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Perspective: The Ecosystem of Music

Eliahu Sussman • Commentary • January 21, 2014

Many of the readers who responded to the January 2014 survey on instrument rentals noted that the best way to ensure that beginning students end up with quality instruments and a hassle-free rental agreement is for the educators to make friends with the owners and reps of their local music store. “You provide the store with a lot of business,” writes Barbara Anastasion of Sykesville, Md. “It is a give-and-take relationship. Both parties – teachers and stores – should be working together.” This idea of a mutually beneficial partnership is one that is found throughout the music ecosystem.

Generally speaking, making friends will make life easier, and that simple concept is especially poignant in the music world. In the above example, music store owners benefit from the business of a solid relationship with the schools, as schools can provide the store with many customers. What’s more, music educators are, by trade, working with the goal of trying to increase the population of music consumers and players, the exact demographic which the music store owner is trying to connect with and peddle wares to. For music educators, music store proprietors provide a trusted resource for instruments, accessories, repair, and advice about the equipment side of things, which, as we all know, has a considerable impact on the overall experience. Music stores can’t exist without customers, and school programs and their students suffer when there isn’t a reputable instrument outfitter nearby. It’s a classic win-win.

In this issue’s cover story, Marcus Tsutakawa describes in detail the benefits that can come from befriending professional ensembles, including their management and players. Through the relationship he has developed with the Seattle Symphony, his school orchestra program has been able to create some incredible opportunities for his students, from side-by-side concerts with the professional ensemble to having the Seattle Symphony players come in to the school to work with his sectionals. The benefit to the students here is obvious – there’s an endless list of people who were inspired to embark on a musical career based on an interaction with someone who blew them away musically. Some people discover their inspiration listening to records or going to concerts, but there is no substitute for the opportunity to work with someone in person, where you can see an accomplished player as both an incredible musician and as a real live human being, too.

Likewise, the angle for the Seattle Symphony is pretty straightforward. The health and wellbeing of the symphony orchestra is contingent on a vibrant audience. Outreach into the community is great PR, as educators know, and encouraging the aspirations of talented young musicians can help sustain the organization well into the future. Even though some professional musicians are paid for their school appearances, many such organizations have public outreach and educational components built into their charters and by-laws. Like many, the Seattle Symphony even has funding allocated specifically for those types of events.

While professional ensembles and music stores might be the closest point of contact for many in the music education community, the mutually beneficial relationships found throughout the music industry don’t stop there. As another example, the influx of social media, videos, and other content directly from instrument and accessory manufacturers themselves has spawned an incredible array of teaching tools and other resources for music educators and their students. Those companies benefit from the exposure, so it is marketing in a sense, but their endgame is hardly nefarious: getting people excited about music and facilitating the educational process have tangible benefits for everyone involved.

So, how do you plan to incorporate your program into the musical ecosystem? As the biblical saying goes, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

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