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Extending Beyond the Classical Community

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The foundation of every musical culture is its community. As you glance over this journal, you are reading articles and columns written by people in your community, and your community is doing amazing things in the world through art. Your community is the place to create art together that is relevant, excellent, and selfless. However, this incredible artist community too often fails to acknowledge the importance of the broader community—which includes non-musicians as well as artists working outside of the classical world—and instead chooses to live in fear of rejection from and disapproval of the “important critics of classical arts,” these critics being our teachers, our peers, and even ourselves. This mentality, I believe, has helped the classical arts community lose relevance in an ever-changing society, because our attention is drawn inward toward proving our talents to each other, instead of sharing our talents with a wider audience.

KEENAN BOSWELL

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The foundation of every musical culture is its community. As you glance over this journal, you are reading articles and columns written by people in your community, and your community is doing amazing things in the world through art. Your community is the place to create art together that is relevant, excellent, and selfless. However, this incredible artist community too often fails to acknowledge the importance of the broader community—which includes non-musicians as well as artists working outside of the classical world—and instead chooses to live in fear of rejection from and disapproval of the “important critics of classical arts,” these critics being our teachers, our peers, and even ourselves. This mentality, I believe, has helped the classical arts community lose relevance in an ever-changing society, because our attention is drawn inward toward proving our talents to each other, instead of sharing our talents with a wider audience.

At Juilliard, we are taking part in building community by studying together, playing in ensembles together, and sharing the sometimes awkward elevator rides together. It’s easy to not see past the inward focus and miss the bigger picture. In the same breath that one takes to appreciate society, one has to make the decision to be a part of it if he or she wants to make a positive affect. This is where I have found that, in the midst of a community often viewed as full of closed and solitary people, the act of collaboration with those in other disciplines helps to tear down the walls and replace them with understanding and progress.   

As I have prepared to present a collaborative organ recital on April 10 at 8:30 p.m. in Paul Hall, I have had to considerthose with whom I am working. The preparation cannot be accomplished simply through hours spent in the organ studios. It involves writing e-mails, meeting together, getting to know one another, listening to the other person andhis or her needs, etc. For many of us, the things that I just mentioned are a lot harder to take part in than the usual multihour practice sessions. If we have made it through a degree at conservatory, then we have learned how to practice. We can’t thrive without that training. Just the same, we cannot thrive without social training.  

Social training must be obtained through repeated encounters and dealings with other musicians. Most of us are already familiar with this. But why do we go through it? To earn the approval of others so that we can get all the great gigs and the right names on our résumés? At the end of the day, what does that do for your artistic soul and how does that demonstrate your care for the artistic community and the broader community? Collaboration must be intentional in being relevant, excellent, and selfless. I have already touched on the selfless part, and the excellence part seems to be obvious to any conservatory student. But relevance comes through being aware of and actively interested in what is happening in the world beyond the confines of Juilliard and Lincoln Center.   

The artist is part of the nonartistic community whether he or she likes it or not, so it’s best to figure out what “language” that community speaks. What kinds of performances can most effectively inspire and energize audiences? What kinds of communication do people respond to? One can discover these things through regular interactions with other artists as well as with friends who work in other fields. Strike up a conversation with an artist you would normally never work with. I have had to push myself to do this, through regular meetings with a dancer friend in preparation for the collaborative concert. Dance and pipe organ? Why not? New Orleans jazz and pipe organ? Why not?

Besides fear of disapproval, what is stopping us from building up our community with more of these awesome encounters? Why not ask your friend working in finance to listen to a run through of your next recital? Ask him how it felt. He will probably say something more helpful than you could ever expect. We must remember that insight and wisdom often come from the most unlikely sources.

Juilliard’s incredible artistic culture was founded through hard work, both inside and outside the practice room. If we want to be viewed as relevant in the 21st century, we must look beyond ourselves and realize that all of us are already an essential part of the community. We have to choose to own that responsibility.

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