The Value of Art
This September, ArtistYear 2015-16 kicked off with Orientation in Philadelphia. As part of the two-day Orientation, Curtis ArtistYear Fellows, along with leadership from ArtistYear, Aspen Institute, Curtis Institute of Music and local community partners participated in a special mini-seminar from the Aspen Institute Seminars entitled “National Service, the Arts, and the Good Society.” Using readings from Aristotle to Le Guin, Aspen Institute moderators Todd Breyfogle and Adam Erickson led the fellows and mentors in the Socratic method to explore and discuss conceptual questions fellows may grapple with throughout their Service Year. The experience from Orientation inspired the following piece.
What is the value of music? More specifically, what is the value of music to society? These were recurring questions during this year’s ArtistYear orientation and retreat on leadership, national service, the arts and the good society. Beyond the nuts and bolts of every day operation and expectations, we were introduced to these larger questions of purpose by the Aspen Institute to consider as we begin our year of service.
I wouldn’t be a Curtis ArtistYear fellow if I didn’t believe in the inherent value of classical music for everyone. However, although there is not a singular correct answer, the journey to finding my own answer to what the specific value of music to society is is imperative in determining my mission. My projects this year explore these questions in the context of my experience last year. My focus is learning how to ask a community what they want, and through discussion and communication with them, using my expertise to determine the best use of my artistry as a musician to accomplish these things. Assessing how I am successful and what will need a different tactic through informal questionnaires, journaling from my own perspective, and speaking with my community partners will be a huge part of my own learning and giving future fellows a head start when creating their programs.
Our ArtistYear orientation used art (mostly literature) as a way to explore these concepts and ideas, and for us to become a team of fellows and mentors. Our conversations went far beyond the readings themselves, and also opened us up to speak more honestly with each other, despite the fact that many of us had just met. That was the power of art for us that week and that is the power I want to unleash with classical music. The variety and length of conversations we had, and the frequency with which we returned to this question, showed me that although we all come from this tradition of classical music, we are not experts on how other communities could value it or what they would want from our art. The adaptability of classical music allows it to have different meanings to so many people, and my job this year is to figure out which works best for each community by learning how to ask them.
For the students I’ll work with this year that have formal musical training, they will use teamwork and leadership. With Play On, Philly, the students will help market a side-by-side chamber music performance they will play with me and other Curtis students. Not only is it invaluable to play music with more accomplished musicians, the interpersonal and leadership skills it takes to present a concert are tremendous and fun.
I want to show the people I’m working with lacking a traditional musical education what classical music can be for them. By commissioning composers to write pieces for each group, I want to expand our repertoire to speak beyond our usual audience with new perspectives and stories. I’m particularly excited about a project with ArtistYear fellow and composer Gabriella Smith, in which she will incorporate sounds or actual performances from people we’ll work with at ProjectHOME (we will work with our collaborators to determine exactly how they want to be involved). This is but a small step- hopefully eventually projects like this will create a whole new generation of composers with entirely different stories than we know. Just as playing music is equally about listening to your colleagues as playing your own part, building new audiences is not about convincing people they should like something; it’s about listening to them and offering something that could speak to them.
I also want to give those without a formal musical education an opportunity to create, so I have adjusted the composition curriculum I wrote last year for each different group. This involves writing music with non-traditional notation, performing their own works on found instruments, and hearing the works performed by Curtis students and me.
At the end of my first ArtistYear, I was most surprised by how much the students had taught me. There is huge freedom and joy in creation the students had that I often forget when practicing for perfection. Intonation and rhythm and the correct notes are important, but only as a tool to express like these students already could. Going into this year, I am most excited by the prospect of collaboration and the fresh perspective on classical music these communities can offer us as we make our art an essential piece of Philadelphia.