An Arts Education Symposium

MAXINE GREENE: One of the things that’s so amazing to me is that not enough people realize the frequencies they never heard. You know, like when you first hear John Cage, when you’re young? It’s such a fantastic thing to realize how deaf you were. It’s like being blind to [Herman] Melville, you know, that deafness that teachers don’t understand. So they can’t deal with it. It’s the same thing with dance. It seems to me so important for people to understand the relation between movement and time and space, you know, and they don’t see that either. It can only be done through dialogue between the artist and the scientist, you know, and I’m not too sure about the art educators, that’s what worries me.

POLLY KAHN: Right, but artists… The view of an artist as someone separate – I don’t think is essentially a healthy attitude towards the survival of the art form and I think people just have to realize that they are part of a community of people if they want people to value what they care about. They have to be willing to engage with people who are not yet convinced. And it is about finding multiple entry points, so I think frankly that we’re often our own worst enemy, by setting up this notion of different-ness and special-ness which is not the way in. Let people discover what is different and special about a musical experience – that’s where the special-ness lies. It is not in an individual who has chosen a different profession.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s so funny that you say this, because this is a quote that’s been buzzing in my head all week and I then passed this on to Richard, who’s read the book it’s from years before I have, but I was reading it last week to bone up on this thing. I just want to read it to everybody and maybe we can talk about it. It is from John Dewey’s Art As Experience which was written in1932. So, quite it’s from a while back, but it is still very relevant to this discussion.

“Industry has been mechanized and an artist cannot work mechanically for mass production. He is less integrated than formerly in the normal flow of social services. A peculiar aesthetic individualism results. Artists find it incumbent upon them to take themselves to their work as an isolated means of self-expression. In order not to cater to the trend of economic forces, they often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the point of eccentricity. Consequently, artistic products take on, to a still greater degree, the air of something independent and esoteric.”

HOLLIS HEADRICK: I think there have been a number of things that contribute to that. One of them is Western society, the sense that “this is art” and “this is life,” you know what I mean? So that this is the stage, this is music and we are the audience. Now if you go anywhere else in the world, or you look at different art forms, that doesn’t exist.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s an integral part of life.

POLLY KAHN: It is the culture.

HOLLIS HEADRICK: So, there’s that dichotomy, which is a societal one. And then if you look at, as Polly was saying, if you look at a school as the ultimate, or as one manifestation of a community-based organization, you have the same individuals and the same spectrum of interest in the arts: no interest in the arts and mild interest in the arts, across a group of teachers and administrators and parents, as you do in the outside world. So if you look at how much time is devoted to the arts and how many arts teachers there are, as compared to all the subjects, and then you draw from the micro to the macro, you see, well, here are the arts in our society, which is small, but then the rest of society is engaged in a much broader kinds of activity. They don’t define that work as the arts or being involved, and you have the same situation as long as the arts professionals want to segregate themselves and talk about how special and separate we are, and how you can’t understand what we do unless you’re one of us. And this is what the arts teachers get to, whether they’re music teachers, dance teachers or visual artists. Broadly speaking now, you can’t teach anything about the arts, you can’t understand it unless you’ve gone through these steps, then you build in this separateness which then perpetuates the whole problem.

MAXINE GREENE: This thing is soaked up into the celebrity culture. You know more than I do about the repertoire that has to stay the same because of the people who come to concerts. So you’ve got a bourgeois group that hides behind the fences and doesn’t want things to change, and you have kids who hear sounds which that group can’t even conceive. It’s like the Stockhausen thing. How do you breach all that? ‘Cause the money is in the bourgeoisie, you know, that supports that. And then you wonder, how do they feel, how do parents… if parents are involved, they’re very excited, aren’t they, about your program?

HOLLIS HEADRICK: Very much so.

MAXINE GREENE: It opens them up.

POLLY KAHN: And very often it’s the children that bring the parents to an investment.

RICHARD KESSLER: I’ll tell you an interesting story. I worked at a program with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. And it was one of these programs where, a curriculum of music, or a program curriculum was developed that was helping to supplement the regular curriculum about music, about aural vocabulary, about history, about learning about the musicians, musicians’ visits, teacher training. But one of the most, one of the best parts of the program was that Bobby McFerrin from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was going into the classrooms and Hugh Wolff was going into the classrooms, that the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was playing in the gymnasiums of these elementary schools, and a funder friend of mine who was funding this program at the Dayton-Hudson Corporation told me this story. He said he went to have his teeth cleaned. Dental hygienists always talk to you while they clean your teeth, while they work on your mouth.

HOLLIS HEADRICK: …And you try to reply.

RICHARD KESSLER: They start off in a conversation about “well, what do you do,” they asked this guy Mike, and he said: “Well, one of the things I do is fund these various programs, and one of the things we fund is the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra working in the schools.” And the dental hygienist said, “Well, I want to tell you a story. It’s very interesting because my husband and I had just bought tickets for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. We were going to hear Bobby conduct, and we were very excited about it. And lo and behold, my daughter came home from school the other day and she said to me: ‘You know, I just met Bobby McFerrin in the classroom.’” And Mike was telling this story to me and it became evident through the story that the perception that this woman had of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, just by her daughter coming in and saying “I met Bobby McFerrin in the classroom,” the entire perception she had of that organization changed right then and there. They cared and there was a connection. She saw them in a completely different light, before she went to the concert, before she heard Bobby, it was just simply learning that they were working with her child. No tickets, no fee, nothing, they were just there.