Just as the air in Tokyo began to clear this week, the point of my workshop series was clarified by its most important element: the students. Like music students everywhere, the Japanese are studying their craft, forming ensembles with friends, and dreaming about the future. Teaching artistry is being offered to them as one possible ingredient in their future, and they are fascinated, but skeptical. I think they are right to be both.
I have been showing them a diverse group of teaching artist projects – some from schools, others from hospitals and shelters, and still other from prisons. They are moved by the Lullaby Project and intrigued by work with very young children. But they do not have a tradition of teaching artist work in Japan, and there are very few structures in place for financial support. “I could see doing this work,” said one student, “because it seems quite worthy, and we need it here, too, but in Japan it would just have to be a volunteer project. How could it ever be professional?”
Good question. And of course, I cannot create support structures that are not there. But what I am saying to these passionate young students is: start small, but have a big vision. If you see a need and you can envision the way that music could be transformative in meeting it, then see if you can get a little support. Maybe a small grant or a small donation. Maybe a little pilot project stipend, but something that says this work is valuable and worthy of support. Do the project and - here’s the trick - succeed. I know I should be saying something here about how you have to be willing to fail, and you should, but if you want your arts education venture to garner funding, it’s better if you succeed. And make sure that people see the work and the impact it has. If you can make all that happen, and you will have to do it yourself at first, then there will be an argument for financial support. Cultural organizations may not be quick to support teaching artistry, but if they see valuable work happening, they will want to attach themselves to it.
Thirty years ago, the Juilliard School did not have an extensive community engagement program; now it does. Nine years ago Carnegie Hall did not have a Lullaby Project. You tell me that Japan does not have a commitment to teaching artistry, and I hear you – so when will that be? The air is clearing, and so is the work that needs to be done.