Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Inadvertent Guest Blogger: Michael Drapkin

My cousin Michael Drapkin made a post and comment on Facebook, and I'm sharing it here. First the post:
My heart goes out to the concert going public in Minnesota - the real losers in this conflict. Not the administration or orchestra musicians. I don't really care about right or wrong; it doesn't matter...the orchestra doesn't exist for the benefit of the musicians or the board: they exist SOLELY for the people that attend concerts.

Our government and tax laws allow organizations like this to collect tax-deductible donations, operate without paying taxes and run tax-free endowments in order to benefit the PUBLIC TRUST. In this case, that means the people - the American Public - that are supposed to benefit from an orchestra that is granted these privileges. The fact that these two warring groups - the board and players - cannot get along in the sandbox is the sideshow.

The real problem? Music is huge in America, but classical music is dying; yet we still graduate 12 - 15,000 music performance majors from our colleges each year - at their annual juries they are made to play orchestral excerpts from pieces that they will never get to perform. Similarly, orchestras are not sustainable as playthings of the rich, as is their legacy, nor is their music of "dead white European men" a part of our culture. Labor and operating costs are TOO expensive for them to be run as a hobby by rich patrons, performing 200 year old music from Europe. Leonard Slatkin was quoted in Polyphonic as saying, "we know that our music only appeals to 2% of the concert going audience." Until you start addressing the 98% and stop the deluge of unemployable orchestra musicians, you'll continue to have debacles like Minnesota.

And the loser will be the public and the 98% that don't know why we need orchestras in the first place.
And then a later comment:
Maybe what we should make music school more like med school - difficult to get in and even harder to complete. The only hazing system similar to med school at Eastman was rushing for the insignificant Phi Mu Alpha fraternity. But seriously, my late father, by some miracle, was in the US Army as a drill sergeant and took and passed a medical aptitude test which sent him to Northwestern Medical School on a free ride courtesy of the US Government. He used to tell me that on his first day, all of the new students were in a big hall and they said, "take a look at the person on your right and left. One of you will be gone before the end of the year." The problem I observed at Eastman was that the hardest part of the school was just getting in! Once you were in, you could sail along and you'd still graduate, even if you did not fulfill the potential that got you there to begin with.

I think some of the challenges of med school are some enormously difficult classes - labs where you have to cut people open, anatomy, etc. It is a difficult and not particularly fun curriculum. Maybe that is the problem with music school - it is too much fun! You get to continue to take private lessons like before, and get an absurd number of credit hours for it, even though non-majors take the same lessons and only get one third of the credit. You get to play in ensembles - see? There's that word: "play." Playtime. Music school is fun, and it shouldn't be. You should be made to do unpleasant things like they do in Med School to prepare future doctors for the challenges ahead.

Wait! That's what I am proposing for the Drapkin Institute! Instead of cutting open bodies, my students will have to cut open business models and understand what make them tick. They're going to have to do a lot of things that not only go beyond their current understanding, but actually change the way they think. Things like learning that just because you practice hard and learn excerpts that you are not entitled to an orchestra job that earns you a living. Realizing that you need to find other ways to express your passion for music and finding out which of the other ways appeals to you. Gaining the business acumen to make this passion a reality, and when you fail you can't blame it on the executive director or the board of directors - YOU will be the chairman of the board with either only yourself to blame, or to cheer on with your own success.

I've been blessed to have had two trajectories in my life that both started when I was in grade school - business and music. I wish to gawd that there was a program of the type that we are proposing. Instead I had to learn it the hard way: empirically and on the job. So instead, we are planning on sharing that through our nascent institute.

We need not be defined by the narrow criteria for what constitutes success that was hammered into us in music school, that if you didn't get a job in a major orchestra you weren't successful. Indeed, I have been disgusted by the past ClarinetFests because they always deify industrial clarinet players that have no personality or individuality since they know that they wouldn't get hired if they did. We also have NO model for teaching leadership. In fact, we are hammered into learning followership: from the very first time we set foot in an ensemble, we are taught to follow. Who will be the leaders that arise from this constricted and outdated music school curriculum that is insidiously protected by NASM? No wonder why the orchestra world is a disaster: no individuality, no creative ideamaking, no leadership. Just a whole head of musicians recreating Nero fiddling obliviously as Rome burns and orchestras melt down like the Minnesota Orchestra. There are better ways - much better ways, and I intend to prove it.
I'm pretty sure that Michael's savvy with business is something that flourishes on part of the family genome that I don't share, but that's one reason I find his particular talents so intriguing. Chutzpah he has always had, and success too. Perhaps with the way things are going in the music profession it might be a good idea to try his ideas and see if they work.


Michael Drapkin said...

Honored and touched that you included my comments in your blog!


Cousin Michael

Stefan Kac said...

This is thought-provoking. I agree that music school is not nearly demanding enough, but oddly, the current way does not necessarily seem to equate to much fun being had. How many people do you know who speak fondly of their music school experiences? I know almost none.

When I arrived at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2000 (as a music major), I was appalled at the diversion of resources towards music majors and the exclusion of the rest of the student body from basic access to music classes and facilities. They're the ones that should be having the fun, not us.

It's good to see the letters NASM in print. I don't think we know enough about NASM. We need a muckraker to expose them and their nefarious ways. They would seem to have the most clout on so many major issues facing post-secondary music education, yet also, for obvious reasons, seem the least likely to take the lead in making overdue progressive reforms.

As for teaching business in music school...yuck. This movement is of a piece with the larger attack on the value of a broad education in favor of equipping every graduate with some employable skill that supposedly translates directly to X dollars being earned. I would like to know in what other fields students are sacrificing any amount of pre-professional training and/or horizon broadening general coursework for watered-down entrepreneurship courses? Don't you think adding business to the music school curriculum pretty clearly works against the notion of making that curriculum more musically demanding?