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Winds of Change

Within days of this new magazine's release, the forty-fourth President of the United States will take office. The Constitution remains the same - legislative, executive, and judicial branches continue to operate as they have since George Washington's inauguration in 1789. No one would deny, though, that the man taking office in 2009 represents a fundamental change to the way this nation does business. Barack Obama ran on a platform of change. "Yes, we can!" chanted the crowds at his rallies. His call-to-arms - "We are the people we've been waiting for" - empowered more than one generation to throw off their complacency and become involved in the political process. As a result, we stand at the threshold of a new age - no one can predict what will happen, but whatever comes about is likely to be significantly different from the past.

It may be a long way from the halls of power to the practice rooms of our music schools or the studios of our independent teachers, but change is coming to our world; in fact, it has already arrived.You are holding at least one piece of evidence in your hands: Clavier Magazine is no more - long live Clavier Companion.

As someone who wrote regularly for Clavier for nineteen years (1984-2003), let me offer a eulogy. Here was a special interest magazine aimed at lovers, performers, teachers and students of the piano (and organ - how's that for change?). In its earliest days, the editors recognized that these categories often represented different readers. Thus the content offered something for everyone - an interview with a famous artist, a discussion or comparison of different interpretive possibilities in a repertoire standard, a new score offered for intermediate students, a pedagogic pep talk for beginning teachers, reviews of new publications, books, recordings, and rounding out each issue, a practical teaching tip from Frances Clark, the doyenne of progressive, enlightened piano teachers.

Over time, things changed: does anyone reading this even know an amateur pianist, let alone one who might read such a magazine if it existed today? Searching for a reliable readership, Clavier aimed increasingly at the piano pedagogy world - to some extent, that's where the advertising dollars were. Unfortunately, as year followed year, teachers who retired gave up their subscriptions and new teachers, for whatever reason, didn't subscribe. The numbers dwindled. Fewer readers meant fewer advertisers. A venerable institution has closed its doors.

Well, not exactly. Clavier Companion, the newly minted merger of the once-general Clavier and the even more pedagogically focused Keyboard Companion, stands on a threshold of its own, peering into the future, hoping it has one. So do its readers, because to a large extent the magazine's success or failure is the canary in the coalmine of our own.

There is a lot at stake here, more than anyone of us can control. Print media of all kinds are struggling for existence given the revolutionary impact of the Internet. If the New York Times is suffering, how can a little piano magazine survive? Quick answer: the Times has a fantastic website with extra material that can't be found in the print edition. It also emails subscribers the daily headlines. It has made itself even more ubiquitous - fewer people may buy the print edition, but the New 10rh Times isn't losing its impact on society. [PS. Clavier didn't even have a website until a few years ago1.]

I'd like to think that Clavier Companion can have an impact on society, but it can only do so by engaging a broader readership than either Clavier or Keyboard Companion. And it has to energize its readers to be the advance guard of change in our profession.

We don't need to change, you say? That's what Clavier said for too long, and then it was too late. We're quite comfortable in our little niche market, you say. Yes, I can relate to that - I'm busy enough and make a decent living. I've been haunted my entire career, though, by the fear that what I do is irrelevant. Last year I went through myoId Clavier columns, hoping there was a book there somewhere. But the only convincing theme I could find that connects them is my own quest to understand the place of "classical music" in modern, American society. Each column explored a question I basically tried to answer for myself, and by extension, for others in the profession who read them: as makers (practitioners and teachers) of classical music, how do we belong to this society - what is our role?

Over the years as I performed or taught throughout the country, people told me how much the columns meant to them. Apparently, I'm not the only one worrying about extinction. It seems there's still a need for a column like this, but this time around, I warn you that I'll not be content crafting swan songs to a noble yet superfluous pursuit. I am reminded of a recent bumper sticker: "If you are happy with the status quo, you haven't been paying attention."

Intentional change in any profession is initiated first through a shared sense of urgency. If the pipe in the basement has burst and you have two feet of water climbing the stairs, you immediately call the plumber. In our profession we may not yet be wading around in hip boots, but how long have we ignored the leaks?

I think it's up to us, the ones trying to make sense of our role in this society, to call the plumber, and guess what, we are the plumber we've been waiting for (and our name is not Joe)! If recitals are boring, we need to change the way we present them. If our intermediate students want to stop lessons when they hit their teens, we need to find a way to enliven music study for them. It's not rocket science, or even piano pedagogy - it's about connecting with others at the most basic level.

Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1967 that "today's child is bewildered when he enters the 19th-century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules." That sentence could easily describe the typical piano lesson built around a method book. One thing has changed since 1967, however: information is no longer scarce. The Internet has indeed changed everything.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman's latest book, Hal, Flat and Crowded: Why Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America, contains a most apropos Chinese proverb: "When the wind changes directions, there are those who build walls and those who build windmills."

From my vantage point, I believe our profession has built too many walls around what we do (can you think of anything more exclusionary than a piano competition?). It's time to build windmills. Let's work with the wind rather than resist it. 


1Editor's Note: Keyboard Companion has had a web presence since 1998, often offering sound and video files to enhance print articles. This web content will continue at www.claviercompanion.com. 

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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