EMA Panel: The Future of Early Music in Higher Education



“What is the future of Early Music in higher education?” was a panel discussion hosted by Early Music America at its conference held during the 2011 Boston Early Music Festival.

The panel of guests included representatives from prominent early music programs on the university level.

What follows is a discussion that took place between the panelists and audience, including a number of academics, performers, and other members of the early music community. It is, by no means, intended to be a transcript of the event, but a distillation of the comments.


Angela Mariani (Harmonia and Texas Tech University)


Paul Leenhouts and Richard Sparks (University of North Texas)
Wendy Gillespie (Indiana University)
Martin Pearlman (Boston University)
Ben Sosland (Juilliard School)


Mariani: Welcomes all and introduces her dual role as moderator and professor. Points out student concerts at BEMF (with full audiences) as evidence of the future of early music in higher education. Introduces panelists and their roles in higher education (reads bios). Asks panelists to describe their programs.

Sosland: Graduate degree (only) in early music at Juilliard, performance oriented (2yr). Secondary studies optional.

Sparks: The only early music majors at UNT are harpsichordists. Otherwise, modern instrumentalists take secondary studies. A mix of grads and undergrads. Musicology program (Phd) with an emphasis in “collegium.”

Pearlman: Has joint residency with Boston Baroque at BU. Music is part of three fine arts schools. Historical Performance is a graduate-only program. Possibility for adding undergraduate studies in harpsichord or recorder (maybe in the near future). Varied courses, orchestra, etc. Secondary studies.

Gillespie: Early Music Institute…six full-time, six part-time faculty. Varied grad and undergrad degrees. Four major ensembles, fifty current majors, many secondaries.

Mariani: Is there growth in your program? Where do the students go?

Leenhouts: The level has been growing, but could still go somewhere…should concentrate on the audience, should find new (younger) audiences. Try thinking outside of the box, different venues. Don’t forget New Music as important repertoire.

Sosland: Juilliard is only two-years old. Has nearly two-dozen students. Will be starting a class, Music as entrepreneur. Also concerned about attracting audiences.

Gillespie: Some programs still use old-fashioned model, but EMI is stressing a broader way of thinking about a business model. How early music fit into other forms of music? (Second-class repertoire?) Older generation thinks about handing over the mantle.

Pearlman: Gives a Boston perspective (from an established culture). Boston Baroque audience overlaps with symphony and opera. Like Leenhouts, stresses the importance of new Music. BU’s growth involves the participation of non-majors (currently, 15 majors). BU’s early music majors tend to be more entrepreneurial because of the lack of standard/conventional channels.

Mariani: How does the addition of secondaries work? Is it successful?

Sosland: Can’t accommodate all interested in secondary studies (size of the program demands it). Interest from lots of violists and violinists.

Leenhouts: Musical requirements dictate growth…numbers should make sense and be appropriate to the repertoire. “I like to be selective.” Finds the UNT early music program (part of a modern department) to be a virtue.

Gillespie: Numbers are an issue at IU. Growth requires secondary student participation…wouldn’t have a baroque orchestra otherwise. Specialty depends on the nature/personality of the student. Real-world concerns are important.

Pearlman: Likes to attract the best modern players toward period instruments, whether or not they continue in historical performance. Likes to challenge the more talented modern player. Changes their perspective. Doesn’t believe in making a modern orchestra sound “baroque.”

Mariani: Is the participation of the [avocational musician] important in an academic environment?

Sosland: We don’t have an avenue outside of Juilliard’s evening program.

Sparks: We don’t either. There are other avenues for the amateur musician.

Gillespie: Including people at all levels is what EMA is about.

Maria Coldwell (EMA): Liberal arts colleges introduces students to early music—very important.

Gerald Hoekstra (St. Olaf): Very few students come in knowing anything about early music. Many of the ones who get involved with the early music ensembles are not necessarily music majors. Major in early music is not an option. Varied levels of interest.

Pearlman: Question for Hoekstra. Do incoming students have interest in early music because of exposure to recordings?

Hoekstra: Some, not many. Depends on their background. Not as many as “I would have hoped.” Most are interested the [renowned] choral program at St. Olaf. Most (non-majors).

