Education and New American Music


Frank J. Oteri,
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard

Ten years ago I was a high school teacher in the New York City Public School System and since then, I have often described that experience as “my version of time in the peace corps.” It was simultaneously life affirming and extraordinarily frustrating. It was life affirming, because like few activities in today’s world, through teaching you can actually see first hand how you make a difference in others lives. Frustrating because you realize there is so much that needs to be done that no individual can ever accomplish.

People have said the classroom is a microcosm of society so many times that it has become a cliché. But like most clichés, the message rings true and is all too often ignored. Just as ignorance is blamed for many of the problems in the world today, the charge of ignorance is also frequently evoked to explain the problems facing the development of audience for classical music and new American music in particular. People looking at the crises facing the world today might counter that the cause of new American music is ultimately a low priority, but an appreciation and involvement in the music of our time and place can be an excellent way to channel a variety of important intellectual and social skills that can advance citizenship and a sense of purpose.

That is why we have decided to devote the December issue of NewMusicBox to education and new American music. We went to the home of Maxine Greene, one of the world’s most important proponents of arts in education, and were joined there by Hollis Headrick, Executive Director of the Center for Arts in Education, Polly Kahn, Director of Education for the New York Philharmonic, and Richard Kessler, Executive Director of the American Music Center to talk about how arts education can be better served by new American music and how new American music can be better served by arts education. We’ve asked Stefan Weisman to compile a “hyper-history” of the treatment of new American music in the nation’s top music conservatories. We’ve asked Jonathan Sheffer, Annie Gosfield, Elliott Sharp, Joshua Cody and Amy Rhodes how their educations effected their attitudes about music, and we’d like to know what you think about students learning to read and perform music in school.

Arts in education is also in the news this month with the release of an extensive report presents groundbreaking evidence of the impact of arts on learning. Sadly, however, the top news items this month are the deaths of three important American composers: Paul Bowles, Lester Bowie and Robert Linn. I count myself lucky to have met Paul Bowles in Tangier last year. To honor his memory, we have included the transcript of our brief meeting along with RealAudio samples of his timeless music. Of course, there are also RealAudio samples on all the recordings featured in this month’s SoundTracks. And, since it is December, we’d like to know what your favorite recordings of new American music were for this past year. But, of course, the music is ongoing, as you’ll see from our plethora of concert listings.