Breaking news, The Juilliard School is shrinking its ranks, promoting alternative skills for its students, and teaching more foreign musicians than ever!
At least, that was the news fully 18 years ago, back in 1993, when the Times published this special report on changes at Juilliard. Remember, the Internet wasn’t really in use back then, and the new skills they wanted students to learn bring forth tears of nostalgia. They arranged for more chamber ensembles to teach at Juilliard, with the intent of making musicians marketable for more than a solo or orchestral career. Today, string quartets are aging and disappearing as fewer concert series find chamber music profitable.
Also of note are some of the comments from Joe Polisi, who has been president of the school since 1984.
“America really is the center for advanced musical study in the world, so it’s ironic that primary and secondary schooling here is as weak as it is. Thirty years ago the music system in New York City was a vibrant and highly disciplined program. That system is now essentially gone, and it hasn’t been replaced by anything else. Where are the future audiences going to come from? Are they going to have an epiphany at age 47 that they need a subscription to the Philharmonic?”
The music education system in New York City that he’s referring to suffered from the economic crises of the 70s, and has never fully recovered. Many New York cultural institutions, Juilliard included, picked up some of the slack, launching education programs in under-served schools and otherwise trying to make concert halls accessible. Still, will a few outreach concerts or even a year or two of subsidized lessons make subscribers out of those under-served students? Not in the way a fully-formed music program does.
Other interesting tidbits include the fact that in 1993, 35 percent of Juilliard students were foreign born; 75 percent in the piano department. What could those numbers be now? This drop-off of American-born students seems to rise from the decline in music education programs nationwide, the article says.
But perhaps American musical life has always been indebted to foreigners. A man by the name of Arturo Toscanini comes to mind, along with Serge Koussevitsky, Charles Munch, Daniel Barenboim, and heck even Andrew Carnegie was foreign-born. The difference is that in earlier decades, newcomers to America were often here to stay, and their talent and ambition enriched musical life here. The latest crop at Juilliard can just as easily seek their fortunes in their home countries – China has long been seen as the place for future audiences. This trend might in fact nurture the future of classical music, but not necessarily in America.
Then again, plus ça change:
“I like to say that the Koreans think they’re Jewish,” said Herbert Stessin, the chairman of the piano department. “You see the same ethos, the same focus and concentration, and the mothers are the same pests.”
[One of us is Korean, by the way.]