Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Upsetting circumstances with university music ensemble

This post is a comment on a situation at my university. Let me begin by saying that I'm not writing this post to bash the music discipline. Although at times it may seem that way, please don't misinterpret; I'd like to share with you my experience there over the past three-and-a-quarter years.

The few of you reading in Ottawa might think of Carleton's music program as 'one that doesn't focus on musical performance'. The university does, in fact, offer a bachelor of music degree which, by provincial standard, is supposed to have a performance component.

The main image problem in the past few years has been the lack of depth in student classical performers. However, the music discipline accepts, according to an article published in a Carleton magazine, players of any instrument from any style as long as the prospective student can find him/herself a teacher. Although there are and have been some excellent performers inside and outside of classical music, as of late the classical area has been stagnant.

As part of our degree, students must be part of an ensemble (open to both students and the general public) for a total of 8 semesters. Students are not limited to a particular ensemble, allowing you to change from semester to semester; and you can double-up ensembles to finish your requirements in half the time. These ensembles are worth a 0.0 credit, meaning that although one must register in them, they are not given an academic score but, rather, a pass/fail based solely on attendance. Up until this year, it was never explained how many rehearsals you could miss before you were failed.

Carleton works on a 5.0 credit-per-year system, where an average class is worth 0.5 credits per term. 1.0 credits costs a B.mus student roughly 1100 CAD. Therefore, a 0.0 credit costs a B.mus student nothing.

Carleton runs a contemporary music ensemble, a guitar ensemble, a community choir, an african drumming ensemble, jazz ensemble, a fusion ensemble, a 'baroque opera ensemble' (which includes an orchestra, though composed almost entirely of community members), a chamber music ensemble and until recently, an Indian music ensemble.

To be quite honest, every ensemble except the classical ones are worth going to see. I especially recommend a trip to see the african drumming ensemble, the most popular group to join amongst the B.mus students. Unfortunately, the discipline has decided that all ensemble concerts are pay-to-enter, a travesty in my opinion. Any one of you can go see your local university orchestra for free. In previous years the takings from Carleton concerts, if there was a charge at all, were to go to charity (the Haiti earthquake victims, for example), but now it goes straight to the discipline. Though I can understand in cases where a concert hall is required, I can't believe that charging admission to concerts held in the regular classroom has become necessary.

The ensemble which I have participated in the most, the chamber music ensemble, is scheduled for Friday nights, from 5:15 until (usually) 9pm, although each group only receives 30 minutes of coaching every 2 weeks. Often practices have run to 10pm. The ensemble holds a lot of emotional baggage for me as I've never been in a group that I've really felt made an effort in making music. As many members of the group are non-B.mus students, and those that are in the program do not receive any grade at the end of the semester, it's rare to see members take ownership. 

Clearly I'm tense over the whole situation. However, allow me to speculate a solution to all of this trouble. 

If the discipline were to make the ensembles a 0.25 credit, B.mus students would pay about $250 per semester (generating roughly $25,000 in revenue to the university) and would be graded in their participation. Non B.mus students/the community would be eliminated from the equation and there would be no need to charge entry to concerts which are already poorly attended to begin with. Although the university would be the direct recipients of the credit revenue, there would be no reason not to increase funding to the discipline as a result of this change. There could even be a budget for instrument tuning, maintenance and proper ensemble coaching.

Let's see what happens in the long run.

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