The Real Problem With Eurocentricity Is This…
Now don’t get me wrong here, there is some value in having aspects of the European tradition informing our musical identities. Life for nearly every musician would be much emptier without knowledge and appreciation for Bach, Beethoven, and the European masters of the past.
But by drilling into the heads of music students that Eurocentric repertoire, performance methodologies, musical history, and even career aspirations are the absolute best and nothing else really matters, music schools are severely limiting the education and thus future potential of a music student.
As the great American composer Lukas Foss once stated, “Tradition is a home we must love and forego.”
Keeping this wonderful and all too relevant quote in mind, here are five solutions music schools should seriously consider that would address the exceptionally pervasive problem of Eurocentricity in American conservatories and music programs.
5. Encourage Performance of American Composers
There still exists some degree of stigma when discussing the performance of American composers, especially modern ones.
There is a widely held idea that learning repertoire from modern American composers is less relevant to the overall career of a classical musician than learning repertoire from traditional European composers.
After all, in order to get into a school like Eastman or Juilliard as a violinist, as we noted earlier, one apparently does not need to know any repertoire by American composers – only repertoire by European ones.
However, thinking that only knowing European music is the key to musical success is a hugely limiting belief on many levels.
Sure, it might please the tastes of a more conservative, Eurocentric music teacher.
But if you look at the leading classical music performers of today, American music is actually becoming a desired staple of modern orchestra halls.
Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble have commissioned works by dozens of North American, Asian, and South American composers for performances with leading orchestras, including Peter Lieberson, Osvaldo Golijov, Bright Sheng, Evan Ziporyn, and more.
Joshua Bell has performed music by Edgar Meyer and John Corigliano, and regularly commissions other living American composers.
The New York Philharmonic has introduced a regular concert series called CONTACT! in which only music of modern composers, including American ones, are performed.
Most importantly, many lucrative gigs are readily available to classical musicians who have skills performing 20th and 21st century American music, such as in commercial studio sessions and in modern chamber ensembles.
By encouraging the music of American composers in our music schools, we are not only helping create a balance of European and American based musical repertoire in the education of tomorrow’s musicians, but we are also teaching students musical styles that, in 2014-2015, are all too relevant to today’s classical music.