The Art of Education

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person surprised to walk into the Kirby Arts Center (KAC) last Thursday to see a cello set beside an electronic piano.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person surprised to walk into the Kirby Arts Center (KAC) last Thursday to see a cello set beside an electronic piano. Modern instrumental music, while still culturally relevant as the basis for movie and show soundtracks, doesn’t usually come out of the woodwork and into the spotlight. Thus, by working against this trend, our guest cellist, Okorie Johnson, put on a long overdue, inspirational performance. Furthermore, Johnson also highlighted the need for more displays of student musical talent and increased appreciation and knowledge of music among the student body.

Johnson, first and foremost, provided a unique image of modern music, one to which Lawrentians might aspire. His classical training combined with the pop and jazz influences in his works allowed him to tap into a diverse musical heritage, giving voice to his own unique life. His music straddled opposite worlds, incorporating classic bowing technique and skillful chords along with live sound looping. He is a classically-trained African American artist, of which there are very few in the music industry, performing in a world dominated by vocal music heavily augmented by electronics. Just as many of our previous school meeting guests have exposed us to major current issues, Johnson’s performance exposes us to instrumental experiences outside those of contemporary and popular music worlds.

By tapping into themes of protest and resistance associated with Martin Luther King Day, Johnson’s performance revealed that music, similar to political protests and movements, can bring forth change or attract attention to social problems. This country requires more music that counters oppressive forces, combats injustices in society, and draws the attention of the world towards overarching problems while remaining beautiful and pure in its message. Consequently, it seems timely that the school administration wishes to expand our contact with influential artists who are changing the face of modern art forms for the better.

Our school is headed in the right direction with attempts to increase such interactions with members, but our school’s response to Johnson’s performance has highlighted necessary improvements to the way in which we display student music talent. I personally have heard many of my peers complain about Johnson’s performance, calling it a waste of school meeting time. However, the mandatory attendance of other art exhibitions outside school meeting take away from students’ personal time. What better time to display the talents of artists than during school meeting? More integral than promoting student appreciation of visiting artists, our school needs to give student instrumental musicians more support.

The School already does a good job of promoting and developing excellent theatrical productions, but the same cannot be said for instrumental music. We have just witnessed one example of how a classical musician playing a popular instrument can innovate and break the boundaries of older forms. If we gave our own classical musicians similar opportunities as singers and actors to promote their productions and hone their performing talent in front of their classmates, we could promote that spirit of invention on our campus. We have a very musically gifted student body, but they only have a few opportunities to perform, and those events, such as Midday Music and Orchestra Vespers, often lack support from peers. By increasing the number of instrumental performances per year, we can increase student support and involvement in music, encourage more students to try to continue their musical careers, and push more students to recognize the power of music as a social tool. To achieve this goal of promoting instrumental music at Lawrenceville, the School could go the traditional route and make one music class per week a rehearsal for the combined instrumental ensembles on campus. These various groups would still be open to non-music students, albeit through audition, and the result would be a quadrupling in practice time. Such a change would encourage these musical groups to perform at a higher level more frequently and become more capable of showing off student talent through accompaniments to solo parts.

Johnson’s performance was a breath of fresh air—something different, intriguing, and inspirational. However, as much as guest performances would be interesting and equally valuable, it would be most appropriate for the School to support student talent in music, especially in instrumental music. Performances should be included in school meetings as a way of building enthusiasm and understanding for this form of art before we invite remarkable professionals. Starting small and supporting our own community will always be a prudent decision.

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