The article abstract below was authored by David Kjar, Allegra Montanari, and Kerry Thomas, 2019 recipients of a Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation and Research grant.
Empowering the Portfolio Musician: Innovative Chamber Music Pedagogy for a 21st-century Artist
David Kjar, Allegra Montanari and Kerry Thomas
Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University
The portfolio musician is not a 21st-century concept. Any history of western art music, for example, reveals numerous performers whose careers entailed multiple and various musical sources of income. 21st-century performers, in particular, are profoundly cognizant of the role conservatories play in their careers. Still, these emerging professionals also see themselves as multifaceted, socially conscious individuals rather than technicians on a singular path to artistic success. For the most part, however, this is not what traditional conservatory education imbibes in young artists today. Confronted by an oversaturated market and the immediacy of income required to pay exorbitant student loans (particularly in the United States), sole employment in an established organization is less viable—and perhaps even less desirable. Faced with the realities of competitive work environments and financial burdens, 21st-century emerging professionals often experience identity crises and receive little assistance from their respective conservatories. Yet, the crisis goes beyond that of professional identity, sinking deep into the psyche of the artist. For many musicians, professional failure is equivalent to personal failure. Further yet, performing musicians who do not feel accepted or see people who look, talk, or live similarly in classical musical institutions may view professional failure as a confirmation that this is an industry in which they do not belong. Furthermore, the dissonance created between performance-training and marketplace-needs is further emphasized by social movements progressing at a rate far beyond the adaptability of the conservatory. The demands for racial equity in response to U.S. events in the summer of 2020 prompted new calls for a radical rethinking of how musicians are educated in ways that are essential to 21st-century lives.
In response, classical musicians are holding institutions to their word regarding of-cited diversity, equity, and inclusion statements posted on their websites and other promotional materials. Loren Kajikawa, in his chapter on the legacies of white supremacy in U.S. schools and music departments, warns that “we can no longer tolerate a discipline that prioritizes aesthetic objects over the people who create, perform, and listen to them. As a discipline, music needs not only to become more diverse and inclusive but also to come out into the world and help to create spaces for everyone to play” (2019:171). In line with Kajikawa’s statements, new centers, committees, and faculty/staff positions focused on equity in higher education pedagogy are germinating throughout U.S. academia, indeed, all in the hope of producing more spaces for everyone. Engaging curricular diversity, interdisciplinarity, equity, and inclusion—with an astute eye on the realities of the marketplace—have become paramount for educating music students. But which traditions do we value as relevant today, and which keep us fettered to exercises that no longer support students to grow in ways that encourage their careers? Following this line of questioning, Stepniak and Sirotin implore us to see the classical music industry as more than a seat in an orchestra and reimagine a new kind of training (Stepniak and Sirotin 2020).
In this chapter, through interviews with faculty, staff, and students, we reveal how progressive chamber music training in Boston, Chicago, and New York music schools/programs can be reimagined as a vessel for 21st-century portfolio musician training. Realizing chamber music training as portfolio training can be manifested in various ways, many of them intertwined. First, educators can recognize the artistic and economic value of diverse careers as portfolio artists. Second, seeing community engagement as an integral part of one’s musicianship provides new musical paths for authentic civic engagement and, with those paths, greater opportunity for a clear sense of purpose. Third, when conservatories clear sonic space within their gated walls for cultural plurality, those walls, as well as the exclusive values they contain, can no longer remain invisible. Finally, when conservatories intentionally cultivate a sense of inter- and intrapersonal identity for their students, the potential for new avenues expands tenfold. Students become entrepreneurs, political leaders, and freethinking artists with direct connections to their communities. We have found that chamber music (or perhaps more accurately, chamber-musicking)—as a socio-political, economic, and artistic act—plays an integral role in this civic training, some of which is now taking place in select conservatories. The chapter will appear in early 2022 in The Chamber Musician in the Twenty-First Century (edited by Mine Dogantan-Dack, University of Cambridge), published by Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute in Basel.