Longy President Responds To Criticism
Last week ARTery published Karen Weintraub’s essay critiquing Longy School of Music’s decision to end its youth preparatory and continuing studies music lessons. Below Karen Zorn, president of the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, responds to that and other criticism. — Ed Siegel, WBUR.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Since announcing our decision to close our Preparatory and Continuing Studies program as of Aug. 31, we’ve received a great deal of passionate feedback, both positive and negative. It’s gratifying to see how strongly our community feels about music education for youth. That’s why I am confident that this decision will receive wide support once it is fully understood.
Several people have worked hard to portray the decision as an epic disaster that will crush the musical dreams of children throughout greater Cambridge. They have also accused us of abandoning our commitment to music education.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In ending our Preparatory and Continuing Studies program, we are actually redoubling our commitment to music education at both a local and national level. And we are placing a special focus on providing music education for children who lack the means to pay for it.
It’s clear that many who are disappointed with our decision know Longy only through their children’s involvement in the traditional, part-time private music lessons delivered through our Preparatory and Continuing Studies program – a program which is, for the most part, available only to families who can afford it.
But our Conservatory programs – larger by far in scope, revenue and resources required – are actually the heart of the school and the place where we are fulfilling the school’s mission to “prepare musicians to make a difference in the world.” By refocusing our limited resources on this critical mission, we feel we can have a much greater impact on the cause of music education locally and nationally.
We will have a positive impact nationally by giving the next generation of musicians and teachers the tools to use music as a powerful force for social change. Rather than focusing on training students to be elite musicians and teachers in a world with a dwindling number of jobs for these skills, we are training students both to be excellent musicians and to use their skills to make positive change in any number of ways. The more conservatory students we train, the greater the number of students they can reach in their own communities, particularly children in underserved communities who might never otherwise be able to experience music instruction.
And by giving our students teaching experiences in the greater Boston community, we are already having a positive impact locally. Longy students and faculty are involved in a wide array of teaching assistant positions, practicums, experiential education placements, and performances throughout the community. During this academic year, for example, our conservatory students will present more than 200 free concerts, and provide lessons at 20 teaching sites in greater Boston – including schools, hospitals, prisons, and senior centers. In addition, Longy has partnered with five local K-8 schools, providing in-depth collaboration between students and schools on the planning, implementation, and assessment of lessons.
The more conservatory students we train, the greater the number of students they can reach in their own communities, particularly children in underserved communities who might never otherwise be able to experience music instruction.
Clearly, there are two passionate perspectives at play in this discussion. For better or worse, the loudest voices in the past two weeks have come from well-intentioned parents who likely have the means to provide their children with access to top shelf, private music lessons delivered in Longy’s space. The 215 full-time students enrolled in our tuition-based, conservatory degree programs reacted much differently to the announcement. For years, aspiring conservatory musicians at Longy have been on the losing end of an intense competition for limited practice and instruction space within our two-building campus. We are now able to meet their needs and create space for a steadily growing conservatory student body.
While we appreciate and understand the emotions of those who want to keep the Preparatory and Continuing Studies program, it is important to address a number of myths that have sprung up as a result:
- The decision to end Preparatory and Continuing Studies has nothing to do with finances. Longy will, in fact, sacrifice some revenue in the short term. The program accounts for about a quarter of the school’s overall net revenue, yet occupies almost half of our reserved space.
- The vast majority of Preparatory and Continuing Studies students do not receive any scholarship aid. This is an expensive program for which we receive little philanthropic support; almost all of our students pay for private lessons at-cost, and we are confident that these students will be able to continue lessons and classes with instructors – in many cases, their current instructors – in alternate settings.
- This decision has nothing to do with our merger with Bard College in 2012. In fact, the need for more practice and teaching space for our conservatory program pre-dates Bard by many years.
We are proud of the quality of the experience offered by the Preparatory and Continuing Studies program, and truly appreciate the hard work of its faculty. However, the time has come for us to move music education beyond Harvard Square and into the community in a way that best reflects Longy’s forward-thinking vision of music as a force for social change.
Karen Zorn is president of the Longy School of Music of Bard College.