Welcome to the Innovative Conservatoire

ICON Seminar 6

Dartington Hall, UK


Musician in Society

Robert Schenck

Last updated August 19, 2013

The used marker and pointers at the bottom of the above images lay tired after their use, and matching colours on the board fade into one another. Perhaps it is all a remnant of some kind of seminar or classroom session. The writing is barely legible, and in a language foreign to the majority of observers. Are the photos above unfocussed, rhapsodic installations taken at a modern art museum?

Do they reflect our fuzzy and unclear picture of the “Musician in Society”? Are we afraid to approach this subject with focused vision and open minds, wary of what awaits us musicians in the future?

What will the music scene be like in 2050 when my grand-children, if societal and personal well-being allows, are at the zenith of their adulthood and, in the best of scenarios, also of their family lives and professional careers? 2050 is both far away and just around the corner.

Looking 40 years back instead, to 1970, doesn’t feel very difficult at my age, and I realize that “before we know it” 40 more years will have passed, and 2050 will be upon those who are still around to witness it. Though a great many drastic changes have taken place since 1970, our larger musical institutions are in fact still intact, although some of them barely surviving at the moment. Indeed, the music we members of the InnovativeConservatoire are lovers and practitioners of also survives and in certain contexts still flourishes.

But perhaps we are at a crucial moment right now when the rapid changes, having originated in the 20th century, are beginning to “take their toll”, if one chooses to see it that way.  What music schools, conservatoires, symphony orchestras, wind quintets, jazz trios and acoustical instruments will exist in 2050, and in what shapes and forms? Who will be interested in them?

What is happening right now with “our” forms of music-making as they encounter accelerating globalization, migration and technological advances (including all their positive effects and great potential), not to mention enormous population growth and environmental upheaval? Are we musicians clear about what we hope my grandchildren will be experiencing in the way of music when in their 40’s? Do we, without consciously reflecting, wish that “our” world of music will still be around for them? Can we picture and accept radical and unpredictable differences compared to today?

Above all, what do we want to do right now with our music under current circumstances? Are our music, our way of performing it and our audiences stagnant in relation to the above-mentioned rapidly changing contexts?

In January, 2009, I met a group of approximately ten young classical music students at the Academy. They were about to begin a special, three term chamber music track in which they had elected to participate. Before anything about the track was presented, I posed the following question to them: what characteristics will you need to be a successful and sought-after professional chamber musician upon completing your bachelor studies in one and a half years?

As they answered collectively, I abbreviated their comments on the white board in the order they came up. All the items under “attitudes” were brought up before any of the comments concerning their playing skills, just as they appear on the board, and translated below.

(on attitudes:)

  • an individual in ensemble context – up to the individuals – Quartet = 4 conductors
  • social skills – easy to cooperate with
  • open – to criticism within the ensemble
  • listen to each other
  • let everyone take space
  • present
  • dependability – on time, manage your tasks, be a role model
  • fond of chamber music
  • unique – and show it, the program, …, the concept, the theme,
  • individual charisma – within the ensemble
  • outspokenness – dare to communicate more than the written music
  • pride
  • dare to sell your “product”
  • integrity
  • stand up for your program

(on playing:)

  • the chamber music conversation
  • listening
  • know your part
  • technique
  • knowledge about the music
  • harmony studies
  • understanding – what, when, the (historical) times, why?
  • the score

Among other things, the ensuing three semesters of the chamber music track contained:

  • “Traditional” chamber music instruction
  • Interpretation seminars with theory teachers
  • Communication skills sessions with drama teachers
  • Practice in written reflection
  • Public concerts in various forms
  • A series of children’s concerts
  • Inspiration seminars with successful professionals

I believe the students left the program fairly well equipped for today’s professional requirements. Whether or not they will then be successful at making a living in today’s highly competitive and limited freelance market, and whether or not they will adapt to the markets of 2020 or 2030 (if that market does still exist), well… time will tell.



  1. Thank you Robert for this inspiration. In some ways it makes me think of the parallel between ‘reaching in to reach out’ and ‘looking back to look forward’. It was so inspiring to meet you on this seminar, and your attitude of openness, curiosity, presentness and good humour was a joy, a gift. I find it heartwarming, and telling, that your students brought up the issues related to attitudes first. This is encouraging, and surely reflects your teaching… while there are teachers like you around, then we’re surely in safe hands!