“The traditional model for schools of music is outdated,” says Dr. Keller Coker of Western Oregon University (WOU) in Monmouth. “Music schools that attract the most talent and produce the next generation of musicians all recognize the need for change.”
Coker is talking about the study of Popular Music in higher institutions of learning. Popular music courses have been available at WOU for more than ten years – but in 2012 the university began to actually offer a degree in the subject. “As far as I can tell,” Dr. Coker says, “WOU is the only NASM* accredited school that offers a MM [Masters degree in Music] in popular music.”
Although students can still participate in what Coker calls, “traditional ensembles like Symphony orchestra, concert band, and early music ensemble… we recognized some time ago that a person should not be denied the opportunity to study music just because there musical interests lie outside of the Western European tradition.”
Classes that a student aiming for the popular music degree can take include, Music Since 1961, Songwriting and History of the Guitar.
Indications are that these students will fit in well with Oregon’s newest cultural offerings. Institutions like The Eugene Ballet offer increasingly “popular” programming; in October it presented a dance featuring the progressive rock group Pink Floyd’s 1973 “Dark Side of The Moon” at the Elsinore.
“Most ballet companies in the USA are looking to expand their audience appeal and encourage younger audience members to become fans of ballet,” according to Toni Pimble, Artistic Director of the Eugene Ballet. “By introducing ballets to music of 70’s rock bands Eugene Ballet is appealing to both the baby boomer generation and their children.”
Attendees at the Elsinore saw another contemporary ballet that night. Titled “Light Rain,” choreographed by Gerald Arpino. Pimble says, “Light Rain”… was created in the 70’s to very contemporary music of that era and become the signature piece of the Joffrey ballet.”
“Audience reaction to both “Light Rain” and “Dark Side of the Moon” has been very enthusiastic with baby boomer parents and their children attending.”
At WOU, Coker is making many of the same decisions. As series director of the Smith Fine Arts Series he, along with the Smith board of directors, has the responsibility of selecting performing arts events each year for mid-Willamette Valley audiences.
“Most people have a passion for music,” he says. “What varies is the turnout. Sadly, the audiences for classical music are shrinking around the country, but fortunately audiences for the high quality folk, rock, pop, and jazz are growing, or at least holding steady.”
To meet the ever-changing interests of new audiences, the Smith’s 2012-13 season includes only one classical offering.
The Oregon Symphony, (based in Portland, but presenting events in Salem also,) is making similar adjustments. Vice President of Communications Jim Fullan tells us that the Symphony’s orchestra members, “love all kinds of music, and our mission is to bring all kinds of music to our audience.” Non-traditional offerings in 2012 include the Indigo Girls, Natalie Merchant and Fiesta Navidad (a mariachi group) and 2013 will bring Roy Charles, Sonny Rollins and Dr. Seuss programs.
Popular music has expanded this year into two pops series, a “Saturday Mix” and a “Sunday mix” – consisting exclusively of popular music. These series are coordinated with close input from Oregon Symphony conductor Jeff Tyzic, (he’s also resident popular music director for the Seattle Symphony) who is considered one of the foremost popular music conductors of our time.
On Thanksgiving weekend the Oregon Symphony will present “Disney in Concert” in Salem. A multi-dimensional event, it will include singers, film clips and original art that pay homage to Disney memories.
Coker wants his WOU grads to be prepared to thrive in this new climate. He believes the new popular music degree is a step in the right direction.
“The change is fairly simple; music education needs to be more inclusive if it is going to continue to play the important role it has played in the lives of young people. As educators we need to seek value in the widest spectrum of musical genres, embrace and learn from contemporary musical culture, and strive to instruct and inspire the next generation of musicians.”
*National Association of Schools of Music