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Bard Features

Education in Music and Engagement

Visiting Artist Matt Haimovitz, with student Sara Birnbaum, teaching a
master class in Longy’s Pickman Concert Hall
Photo courtesy of Longy School of Music of Bard College
In the Bardian

As part of the Experiential Education Program (EEP) at the Longy School of Music of Bard College, students interact with the local community—as do many Bard students through involvement with the College’s Center for Civic Engagement. One Longy student trio gave a series of performances at a neighborhood residential senior center. When the musicians came in for their second visit, an elderly man with a walker stood and shouted, “I wonder if they will they play the Mozart again?” After they did indeed reprise a section of the Mozart, a nurse told the trio that this was the first time the man had spoken a word in the six months he had been living at the center.

Judy Hill Bose, associate director of teacher education and educational initiatives, has overseen EEP since 2009. To her, the anecdote demonstrates the power of music and of the program itself, whose stated mission is “to make a difference in the world.” EEP is a mandatory, yearlong program for all conservatory students enrolled in the 97-year-old school based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which merged with Bard in spring 2012.

Longy has been making “a difference in the world” for almost a century. The school was founded by Boston Symphony member and renowned oboist Georges Longy, whose aim was to provide comprehensive training in musicianship and performance in the Paris Conservatory model. The curriculum emphasized individual attention to each student, as well as solfège and theory, as the basis of sound musical understanding—traditions still central to the school’s programs. Longy soon established itself as a small, intimate institution dedicated to high performance standards and rigorous musicianship training.

When Longy’s daughter, Renée Longy-Miquelle, took over, she added her father’s colleagues from the Boston Symphony to the faculty and established Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which teaches concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression using movement; it became an important component of the school’s curriculum. In 1937, Longy established a close relationship with Harvard and Radcliffe colleges. In the following decades, many of Harvard’s most talented music students studied with Longy’s distinguished faculty, including Walter Piston, E. Power Biggs, Sarah Caldwell, and Olga Averino. In the 1940s, the scholar, harpsichordist, and early music pioneer Erwin Bodky began his 20-year tenure teaching historical performance and soon established Longy as a center in the revival of Renaissance and Baroque music. There followed a “golden age” that began under organist, theorist, and director Melville Smith, with a small core of gifted conservatory students working as junior colleagues with their faculty mentors. Later in the 1940s, the Stradivarius String Quartet began its extended Longy residency, with violinist Wolfe Wolfinsohn and world-renowned violist Eugene Lehner, who coached chamber music at the school until his death in 1997.

Today, the three programs at Longy are the Conservatory, offering degree and diploma programs in 12 departments for undergraduate and graduate students; Continuing Studies, giving lessons, classes, and ensemble offerings to avocational and nondegree adult students; and Preparatory Studies, which offers lessons, classes, and ensembles to young people up to 18 years of age. EEP is a core part of the Conservatory Program, designed to challenge students to think more broadly about music and its role in society, their own career options, and the best use of their skills. It requires them, individually or in a group, to design and create a multisession music project for performance in various community venues.

“They’ll give talks, work with kids, and perform at community events, prisons, hospitals, colleges, shelters, and senior centers,” says Bose. “We prepare them for reality. It’s not a straight-ahead education course; it’s one that teaches them how to communicate.” Longy, says Bose, was the first U.S. school of music to offer such a program and make it mandatory. “How do we change students’ minds about what it means to be a musician?” she asks. “We are cultivating students who are as interested in interacting, sharing, and teaching as they are in performing.”

This belief in civic engagement helped pave the way for Longy’s merger with Bard, which has its own long and respected tradition in this area. It also acted as a kind of philosophical bridge to Bard and Longy’s alliance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, resulting in the January 2012 launch of a series of joint, innovative musical education initiatives: Take a Stand, which supports social change through music, inspired by the Venezuela-based El Sistema (The System) philosophy of empowering students and transforming communities through music; and an associated master of arts in teaching (MAT) in music, a 12-month Bard/Longy degree program housed at the L.A. Philharmonic’s premier El Sistema–inspired teaching site at HOLA (Heart of Los Angeles) site (www.take-a-stand.org).

Take a Stand provides a national platform of regular conferences and workshops for U.S. music programs and art educators that are pioneering their own El Sistema–influenced projects. It is also helping develop a pool of artistically accomplished, socially conscious music teachers through the new MAT degree, developed by Longy and based on the key principles of El Sistema, which has provided music lessons to more than one million underserved Venezuelan youth, changing lives and communities in the process. Among its former star pupils and perhaps its most notable success story is the amazingly gifted Gustavo Dudamel, the L.A. Philharmonic’s music director.

This bicoastal alliance harnesses the synergies of the L.A. Philharmonic’s existing Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), Bard’s experience in developing renowned academic and socially based training programs, and Longy’s role as a leader in progressive training for performing and teaching musicians. As Bard President Leon Botstein has pointed out, “The traditions of music education at Longy and the efforts of Bard in the reform of public education, combined with the artistic distinction and civic leadership of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will make a historic contribution to music education where it is needed most.” The goal, according to Karen Zorn, president of Longy, is to help highly skilled musicians become teachers who can be active participants in the needy communities where many will serve. “We want to recruit very high-level performers, conductors, and composers who have this inkling, something inside them that says they want to give back,” Zorn has said.

Another of Longy’s Bard-influenced initiatives is its new Pre-College Academy, offering students an early college experience akin to the innovative Bard High School Early Colleges. Beginning in January 2013, its core is the seminar “Perform. Write. Think.” Influenced by Bard’s signature Language and Thinking Program, it challenges students to explore their role in the community and the role of the musician in the larger world, examining questions such as “Who is my audience?” and “What impact can I have on society?”

The latter topic may well be on the minds of attendees on the afternoon of December 8, 2012, when Botstein is scheduled to give the keynote lecture at Discovery Day, a series of talks and discussions at Carnegie Hall. The event is aimed at exploring El Sistema, especially its influence on educational thinking in the Unites States. The lecture will be followed by a panel discussion with El Sistema founder José Antonio Abreu and a screening of the documentary Dudamel: Let the Children Play, in which Dudamel takes viewers on a journey around the world, introducing them to some of the young people experiencing the joy of music through El Sistema.

Being held just one month prior to the anticipated January 2013 enrollment of Bard/Longy MAT’s first class in Los Angeles, the Carnegie Hall event is sure to highlight how Bard and its partners are taking a stand for integration of civic engagement and musical education.

Read the fall 2012 issue of the Bardian:

Post Date: 12-30-2012