Presser stuck in the past

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Ryan Donlin

 

With the dawning of this year, we have reached a milestone in Illinois Wesleyan University’s history. It marks the 150th year of IWU’s school of music being active. That is something remarkable when you consider that each person only experiences about four years of the school in their life, so the amount of people that have gone through the school since its inception is massive.

With the celebratory Gala concert approaching on the horizon under the direction of new conductor Lev Ivanov, I took some time to reflect on my time in the school of music thus far and the things I’ve noticed.

For an institution that has been around for a lot of the major changes that have gone on in the music world, you might expect it to be on the cutting edge in effort to keep up with the constant change that students are faced with nowadays. Unfortunately, I have found that a lot of what is taught is very much rooted in past idioms and in past styles of music chiefly, with a lot of contemporary music being left to the sidelines.

While I don’t dispute the value of making sure that students know the classics, it inhibits a student’s education to only teach the classics with little to no emphasis in contemporary mediums.

Professors like David Vayo and Joe Plazak, though, give me hope for the music department. They are both composition professors and Plazak also teaches theory. Having both of them in class, I always felt that they allowed enough time and attention towards the basics so that I developed a fundamental understanding of them, but past that, they allowed much more time to be spent on not only contemporary subjects, but the implementation of contemporary theory as well.

As I try to carve my place in the world as a music composition major, these contemporary strategies are more useful to me in making an impact on the world of music as it stands today. Without these individuals and a few others, the School of Music seems largely stuck in the past.

The student composition concerts, run and facilitated by Vayo are one of the most interesting events on the campus music scene, because you can come and see the music your classmates are making and releasing at that very moment in time. These concerts are important because it helps keep music moving forward, as new music is very important to the contemporary scene. Unfortunately, these concerts are often sparsely attended and the new music being performed doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Even the school’s equipment and instruments are in a rather ramshackle state. The organ in Westbrook auditorium barely works and a lot of the basses that I can rent have seen better days. I am not saying that the school of music is a bad place, although, because I have learned a great deal in my time here so far and I feel very fortunate for the instruments and services that are made readily available to me.

I think that, as we approach our 150th year of existence, some changes should be made so that the school is much more oriented towards preparing students for what is happening now, with a strong foundation in both the classics and the new innovations that come out every year.