Memo to the Next President: On Supporting Music
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
October 20 marks the start of Family Weekend, a long-standing and much-publicized series of events that will showcase much of what Kenyon has to offer. Balm in Gilead, the drama department’s first mainstage production, will play on Friday and Saturday evenings. And, like most Family Weekend plays, it will almost certainly sell out. Yet the annual Symphonic Wind Ensemble concert, scheduled for that Saturday afternoon, will probably have minimal attendance by comparison, limited to die-hard family members and friends of the band.
This troubles me. Kenyon music faculty and students have worked just as hard to prepare a moving performance, but their efforts will go relatively unrecognized outside the departmental bubble. The dance and drama department, not to mention the illustrious English department, is advertised in admissions literature and on the Kenyon website’s photowall (Liberal Arts, anyone?), and many determined students in each of those divisions energetically submit to student-run publications or promote student-produced shows. On the other hand, individuals comprising the Kenyon College String Ensemble, the Percussion Ensemble, the Gamelan Ensemble — even the Community Choir and the Jazz Ensemble, as well as the previously mentioned Symphonic Winds — are left playing to relatively sparse auditoriums. “Doing it for the art” does not put butts in seats, nor does it encourage players.
The Kenyon musical family extends beyond the Chamber Singers or the ubiquitous a cappella culture. I would hope Kenyon’s next president recognizes this and actively supports our students — whether they are music majors or not — to foster a community of sustaining optimism and perhaps even “friendly” competition. Who wouldn’t want to practice their part if, when walking on the Brandi Recital Hall stage for their winter concert, they were greeted by an enthusiastic reception from a sizeable audience that included the new president? Our next president should encourage our students to remember that they produce meaningful and excellent art, that their performances are an integral part of the Kenyon artistic environment and that they matter.
This encouragement could take a number of forms: allocation of funds for more talent-based music scholarships, for example, would allow the department to recruit and capitalize on liberal arts students who are passionate about performance. Recent scholarship winners have enlivened the department, and all the applicants have been talented.
Perhaps there could be an increase in campus and national “advertising” for Kenyon ensembles. Before the Chamber Singers tour each spring, Doc Locke always tells us that the Admissions Office views our travels as integral to attracting prospective students and that our music continually shows the country the beauty that Kenyon students can produce. The Kenyon College Jazz Ensemble went on tour to New Orleans at the same time last year — where was the Admissions emphasis on that?
Finally, I hope that our next president will attend as many department performances as he or she can. Simply put, nothing tells a group that they hold value and that their art is appreciated than a packed house.
Granted, this sort of change does not simply occur from the top down, but if the cycle of “we don’t really matter,” which I’ve seen can be reversed by factors outside the department’s walls, then surely those inside them will step up to the plate. I’ve seen that happen, too, and it’s magical.
No one is asking the administration, faculty or student body to immediately become rabid for Mozart’s Requiem or swoon over a performance of Percy Grainger, but the students in this department must be shown that they are appreciated alongside our other artistic divisions and departments that have worked their way to prominence. The Kenyon music department is more than the weird blown glass sculpture in the lobby. I truly hope the next president realizes this and actively encourages the rest of the Kenyon community to experience, embrace and support our talented and dedicated faculty and students.
Patrick Joyal is a senior music major from Pittsburgh, Penn. A conducting student under Professors of Music Benjamin Locke and Dane Heuchemer, he currently student-conducts the Community Choir and Symphonic Wind Ensemble and is a member of the Kenyon College Chamber Singers. His email is email@example.com.