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Bienen School of Music Charts Future

Vision calls for new music institute, new brass festival and more international students

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April 30, 2012 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University has unveiled a new strategic plan that will guide the school’s efforts to enhance its position as one of the nation’s leading music institutions. The product of a collective undertaking that relied upon input from the Bienen School’s main constituencies, the plan articulates the school’s vision for the coming decade.

The far-reaching document includes initiatives that will strengthen the school’s curriculum, bolster recruiting, increase diversity, establish the school as a major presence in the world of new music and facilitate the realization of many other objectives.

“The completion of the Bienen School’s new strategic plan marks an important occasion because it signifies the culmination of a self-evaluation process that is unprecedented in its scope and degree of inclusiveness,” said Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Bienen School of Music.

“All of the Bienen School’s stakeholders -- faculty, students, staff, alumni and advisory board members -- contributed significantly to the development of the strategic plan. The inclusiveness of our planning process has, in turn, proven enormously beneficial because it ensured that the plan would address a broad range of substantive goals,” she continued. “The realization of these objectives will play a crucial role in elevating the school to a higher order of excellence.”

The plan came to fruition over an 18-month period that began in spring 2010 when the school conducted multiple forums, discussions, and surveys designed to identify the issues of greatest significance to its future. Following this initial information-gathering phase, two workgroups were established.

The first of these workgroups, Identity and Areas of Distinction, addressed how the Bienen School could build upon its existing strengths to enhance its identity. The second, Preparing the 21st -Century Artist-Scholar: Curriculum, Leadership and Musicianship, examined how the school could better prepare its students for success as 21st-century musicians. After meeting throughout the 2010-11 academic year, each committee assembled its analyses and recommendations into white papers that were completed last fall. These documents laid the foundation for the plan, which was finalized in December.

A key feature of the plan is its proposal to develop a groundbreaking Institute for New Music. Offering the Northwestern community and residents of the surrounding area an array of educational and cultural opportunities, the Institute will establish a physical, intellectual, and performance hub for new music on the Evanston campus.

Because it was conceived as a mechanism for uniting the Bienen School’s -- and the University’s -- creative and analytical communities, the Institute will sponsor a broad array of activities, including symposia, guest lectures, residencies by new music specialists and the commissioning of new works for the school’s performance ensembles. In keeping with its collaborative ethos, the Institute will pursue partnerships with units across the University and has already begun working with the Music Library, which houses an unrivaled collection of post-World War II printed music and related archival material.

Importantly, the Institute will help the Bienen School magnify its impact within and beyond Northwestern. This goal will be accomplished through the Institute’s novel exploration of the connections between contemporary “art” and “popular” music, generic categories that are commonly thought to be antithetically opposed.

By becoming the nation’s first university-based program to embrace the full spectrum of contemporary music, the Institute for New Music will not only eschew the artificial distinction between art and popular music, but it will also promote an unprecedented multidisciplinary dialogue that has the potential to catalyze new forms of discourse and novel modes of creativity. Such a project will likely draw interest from across the national new music community. Additionally, by engaging with the world of popular music, the Institute will expand the range of music the school addresses, enhance its ability to speak powerfully to new audiences, and increase attendance at its events.

A second major area addressed by the plan is the need for the school to respond to a rapidly changing economic and cultural landscape by placing greater emphasis on the areas of music technology, business and pedagogy. Because many Bienen School alumni increasingly find themselves working in fields where their outstanding musical training must be complemented by a range of additional skills and knowledge, the school will enhance its efforts to provide its students with the versatility their professional circumstances will likely demand. To accomplish this goal, the school has begun broadening its course offerings, strengthening existing classes and providing a range of other new training opportunities that will position them to succeed as musicians of the 21st century.