Coldwell: Passionate amateurs who developed an interest in college are important for new audiences.

Sosland: That’s true to a certain extent, but the audience is much more varied than those exposed in college.

Gillespie: The director of the ensemble is also important for sustaining interest.

Mariani: Texas Tech has a large school with plenty of enthusiasm. The early music ensemble attracts students of many levels. It’s important to provide opportunities for all students.

Hoekstra: Early music concert audience on campus benefit from St. Olaf student culture being residential.

Jennifer Lane (UNT): Recalls James Caldwell, who thought that the sound of period instruments and voices a selling point. Also, there’s a big split between private and state programs, and the kinds of students at each and their career paths (i.e. future politicians).

Leenhouts: “We should support our top talent.” Early music needs its heroes. Educational systems are always behind (the times) of arts movements. Younger, talented musicians are not being supported at festivals (Europe and North America).

Question: We should provide early music students with the same opportunities as modern student (agents, etc.). How do you create a young artist programs for early musicians? What is the role of the ensemble for creating opportunities? Is it their responsibility?

Pearlman: I think it’s possible. Boston Baroque’s residency at BU has provided such an avenue, with noticeable success.

Coldwell: Many larger institutions have such training programs in a workshop context (Tafelmusik, American Bach Soloists). EMA young performer’s festival at BEMF (15 different schools) also provides such an initiative. (Outside of an academic setting.)

Mariani: Prompts continuation of thought.

Gillespie: The Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra will be holding a concerto competition this coming fall. Perhaps early music series could inititate young “hot shots” as warm-up acts.

Gene Murrow (GEMS): Suggests curricula: (1) basic business course, marketing, public speaking. Tap into business school. (2) Fashion course – laments the lack of attention to concert clothing/appearance.

Audience member offers advice: Concerts must appeal to all/many of the senses. Ideal for the memory.

Lyle Nordstrom (UNT, retired): Brings up issue of legitimacy in academia. It’s coming. How do we convince modern faculty of that legitimacy?

Sosland: The advocacy message needs to change. Instead of highlighting differences, go for demanding/sustaining equal standards.

Question: Where is early music going in ten years?

Leenhouts: These identity issues to be improved, but standards have to be met.

Lane: Research is important.

Sosland: The argument is made once you meet a standard.

Pearlman: There’s a line between performers and researchers. The more students that are interested, the more their faculty shift in opinion.

Leenhouts: Still dealing with early music stereotypes. Helps to have ensembles selected for festival performances.

Christoph Hammer (UNT): What is early music? A question with many answers. Encourage students to be curious about their interests and professional expectations.

Lee Talner (EMA): No one is talking about training teachers. Is that important?

Leenhouts: It’s difficult to set a standard. But stress to students what the expectations are.

Mariani: Let’s hear from young performers.

Question (Grad student from Peabody, early music voice): Has met resistance with modern department. Describes conflict between modern and historical performance department. How do you deal with the differences?

Sparks: UNT’s voice faculty is supportive of historical performance. I can’t give students everything, but I can immerse them in a few.

Pearlman: Curious students create interest.

Gillespie: Attitudes have changed at academic institutions, allowing students to explore early repertoire.

Question (recent PhD graduate): With the lack of jobs available, what is the point of graduate school? How I create opportunities for myself?

Sosland: It’s up to you to create your career in the absence of a culture. It’s not just about money.

Leenhouts: The market has changed, relying on tried and tested performers at the expense of younger musicians. Perseverance is a required quality. Create your own opportunities.

Pearlman: Many interesting players do both (modern and period instruments), are versatile.

Sosland: Specialization is vital, but versatility is important.

Pearlman: We often work with performers without specialist backgrounds.

Lane: Starting singers in early repertoire is important in modern programs. Early opera can be ideal for younger voices.

Hammer: We have to build bridges with modern faculty. Building connections can be appreciated. We strive to educate musicians over a broad range of abilities.

Panel ends.

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  • Jlz

    Thanks for this summary — I really appreciate it.

    I’m appalled that the student who had encountered resistance from modern teachers was so lightly dismissed by the panelists.