Kenneth Freed  

Learning Through Music - From Implementation To Improvement

Kenneth Freed
September 19, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

The second installment in this series of articles about how individual musicians can become vested in a program of ongoing in-school education initiatives is an article from Minnesota Orchestra violist, Kenneth Freed.

Kenneth describes how he found the Learning Through Music curriculum and assessment frameworks and how he has been able to effectively implement them to build a partnership between a Minneapolis based arts magnet school and the civic orchestra where he serves as music director. His article conveys a successful personal example of how an individual musician can transform frustration into self-determination resulting in the creation of a worthwhile by partnership between an educational institution and a performing arts organization.

- Drew McManus

At the June 2006 American Symphony Orchestra League conference, acclaimed opera director Peter Sellars threw down the gantlet to all of us in the symphonic music business when he noted that we need to be in schools with the same fervor and commitment that inspired the message of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: that we must break down boundaries in order that we can all be the brothers that we were created to be. Peter went on to say that orchestras were the elephants in the artistic ecology that frequently took up the most space and resources. Under the guise of transparent motives of service and sharing, he proposed that orchestras begin seeing their walls not as exclusionary, but as models of shared space. What he envisioned was music without borders, music with the power to heal, and music as social action.

This inspiring message begs the questions, “where do we start, how do we begin?” and “what are our goals?” Are we in the orchestral business only concerned with being in the “beauty business,” fiddling while Rome burns?

For me, exposing kids to classical music and creating the next generation of listeners and subscribers seems to be orchestras' paramount goal; as such, we need to knock down that self imposed wall Peter Sellers identified. I submit that Sellars’ ideas of shared space include reframing music as literacy and it must engage teachers and musicians as active participants; we share their goals, hopes and dreams for the children.

Our current attempts at outreach and/or exposure unfortunately speak to our inbred Victorian roots that belie our attempts to keep the unwashed masses at arms length. We bring them our music on our terms and we somehow believe they are improved for our efforts. But to quote the famous opossum, Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Orchestras labor mightily to reach children. Most school curricula painstakingly constructed by orchestra education departments end up in the trash bin and teachers' participation is limited to glorified babysitting. Professional development for educational endeavors is often perfunctory or non-existent, treating teachers as apostles who sing the praises of symphonic repertoire. For most orchestras, the Youth Concerts serve as infotainment, meant to expose children to music, but not really instilling anything of educational value.

I felt that my frustration was getting the better of me and I awoke from a dream where in a flash of light I saw the connection between a school, my orchestra, and a research institution that might begin to push the envelope of what an orchestra could accomplish, other than entertain. In 1999, I became music director of the Kenwood Symphony, a civic orchestra, and decided that I could use that organization to channel my frustration and reach the vision from my dream into positive change at a grass roots level.

To some extent, most orchestras share a heightened sense of idealism, coupled with an entrenched and static self-image. For the amateurs, the orchestra is their private coffee klatsch whereas our “beauty business” phenomenon is a typical self perception among professionals. Both groups get stuck in the insularity that is bred by self selection and high comfort levels. Why change when you don't have to? Let's face it; it's hard enough to make Beethoven sparkle night after night. I would argue, however, that both sets of musicians are searching for new meaning in their work, a reframing of personal and organizational goals.

After being at the helm of the Kenwood Symphony for a year or so, I knew that we would never play like the Minnesota Orchestra. But, I reasoned, we might become important in the lives of children. Opportunity knocked in the form of a challenge when the orchestra was kicked out of our residence; a Catholic Church that no longer had room in their rental schedule for our Monday evening rehearsals.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

well said.
zarzuela on September 22, 2019 at 11:39 AM

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