So, there I was, reading the New York Times online, minding my own business, when I came across a seemingly innocuous Q&A with one Mary Anna Dennard, author of the new book I Got In: The Ultimate College Audition Guide for Acting and Musical Theater. Since I teach at the Boston Conservatory, such a discussion is of more than passing interest to me.
Everything was going fine, until I came across the following sentence:
Carnegie Mellon, Cincinnati Conservatory, Texas State, DePaul, Pace University, Boston Conservatory, the American Conservatory Theater, Juilliard are all considered conservatories or conservatory-style programs in that their training is rigorous and intense with little or no coursework in general education and electives. [Emphasis mine]
I nearly did a spit take into my Darjeeling.
Now, I'm very happy to report that, as of this fall, I will be teaching full-time at the BoCo. (Thank you.) I've been on faculty there since 2003, but only recently gathered together enough teaching credits to be considered a full-timer. And it just so happens that every single class I teach is either in general education or an elective. [Emphasis mine.]
What's more, there's an entire department of amazingly qualified, incredibly dedicated, and mindblowingly overeducated professionals who do exactly the same thing. Needless to say, I forwarded the article with all due haste to my esteemed colleagues, who were all equally incensed at such casual calumny, and we decided to formulate a sternly worded response. I've submitted the the letter as a comment on the Times Web site, but also as a letter to the editor. But I figured I'd post it here as well as sort of an open letter to Ms. Dennard, in the interest of promulgating the truth about what goes into a conservatory education.
Of course, I can't speak for Julliard, CCM, CMU, or any of the other schools mentioned above. But I do know first-hand that the education available to the students at BoCo goes far beyond their career-specific professional development. Far beyond.
Those of us in the Liberal Arts Department at the Boston Conservatory would strongly dispute certain points that Mary Anna Dennard makes in a recent article on the New York Times Web site (Arts Beat, The Culture at Large, “Answers to Your Questions About College Theater Programs,” August 11, 2010). In particular, we take significant issue with the contention that our program offers "little or no coursework in general education and electives." The Boston Conservatory strives to challenge its students both artistically and intellectually. In fact, we believe those goals to be one and the same.
Our BFA in musical theater includes 41 credits in general education out of a total of 132. That amounts to 31% of students’ total credit hours over their four years here at the Conservatory. Within our liberal arts program, students explore multidisciplinary areas of cultural history. In their freshman year, they begin with American studies and composition. In sophomore year, they start with the Greek classics and move on through the European tradition. In junior and senior years, students delve into modernism and postmodernism.
What’s more, each of these core courses eschews the standard broad survey method in favor of a depth-of-field view with a specific thematic focus. For example, students study the Greeks through contemporary research into the evolutionary biology of aggression and cooperation. They view European culture through the lens of modern-day debates on the definition of happiness, as well as the dual themes of utopia and terror. A very popular recent addition to our core curriculum is a course on the neuroscience of music, which engages students with up-to-the-minute research on how brain function affects arts performance.
Electives include Italian Neo-Realist Film studies; Colonialism and Post-colonialism; Creative Writing Workshops in Poetry and Fiction; Into the Wild: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Concept of Wildness; Arts Criticism; A Cultural History of the Body and Gesture, etc.
Even more electives are available to Conservatory students through the Boston Pro Arts Consortium, through which students may cross-register at neighboring schools, such as The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Berklee School of Music, Boston Architectural College, and Emerson College.
We invite Ms. Dennard to explore our full curriculum on our Web site. (www.bostonconservatory.edu) We’re confident that she will discover that, although as a conservatory we are primarily interested in turning out world-class performers, we also pride ourselves in offering our students a full range of academic rigor that addresses their full potential as people as well.
The Liberal Arts Faculty
The Boston Conservatory