Monday, May 08, 2006

A Rug Pulled Out From Under Me

I’ve just received word today that the early music group I’ve been part of is over. This group, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, is (was) an ensemble at our college, and therefore was also a partial-credit course option for students. The reason it is being cancelled now is that, in recent years, other instrumental ensemble opportunities have been created for students, and so student interest in the early music group has declined. Students are trained on modern instruments and really don’t know what early music is, and usually have little interest in learning new, (er, I mean, old) instruments. Playing early music well is a real challenge.

So, I sort of understand this decision, and I must say I’ve seen the writing on the wall. Because of being on sabbatical, I told the director that I wouldn’t be participating this semester (I’d miss too many rehearsals). To my surprise, a few others decided to take a break too, and so the director cancelled the ensemble for the semester. When I saw that happen so quickly and easily, I knew then that this was very likely the end of the group altogether.

I’m sad about this, but not devastated. We never had real closure or a proper farewell. When endings are not properly acknowledged, that is very sad. But what is also sad is the loss of something distinctive. Our having this group here at all was unusual, and so this change now looks to me like so much else that is happening in the U.S. – everything is looking more and more alike. Regional differences evaporate. The characteristics that make a community or institution unique and distinctive get erased in favor of changes that make it look like all the others.

And what is hard on me personally is that this is yet another example of where I’ve poured my own heart and soul into trying to sustain and improve something that is distinctive and special, and then I wake up one day and it’s simply been erased.

Our group had been having some success, I thought. Our audiences did seem to get bigger with each passing semester. But that, unfortunately, was not the kind of success that mattered. The success that mattered was the number of students involved, and that number remained small.

But, anyway, I did say above that I am not devastated. The reason I am not devastated is that (a) I can appreciate how much I have learned, and so I am grateful to have come along when it was still alive and vibrant; and (b) I have been thinking that it may be time for me to move on to something else in my musical life. This group had had an ever-shifting population of new members every semester, and in any given semester, there was quite a range of abilities and, more importantly, a range in levels of commitment. While it had initially been a great context for me to re-affirm the musical part of my identity, it could not serve happily as a long-term dwelling-place for me, musically, because the varying levels of commitment of its members meant that there were limits to how far the group could cohere and develop.

The opportunity that opens before me now is the chance to start or become part of a more stable and more reliably committed group.

The problem is that I am not exactly sure how to take this next step.

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