tend to be seen as less important than reading, math or science, research has shown that arts education is academically beneficial.
“Low-income students who had arts-rich experiences in high schools were more than three times as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students without those experiences. And the new study from the National Endowment reports that low-income high school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to graduate from high school than low-income students who earned many arts credits,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a report titled “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10.”
The arts have also proven to be a form of inspiration and expression for at-risk students, especially those in inner-city schools, and have been shown to improve their outlook on education.
According to a study titled “The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in High School Dropout Prevention,” by the Center for Music Research at Florida State University, “Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school. Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.”
Organizations such as ArtsEdSearch, an online clearinghouse that collects and summarizes high quality arts education research studies and analyzes their implications for educational policy and practice, have done private research about the issue. AEP Executive Director Sandra Ruppert said that the findings in the report point to the power of the arts to lead the way in helping every child realize success in schools
“This is especially true for underserved students who benefit most significantly from arts learning but are the least likely to receive a high-quality arts education,” Ruppert said.
Research has also shown that arts education helps improve standardized test scores. A study done by The College Board, a nonprofit association that works to make sure all students in the American educational system are college-ready, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 91 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1070 among students in arts educations compared to 979 for students without arts education.)
“Arts education gives children a place where they can express themselves and channel negative emotion into something positive. Students are well-rounded and required to be academically healthy in all subjects to perform. To be honest, what is learned in music education is truly immeasurable,” said Barbara Benglian, the 2006 Pennsylvania state teacher of the year. Benglian has been teaching at Upper Darby High school in Drexel Hill, Pa., for nearly 40 years. Her school was one of the many schools at risk of losing their arts programs due to low test scores. However, the arts programs at the school were saved after parents, students and alumni organized petitions and protests rallies. Even Upper Darby alumnus and actress Tina Fey jumped on board to help save the arts program. Other schools around the country are not as fortunate.
Several Howard University students who participated in music and arts education in grade school and high school speak fondly of the positive effect it has had on their lives.
“In elementary school, music sparked my interest and led me to playing the trumpet. It gave me the opportunity to travel to places I otherwise would not have gone, and most importantly, helped me become more culturally accepting by broadening my musical horizons,” said Joe Williams, a junior majoring in psychology. “Without music, I would not be as open as I am to learning about new people.”
Nate Shellton, a sophomore, chose to dedicate his life to the arts by majoring in acting.
“I think it’s absolutely outrageous that fine arts are the first to be cut in public schools,” he said. “It says a lot about what is important to education in America. Because math and science is what is being tested, tests that determine a school’s ranking is what is most important to the school, but the institutions’ ranking is not necessarily what’s in the best interest of the students as a whole person.”