Music department needs pop expansion

The University’s School of Music in Ferguson Hall leaves much to be desired in the way of a well-rounded and current music curriculum. Popular music, as well as the entire music industry, is completely ignored. Administrators and educators refuse to align themselves with anything considered “pop.” The music lab is seriously deficient in any of the tools used to create today’s music, from recording facilities to digital keyboards, from musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) capabilities to Internet access. In fact, the entire University fails to recognize the entertainment industry as an area rich in academic pursuit.
Some critics might say a department without growth deserves to be cut. Cutting is not the solution: Expansion is. Lack of funding is the first place to point the finger. But the problem runs much deeper. It is the academic mindset that sees the arts as an inferior academic pursuit and entertainment as a dirty word. Individuals with this mindset believe pop music is unimportant because it is disposable. This is no longer a valid argument.
However, there are a few voices ringing out on campus who are supporters of a new agenda. Ron McCurdy, head of the jazz department, is the person most open to the need for a more current music curriculum and redesigned music lab. Elizabeth Hoff does remarkably well with limited means, running the music lab and teaching the only three courses on digital and analog music. From cultural studies and comparative literature, Christine Bezat and Gary Thomas lead the way in terms of open dialog, getting students to discourse about current culture and music. But because of administrative red tape and limited awareness, these instructors’ hands are tied.
President Mark Yudof’s digital technology initiative is pumping new life in the communications department, but the word entertainment is rarely mentioned. Largely focusing on new media technologies like the Internet, the initiative fails to recognize the need for increased education in areas like radio, TV, film and music production. The entertainment industry is massive and symbiotic, with film, music and live performance continuously crossing over into each other’s territories. There is a tremendous need for increased education in the legal, technological, economic, political and social areas of the music and entertainment industries.
The Institute of Technology and Carlson School of Management have strong ties and liaisons with the business community. There’s no reason why the same kind of support should not be available to the arts. Sony would be a good place to start. Without an active and thriving arts/entertainment community, Minnesota talent will continue to exit the state heading for more receptive areas like the coasts or Nashville. This results in not only a degraded cultural milieu, but also a significant loss of revenue. In music, Minnesota is proven fully capable of producing the best, with the likes of Bob Dylan and Prince as examples. If the University really wants to be a leader in research or technology or job preparedness, the music department needs to seriously update its programs, and it needs to recognize the entertainment industry as a significant area of academic study.