My friend and colleague, Jung Ho Pak, conductor of several orchestras including Orchestra Nova (formerly the San Diego Chamber Orchestra), and I have had several discussions concerning the notion of desire. For Jung Ho, the question is, “how do I create a desire for classical music?” His concern is warranted since over the last decade, support for classical music has waned, and creating an audience for an orchestra is key to keeping in the business of presenting concerts.
The question of creating a desire for classical music, especially among a generation of young people most of whom have not had exposure to classical music via their grade school education, has been central to his approach as a conductor. Among the changes he has made with regard to performances include simple things like having the orchestra musicians dress less formerly, smile on stage, and meet and greet audience members. An aim of Pak’s is to break down the barriers of “us” and “them” when it comes to classical music.
Jung Ho talks to the audience during concerts, explaining interesting things about the composers, and previewing aspects of the music so that the audience knows what to listen to and for in the music. He uses technology. He features young incredible soloists who have a magnetism on stage to draw in the audience. And he carefully selects programs that at the same time are a mix of entertaining and challenging so that the listeners have something to hold onto as well as something that pushes them to hear something new. And it is working. Audiences are growing, and through invitations to university students to attend concerts at reasonable prices, he’s creating a new generation and audience with a desire to hear classical orchestral music.
Jung Ho’s question of creating desire provides a great opportunity for an educational model toward effective learning as well. What creates great learning in schools? What captures the imaginations and attention of school’s audience’s the children? How do we lay a foundation and at the same time challenge the students to desire to learn? The first step is engaging students. And how do we engage students in a desire for learning?
The arts provide many opportunities to engage students and hook them into learning. Think back upon elementary school. Pretty much you will remember things that you did and made, and not so much the things that were told to you, or you memorized for a test.
I remember (back to that fateful year in second grade) dancing and singing around a Maypole, and Flag day (my most favorite holiday in elementary school) when each class got to get up on the stairs in front of the school and sing a song. We had to practice getting up and down the stairs, positioning ourselves, singing our songs, and projecting to the audience.
Most of my college students recall being in an elementary class play and performing in front of their parents. These are the things that stick with us, and the things that engaged us, and the things we had to practice in order to be good. Learning by doing is not a new concept by any means…..and integrating the arts into learning provides both a way to learn about the arts and to create desire in learning overall.