Shaping the Future of Education: Carnegie Hall at 125

By Clive Gillinson

Carnegie Hall’s 125th-anniversary celebration in 2016 provided us with an opportunity to reflect on the ever-expanding contribution that our organization can make to people’s lives in the 21st century. We believe we have a responsibility to use the power of our institution to inspire people and transform their lives, ensuring that Carnegie Hall remains as central to the future of music and New York City as it has been to the past.

2017 Muscial America Shaping the Future of Education: Carnegie Hall at 125
© 2015 Jennifer Taylor

A full house of students for Carnegie’s Link Up program on May 21, 2015.

The presentation of the greatest music and musicians will always be at the core of the Hall’s mission, and, with musical excellence as the common denominator, we seek to present a range of offerings each season that is reflective of our community as well as the world in which we live. Our philosophy is to offer concertgoers enticing journeys of discovery, wherever possible, placing music into a broader cultural context. We partner with many of the greatest cultural organizations across the city to create cross-arts journeys with themes ranging from Leonard Bernstein, Latin-American arts, and the African-American cultural legacy, to China, Japan, Berlin, Vienna, and South Africa. Through these explorations, we create opportunities for our audiences to travel through new repertoire and less familiar art forms, look back through history as well as explore relevant issues of the day, and even catch glimpses of the future. It is also very rewarding to see that between 30 to 50 percent of the audiences for our festivals have never before attended a concert in Carnegie Hall.

The most significant development over the last decade is the growth in the scope of Carnegie Hall’s music education and community initiatives. While music education has always been a part of Carnegie Hall’s history, our work in this area has expanded exponentially in recent years, becoming ever more central to the fulfillment of the Hall’s mission and an intrinsic part of who and what we are. Going far beyond the increasingly out-dated notion of education as simply a means for audience development, these programs created by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI) now annually serve 600,000 people and are a primary area of work for the institution in and of itself. They are structured to support three main areas: learning and access to music; the nurturing of young artists and the finest talent; and projects addressing areas of social need. WMI’s programs, offered for free or at low cost, bring students, adults, and school groups into our concert halls as well as our new Resnick education wing, completed in 2014. They also reach out into a wide variety of New York City schools, neighborhoods, and community settings, supporting our mission of making great music accessible to everyone. In addition, they are now increasingly expanding across the nation and internationally.

Aligned with Carnegie Hall’s commitment to becoming an ever greater resource for music in New York City, we have embraced the Hall’s national presence and are equally excited about the role we can play in making music and music-education resources available to more and more people across the country through partnerships with other organizations—heightening the impact we can have by developing creative ways of scaling or leveraging WMI’s programs. For decades, Carnegie Hall worked closely with local elementary schools on Link Up, a year-long, hands-on classroom curriculum with a culminating concert at Carnegie Hall for students and teachers celebrating the musical elements learned throughout the year. In more recent years, as a means of further developing the benefit and reach of this program, we started to share it with orchestras around the U.S.—not only offering the curriculum and resources free to participating orchestras, but also helping to train those tasked with delivering it in the schools.

Collaborators, not competitors 

Today, the Link Up curriculum, concert materials, and teacher training are given away to more than 80 U.S. orchestras, and a recent major gift inspired by the huge impact of the program will enable us to expand that number even further, to reach five million children over the next ten years. A program like Link Up, if judged as an audience development project, would be deemed a disaster, as the students we reach are all around the U.S. and likely most will never visit Carnegie Hall! However, we consider our mission is not to serve our institution, but for our institution to serve people. The success of Link Up and its impact on U.S. orchestras and their ability to engage with their communities is a triumph for music. We frequently see that sharing resources and building a community ultimately raise the quality of what everyone is doing. Organizations that share common missions can often be more effective by collaborating rather than going it alone. If we all think of ourselves as competitors, we can end up minimizing rather than maximizing everyone’s potential. As Mstislav Rostropovich once said: “We are all soldiers for music.”

Carnegie Hall believes that there is a huge opportunity for the arts and music to have a positive impact in more non-traditional community settings, addressing relevant social challenges that people are facing today. Continuing to ask what it means to serve our entire community through music has resulted in Carnegie Hall programs taking root in places where you might not expect to find the work of a major concert hall. In New York City and across the U.S. through Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program, highly talented and trained professional musicians are leading specially designed programs in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and juvenile justice centers, reaching people who otherwise would not have access to the arts. It is fulfilling to be a part of the growing circle of organizations nationwide that are interested in this work, sharing and learning from one another. It is also deeply moving to see the meaningful difference that music can make in participants’ lives, something that feeds back to the musicians involved in this work with us, as they experience firsthand the capacity that music has to influence and change lives for the better.

As the mission of major institutions continues to broaden, the skills required by professional musicians to work effectively in a variety of settings will need to evolve along with it. Supporting success in this area, Carnegie Hall is one of a number of national organizations that have devoted increasing resources to nurturing the best talent, helping young artists develop the skills and experience needed to take on the range of opportunities available to them in the 21st century. Ensemble Connect (formerly Ensemble ACJW) is a two-year fellowship created in 2007 by Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and WMI, in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. It invites some of the finest young professional musicians in the country to continue to develop their careers as top-level performers, while also gaining hands-on experience in advocacy, entrepreneurship, and education, including extended work alongside experienced teachers in New York City public schools. The program now has more than 100 alumni engaged in major performance, education, and social responsibility projects worldwide.

In addition to the fellowship, the Hall has substantially increased its emphasis on professional development for artists involved in our Musical Connections programs; moreover, as part of growing its commitment to teacher training, the Hall has created the Summer Music Educators Workshop, which each year brings together hundreds of teachers for four days to strengthen their work in the classroom. And, with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA, created by WMI in 2013, as well as other programs for younger artists, we hope to instill not only a pursuit of musical excellence, but also a desire to harness talents to give back to their communities as we work proactively to diversify the pool of musicians who have access to top training.

Beyond our four walls

Much of this work, particularly our national partnerships, is fueled by technology and the tools that it offers, helping us share what we do in the widest sense possible and allowing us to take programming far beyond our four walls as we continue to explore what it means to serve people around the globe. Ninety-nine percent of people worldwide will never be able to experience a live performance at Carnegie Hall—so we seek ways to best serve them in the virtual world, focusing on access, education, and deeper audience engagement. The coming years will be fascinating as we continue to look at the new possibilities for digital dissemination of concerts and education content and the sharing of knowledge and programs from which people can learn and grow.

As we consider the road ahead, we may all take inspiration from the many ways that major institutions continue to evolve: from the innovative training opportunities offered by the New World Symphony to the engaging education and community initiatives of the Berliner Philharmoniker, which build on its community’s long-held traditions of what an orchestra can be; from the terrific work of American orchestras, large and small, serving as the musical hubs of their communities in new and exciting ways to groundbreaking movements like El Sistema, whose unique blend of artist training, education, and social impact has inspired new programs to sprout up around the world. 

While milestone anniversaries may be an opportunity to take stock of the past, I have always believed that they bring greater strength in inviting us to look ahead. It is even more interesting to see our remarkable legacy as the springboard to an even more exciting future. With the ideas and new possibilities ahead of us, I believe we are only at the beginning of what can be achieved at Carnegie Hall and in the field at large. Each new era allows us to build, making history as we connect a new generation with the power of music. We are passionate believers in evolution, not revolution, proudly standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. •

Clive Gillinson is executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall. He has collaborated with Robert Rimm on a new book entitled Better to Speak of It: Fostering Relationships & Results through Creativity (Arch Street Press, 2016).