September, 2004

Robert Weirich

I saw a bumper sticker today that really rang true: "lf you are satisfied with the status quo, you haven't been paying attention."

While this may refer to the situation in which our nation finds itself, it also summarizes the attitude behind the current CMS Common Panel Topic:

Given three wishes, what would you change about your role as a musician/teacher in academe, in your community, and in American society?

Our question suggests that things could be better if there were some change. It also asks what you can do. At this point, it's not about what they, whoever they are, will do about it, nor even about what we will do. The question is directed to you and to you alone. To allow some room to dream big, it asks for wishes. As any child knows, a wish doesn't have to be immediately achievable, only intensely desired. Finally, the question implies that there are different levels that one can affect: the local one in your own academic setting, a slightly larger domain that takes in your town or city (community), and finally the more global sphere of that most amorphous of societies, our own. The inference here is that an active member of our profession has roles in each area; we may not be equally influential in all of them, but we are nevertheless musical citizens of each.

If all CMS members were to take a serious stab at answering those questions, we would have a lot to talk about! Even if you don't share your thoughts with your fellow members, it's the kind of question that can inspire personal transformation. It also reminds one of the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb—only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change.

Nevertheless, the question was asked of the membership to determine the future agenda of The College Music Society. What desires for change so excite and unite our members as to bring about a tidal wave of action for change? What can we do to make our schools, communities, and even American society a better place for music?

Attendees at the CMS regional meetings this spring have already had a go at a joint discussion. I've seen several chapter reports and, like the question itself, they have been free-wheeling, to say the least. One chapter president wrote:

"One of the interesting things about this year's common panel topic is the degree of interpretation it engendered in its respondents. Some members of the panel chose to think globally, while some chose to frame it in very individual terms. Those who applied it directly to themselves sounded more like they were responding to this question: how can I change the world to make my job better? These responses were less interesting to the group unless you shared the precise interest of the respondent. Thus, respondents who talked about making the world a better place for piano pedagogy or ethnomusicology were given less attention. This may be an unintended learning outcome of the topic itself. Perhaps the cause of serious music in our culture is deterred because we promcte our own interests rather than serious music in general."

Right on, Chapter President! The learning outcome was very much intended. While the question is directed to the individual, it requires the individual to think beyond self-interest. If discussion of the question becomes a gripe session (as it easily can), there will be no progress. We have to see beyond our petty, though painful, peeves. Other chapter reports listed Big Ideas aplenty. Some were local: Establish more in-depth study where music history is concerned. Rethink the current survey-standard and canon and offer a more probing study into select topics. Bridge the gap between history or theory or performance and composition." Some were more global: "Eradicate the cloistered state of academia by keeping a finger on the pulse of current societal standards and focus more on contemporary trends with an emphasis on creation rather than re-creation." There's a lot to chew on there, and at this stage of the discussion, far be it from me to discourage any voice. The point is to find out what excites you, the membership. The next part of the discussion centers on what we can do about it.

Discussion continues in San Francisco this fall at the Annual Meeting, to be held November 4 through 7. It promises to be one of the great CMS gatherings, and again I hope you will consider your duty as a CMS citizen to be part of it. In addition to a session on the Question, we are sponsoring the first-ever "CMS Outreach" in which some of the presenters accepted for the meeting will also present to local San Francisco audiences. Author and critic Tim Page will deliver the Trotter Lecture. As always, there will be a cornucopia of the most diverse presentations by members from all over the world. Please don't stay away because you have no funding from your university. Yes, it can cost some money, but if you return to work recharged, teeming with ideas, having found several new colleagues who are united with you in your desire for change, isn't it worth it?