By Linell Smith
Peabody’s new strategic plan positions the institute — and its students — for future economic and cultural uncertainties.
When the Breakthrough Plan 2024, the new phase of Peabody’s strategic plan, was unveiled last spring, the Conservatory was grappling with the frightening unknowns of the coronavirus pandemic. In-person classes were canceled, as were rehearsals and performances, with no timetable for resuming a normal schedule.
You might say, however, that the institution had been preparing for such a predicament: Campus leaders have been working since 2015 to help student musicians imagine careers that now require professional skills beyond those needed for the stage and the classroom. And during the last academic year, roughly 90 faculty, staff, students, volunteers, and advisory board members participated in refining the plan to position the institute well for future economic and cultural uncertainties.
Building on Peabody’s mission to provide excellent artistic training, the Breakthrough Plan 2024 envisions equipping technology-savvy graduates to become agents for change not only in the performing arts worlds of music and dance but also in such nontraditional fields as health care.
“This time presents interesting challenges, but it can also offer us an opportunity to emerge stronger than ever,” says Fred Bronstein, dean of the Peabody Institute.
Over the past five years, the institution has increased the percentage of both underrepresented minority students and faculty to 14%; created the Center for Music and Medicine; established the Breakthrough Curriculum to teach students how to communicate and market their skills; grown the double degree program with the university; fostered nontraditional collaborations with community groups in Baltimore and elsewhere; expanded jazz studies; and introduced programs for dance and for Music for New Media.
This next phase calls for expanding existing programming; recruiting more faculty of color; doubling the funding for the Peabody Institute Diversity Fund; expanding the mission of the Peabody Preparatory by increasing noncredit, online, and lifelong learning instruction; and beginning a series of long-needed building renovations.
Bronstein says the recent expansion in programs and faculty has given new urgency to re-imagining and updating the institution’s facilities as well as its student residences.
“There’s a growing chasm between what programmatically Peabody is doing and the ability of the facility to deliver that,” he says. “It’s partly a function of the available space and of the great, and challenging, aspects of having an historic campus.
“When you walk into Peabody, it’s not like walking into any other school. We don’t want to lose that sense of history and tradition or our exceptional performances spaces. But we also want to have state-of-the-art spaces. We’ve already started that with the investments in technology in classrooms, and we’re moving forward on working with a consultant on the initial phase of campus master planning.”
He says one goal is to create “a central social gathering point for everybody.” Another is to renovate residence halls built more than 40 years ago to accommodate the needs of today’s students.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Breakthrough Plan 2024 calls for Peabody to solidify its role as a leader in the national movement to diversify the performing arts industry.
“When you think about the changing demographics in this country over next 20 to 40 years, the only way to build future audiences is to build diversity through the performing base,” Bronstein says. “We need to change the face of the performing arts, and we are committed to leading this effort. We have seen positive growth and we’ll double down on it.”
Jazz trumpeter Sean Jones, the Richard and Elizabeth Case Chair in Jazz Studies, is optimistic about achieving such goals.
“I am a big policy person,” he says. “I believe that statements are one thing, but when you address policies and you look at the budgets, that’s where you show where your priorities are. The Conservatory has already diversified their programming in allotting certain resources to revamp the jazz program and to build the Dance Department. I think that it’s important that we continue along this path.”
As a highly respected performer and teacher, Jones says the COVID crisis has underscored the need for another area of the strategic plan: preparing every professional musician to learn how to use remote and virtual performance platforms.
“It’s challenging for those who have lived in the acoustic performance world almost solely,” he says. “But there are also folks, including myself, who are finding ‘Wow, there are certain recording vehicles that I should have been using a long time ago.’”
A Natural Evolution
Bronstein says the strategic plan has grown out of identifying core strengths of the university as well as the institute, and then deciding how to develop them further.
“The new media program we started is built out of composition, a program that is extremely strong historically, and the recording arts program, which cast it in a new direction,” he says. “Similarly, we had had a great long-standing program of dance in the Preparatory, but not in the Conservatory.”
Collaborating with the School of Medicine continues to present opportunities for nontraditional community engagement.
“In true Hopkins style, the Center for Music and Medicine is actually a series of projects,” the dean says. “We quickly realized we needed to develop projects that go across the university and across our campus. Now we are watching this footprint expand.”
He mentions the injury prevention clinic, the hospital’s Sound Rounds program, and interdisciplinary opportunities to study the impact of singing on dementia and to determine what creative brain activity happens with musical improvisation.
“For better or worse, health care is going to be a growing industry and how the performing arts intersect with that is an important component of Breakthrough 2024.”
Bronstein points out, that 30 years ago, a main source of revenue for the Philadelphia Orchestra was classical music recording. “That source of income doesn’t exist anymore. This is not to say you can’t still get an orchestra job, but your ability to be successful in the culture of an orchestra is no longer just about how well you play your instrument. It’s also about how well you interact with the community, how you intersect with donors, how you can talk to the media. Can you go into a chemotherapy center and provide music for meaningful and interactive experiences there?”
Jacob Lyerly (MM ’20, Guitar, Pedagogy) thinks his Peabody education has enabled him to do all of the above.
“I’ve been able to get my feet wet in a lot of different disciplines and ways of thinking regarding actually using my skills as a guitarist and musician and in teaching,” he says. “And arts administration has helped me become a great marketer for my own skills and business.”
While he received his degree in classical guitar performance and pedagogy, Lyerly set out to “reinvent what it means to be a classical ensemble” by forming a duo with Peabody guitarist Greg Hays (MM ’20, Guitar) to play in such alternative spots as punk rock bars. His musical quest to “bring beauty and healing into the world” has also taken him to patients’ bedsides as part of Sound Rounds, a Music and Medicine program that is now livestreamed because of visitor restrictions.
“I’m understanding more and more about how music and art affects people,” Lyerly says. “When I’m onstage playing in a concert setting, I think of it as showing off the music. In the Sound Rounds setting, I’m focusing on the patient and using the music to facilitate something for them.”
The guitarist remembers performing classical/jazz fusion selections for his first patient, a man who had recently received a kidney transplant. “He was asleep by the second piece I played,” he says. “In a concert setting, that may not be the desired response, but I realized that he hadn’t had a good chance to rest in months. So, in that moment, I helped him, or rather the music helped him, to get the rest he needed.”
Keeping in touch with musicians who take advantage of such life-changing opportunities is another goal of the strategic plan.
“Doing a longitudinal study as students move into their careers over the next several decades will allow us to see the efficacy of the plan,” Bronstein says. “It will allow us to become deeply engaged not only with the institute, but with our alumni — and the outside world.”
Award-winning journalist Linell Smith is a senior editor for Johns Hopkins Medicine. A former staff writer for The Baltimore Sun, she has written for the Washington Post Magazine and Sports Illustrated. She also taught journalism at Goucher College for many years.