His passion is partnership. David Myers, the School of Music's new director, wants to "connect education with the rich world of music as it exists in real life."
by Mary Ann Feldman
David Myers, professor and Director of the School of Music. Photo by Kelly MacWilliams.
Introducing David Myers, Director of the School of Music
His passion is partnership: orchestras, schools, and communities, all collaborating as music educators. (He literally wrote the book on it—a seminal study funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.) And if David Myers's vision is populated by a wide cast of characters, it has an equally broad setting: world, rock and popular music, jazz, ethnic and classical. Cla's new School of Music director wants to "connect education with the rich world of music as it exists in real life." Distinguished music educator Mary Ann Feldman explores how Myers's vision might translate to reality, especially for classical music.
From his Ferguson Hall office David Myers commands a view of the Mississippi as broad as his vision for music in the 21st century. Fortunately for Minnesota, he was willing to leave the gentle climate of Georgia for the University's sometimes wind-whipped campus on the Mississippi—at the core of the Twin Cities thriving arts scene—to head the School of Music.
A thin, friendly man, Myers brings to this scene a compelling vision of new and stronger connections between the University and the abundant institutions that have earned Minnesota its identity as "State of the Arts." No surprise that Minnesota, richly endowed with choral and orchestral traditions, would be a draw, as was the opportunity to stage performances at the University's acoustically vibrant Ted Mann Concert Hall, a glamorous public space crowning a spectacular urban setting.
Arriving at the start of the 2008-09 academic year, he brought from his professorship at Georgia State University, and collaborations with organizations such as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, strong ideas about music education rooted in the relationships of music with society and with other art forms.
Myers's impressive accomplishments include founding Atlanta's Center for Educational Partnerships and its innovative "Sound Learning" enterprise, linking it with Georgia State University, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, community musicians, and inner-city schools. Spurred by the National Endowment for the Arts, his efforts resulted in a seminal publication examining the arts in today's challenging environment: Beyond Tradition: Partnerships Among Orchestras, Schools, and Communities.
"One of the reasons I'm glad to be here is that this artistic community provides real-world connections and experience for our students, the musicians of tomorrow," says Myers. "When I moved into higher education, I felt strongly that students preparing for a career needed a broader view of their place in society. How were they going to function in their communities?
"This artistic community provides real-world connections and experience for our students, the musicians of tomorrow."
I did everything I could to connect my students to the vitality that people in the real world, musicians or not, find in a musical life as performer, teacher, or listener."
That is a rubric he has observed from the earliest days of his career. "Long ago, when I first taught public school music, one of the first things I did was to write grants that brought professional musicians into the school. I knew that as a music teacher I myself could not give the classroom a sense of what musical life is in the real world—the richness, excitement, and value of it all. I even had a composer-in-residence in the middle school where I taught in Pennsylvania. Students not only heard the composer's words but also music he wrote for and with them. They encountered the creative process."
Time was, a University of Minnesota musical education benefited from a major on-campus creative process: residency of the renowned Minnesota Orchestra, known as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra during its 44 seasons at Northrop Auditorium (1930-1974). Generations of students had easy access to musical bonanzas: not only access to high-ranking teachers, but also rehearsals under master conductors like Eugene Ormandy and Antal Dorati, free tickets for Friday-night dates, and the coveted role of concert hall usher.
Today Myers is working to enlarge the University's musical circle to embrace Minnesota's super-charged music environment. He has lost no time in pursuing partnerships with students and people with musical lives—performers, educators, administrators—at the University and throughout Minnesota. In under six months, with few silent nights at Ted Mann Concert Hall, he has made meaningful connections with stellar arts and educational institutions, including such expert audience-developers as the Schubert Club, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and numerous other professional and community orchestras. Meanwhile, he is the American consultant on a new degree that may be dubbed "Master of Music for New Audiences and Innovative Practice," an idea pioneered by five European conservatories including London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
"Today's students," he observes, "come to campus with a wealth of musical interests far beyond what I had when I entered music school. They're not only interested in classical music, but world music—all that is outside the classical sphere, including rock, jazz, and ethnic music. Here is a rich foundation for our schools to build on as we prepare them—in most cases—to be fine classical musicians, our primary calling."
That means student recruitment requires not only a stellar performance faculty, but also experts from musicology and ethnomusicology, theory and composition, music therapy and more—diverse fields that give students a sense of the vital education available to them in a music school, and illumine possibilities awaiting them beside a place in a performance ensemble.
Classical CrisisHe faces challenges, of course, especially in a time of economic downturn, and certainly at the core of musical instruction, in the realm of classical music, where instruction takes place one-on-one, and on costly instruments.
The American concert hall audience has not grown appreciably since the pervasive rock beat of the 1950s established one-two-one-two as the throb of a global society. Moreover, the myriad attractions of cyberspace have emerged as mighty competitors for leisure time, hitting hard at an art form hailed as the language of human emotions, transcending words. Studies by the National Endowment for the Arts indicate that the percentage of concert attendance has not increased over the past two decades—partly because of intense competition for audiences. In this high-tech world of round-the-clock distraction and entertainment, classical music is at risk of continued marginalization.
Is there a crisis? Myers thinks that may be too strong a word. "There are literally hundreds of thousands of people leading active and vital musical lives. What I'm not so sure about is how we in the classical realm are connecting with audiences and inviting them to find meaning in the exploration of classical music. America's symphony orchestras have been doing wonderful things to engage the public, often beyond the music itself. Across the board, the arts are more conscious of audience needs."
In fact, in a study Myers conducted a few years ago, participants stressed their desire to understand how music works. He believes that in order to persuade a large science-and-business-oriented population that the arts play a crucial part in society, we must all become advocates, with musicians demystifying the arts from the stage as well as in the classroom. Connection is
"Fortunately, the arts have become entrepreneurial—in fact, we're fascinated with the word 'entrepreneurship,'" Myers says. "All musicians need this spirit in order to share their art with the public and get their feedback. How do people like to become engaged in our art form, what intrigues them? There is much to learn."
And much to teach: "Every musician—whatever his or her job—has to be a teacher, not only of an instrument but of the audience."
Spurring new ideas and forging connections in the name of a public university's commitment to education and the State's quality of life—these are goals that challenge the indomitable spirit of an idealistic spokesman for music, David Myers.
- Ph.D. from University of Michigan
- M.M. from Eastman School of Music
- B.S. from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania
Photo by Kelly MacWilliams
- Professor and associate director of the Georgia State University School of Music
- Accomplished organist
- Founded the Center for Educational Partnerships in Atlanta
- Conducted the research for the seminal report, Beyond Tradition: Partnerships Among Orchestras, Schools, and Communities, a project of the National Endowment for the Arts
"David Myers understands the human longing to speak and to hear music, and is committed to transcending whatever barriers prevent it from flowing freely through every part of the community."
—James A. Parente, Jr. Dean, College of Liberal Arts
"David Myers's leadership has tremendous potential for putting pieces together in this remarkable community. We'll all be better citizens if we figure out how to collaborate in the arts ecology of Minnesota."
—Steven Rosenstone University Vice President for Scholarly and Cultural Affairs