In my line of work, the practice has been to lean heavily on the knowledge and teachings of the past, often handed down to us from generations of teachers and practitioners who learned from the generations of teachers and practitioners who went before them. This shared legacy is what we call “time-honoured tradition”, or “historically-informed practice” and it is revered, sacred even. We stand on the shoulders of those who went before us, and they charted our path.
However…in our present, we are challenging many of these preconceived notions. Movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #IdleNoMore have reminded us that the structures in which we were raised and educated have been sites of oppression, exclusion and harm. Some of the things we took as gospel truth, we now realize, were built on outdated belief systems. They fly in the face of truth as we now know it; they are not evidence-based and/or were based on false assumptions.
In our present, much is in flux. Audience demographics have changed dramatically, as have people’s tastes in art and music. Audiences have much to choose from, and they are discerning and demanding in their tastes. Arts education in schools has been decimated. And yet: young people create and listen to music now perhaps more than they ever have. They just do things differently than how I was taught.
So, we must learn new things.
We must open our eyes to new ideas, our ears to new sounds, our minds to new ways of doing things. We must be willing to educate ourselves about things we never had to know before: AI, digital software, audio interfaces, video technology, neuroscience. But here’s the thing: learning new things is exciting, amazing, inspiring. I see this every day in the faces of my students who come to university to pursue a passion, follow a dream against the odds, and who brave the insecurity of having to do things I ask of them that make them feel vulnerable and even foolish. But when they try them and they get results, it can be earth-shattering in the best way. They let go of their past doubts, and embrace their present doing.
These young people are the future. I listened to a concert of a few of them today at noon, and their creativity, honesty and imagination blew me away. So many of them performed original songs that were so full of invention that my hair stood on end. Those who sang, sang from their whole bodies and hearts. Those who wrote their songs wrote from the deepest parts of themselves, expressing their feelings and ideas with poignancy and immediacy.
The future is this: learn from the past, live in the now, believe in a future where we can be better, more connected, more honest. Make and sing music that matters. Touch people. Change the world. One voice at a time.