An Interview with Richard Kessler, Dean of Mannes School of Music By Lydia Liebman
Education Update sat down with the newly appointed dean of The Mannes School of Music (Mannes College The New School for Music), Richard Kessler, to discuss why his school is one of the best. Kessler, an accomplished trombonist and educator, spoke to Education Update about the school’s history, pedagogy and plans for the future.
The 94-year-old establishment has produced some of the biggest names in music history including jazz pianist Bill Evans, Tony Award-winner Patricia Neway and more. Kessler explains why Mannes produces such talented and accomplished musicians: “We offer the most rigorous musical training in terms of theory and ear training in the world,” he says. “Mannes looks to develop the thinking artist — the musical mind. That’s been our distinguishing factor from the very beginning.”
Another distinguishing factor about Mannes is its connection to the New School. Kessler went on to explain how students can receive a liberal arts education as well as their conservatory training through both sects. Kessler hopes to expand this relationship by developing a Bachelor of Music/Master of Arts Administration program, which would be a partnership between Mannes and the New School for Public Engagement.
“I would like the conservatory education to truly reflect all the things that artists need to know and to be able to do today,” he says in regards to future plans for the school.
He described the state of the standard conservatory education internationally as “based on what the field was like 50 years ago” instead of now. The dean stressed the importance of recognizing teaching artists and including that into the core curriculum. Another educational point Kessler believes is that all musicians should have the ability to compose, improvise, and be acquainted with commercial music.
The last piece of the puzzle Kessler explained thoroughly: “I think it is a conundrum that the music schools are insulated from a lot of the challenges the arts fields face,” he explains. “I think the arts field is being asked to look at the issue of relevance. What does it mean to be relevant for an orchestra or opera company? What does it mean to engage audiences? What does engagement mean? I think these are the kinds of fundamental questions that our graduates face. I don’t think conservatories should shield that — they should admit these questions.” Kessler wishes to bring more of the “real world” into the conservatory.
“There is a tremendous interest in music, more than there ever has been before,” Kessler excitedly proclaimed toward the end of the interview. “It’s such an exciting time.” #