Illusion in the Ivory Tower

A topic that has been an increasing point of interest for me in my time at the university has been the relationship of music and academia. While music is popularly seen as a malleable and transcendent tool for creative exercise, academia seems to contradict this idea with its very nature. It is an establishment which seeks to infiltrate art forms and solidify their single components in order to break them down into easily processed chunks. This seems to be no fault of most professors, mind you, that I have had the pleasure of studying under. Rather, it is an inherent conflict of interests that these teachers often struggle with in trying to convey lessons to their students. How one could explain the rules and forms of jazz improvisational theory, or the compositional styles of romantic era composers while also instilling a love for raw emotionalism seems a battle to be always lost.

About 2 weeks ago a professor of performance asked my quartet which full time professors with tenure still actively played an instrument or composed. This question felt bizarre; obviously professors of music with such a high ranking would be master instrumentalists or composers. But the more we thought about it as a group, the more we realized that at best, these were activities of the past for most of these distinguished professors. They had essentially made the actual study of musical expression a hobby in pursuance of its objective observation. As I found myself unable to follow much of a productive practice routine this semester, due to my increasing study of recording technology, I have started to see the nature of academia as a structural vice meant to develop a rigid foundation (by squeezing away creative aspiration), but not much more. (In the case of specialized majors, such as mine, many students put off instrumentalism all together for the pursuit of their technical craft). In its support of virtuosic and intellectual competition it is meant to build students into a solid base from which to develop true artistry, but this only means that true personal study must occur directly after college. No matter what course is taken in the music industry, composition or performance must always be held at a high level of pursuance. Without it, we are simply bystanders on the sidelines of a great happening, with pencil and paper, scribbling notes to each other over theory and history.

Music and all great art is of what Cornel West calls “the funk …the raw stuff of life … that bluesmen and jazzmen do.” The sterile halls of the conservatory can only provide the background in work ethic and intellectualism needed to sift through this raw material of life. It must not become an illusion that is created as a way of putting off the risks of personal and public examination of ones creative spirit.



thanks for reading.