In 2021, The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music involved its faculty, students, and staff in the creation of the strategic plan. Collectively, we articulated major goals for the school’s curriculum, culture, and communication. The goals were built around a shared vision of The Herb Alpert School of Music as a welcoming space for our entire community, esteeming multiple musical traditions and assisting students in developing their skills and their voices.
A year later, significant progress has been made towards these objectives. It has been a team effort all the way, a process of constant collaboration and reflection.
The strategic plan’s first goal is to reimagine the musical canons and curricula to honor their rich historical pasts while embracing an inclusive, contemporary mindset. A number of specific activities were identified as opportunities to reform curricula, including involving more music industry professionals with the school and cementing stronger interdisciplinary connections between departments.
Some actions have already come to fruition. The school’s Music Industry program is slated for major growth offering invaluable career preparation to even more students through dedicated partnerships with leaders in all sectors of the music business, from recording to publicity to distribution. The school has also proactively facilitated double majors for students across the university in order to encourage more interdisciplinarity. Other actions, such as refashioning curricula, will require more work, and a three-year curriculum task force is in its second year of engagement under the leadership of Lily Chen-Hafteck.
The strategic plan included as a major goal the fight against the systemic legacy of inequality. Fighting systemic injustice requires resources, and to date, the School of Music has raised almost $6 million in student scholarship support since 2019 (out of a total of more than $33 million dollars raised thus far for the school). Both undergraduate and graduate students have participated in the school’s Anti-Racism, Anti-Discrimination Committee (ARAD) and now have organizations devoted to making their voices known.
Student requests for a physical space alongside a safe space for conversations have resulted in the creation of our sanctuary space and the formation of a speaker series, Still Waiting, under the guidance of our Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Arturo O’Farrill.
Important to combatting systemic inequalities is ameliorating the many barriers that have historically kept higher education in music out of reach for too many. The strategic plan identified several long-term actions that would help diversify the School of Music’s applicant pool and has proceeded on three fronts. We have created new school partnerships with the UCLA Community School at RFK campus and Horace Mann UCLA Community School, to add to an existing partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood.
We have also worked to streamline our community college pipeline. Community colleges are a vital route for first-generation students and students from underserved areas. The School of Music has made significant progress in this area. An agreement was signed with Los Angeles City College, and during the 2022-23 school year, we are planning on moving forward with agreements with Santa Monica Community College and Pasadena Community College as well. These agreements spell out a clear list of courses that will provide community college students a clear path to success in the School of Music without the loss of time, money, or academic credit.
Fighting systemic inequality also means paying attention to programming, which dovetails with another goal of the strategic plan: enhancing the School of Music’s brand both internally and externally. Several high-profile efforts have targeted this area. In Spring 2022, activist and intellectual Cornel West arrived for a residency in the school, delivered the Regents’ Lecture, and performed with Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Cuban Ensemble, the UCLA Philharmonic under Neal Stulberg, and the Mariachi Los Camperos at Royce Hall.
West’s residency marked an important long-term goal of the strategic plan: to establish event series that celebrate and feature historically excluded musicians, scholars, and arts leaders. West’s residency was followed in Fall 2023 with the residency of George E. Lewis, the Edwin H. Case Professor of Music at Columbia University. Lewis held a public lecture on decolonizing classical music and worked with students from across the school. A concert featuring his work, including the world premiere of his new composition “Tuning In,” capped his residency. Additionally, the 2023 Regents’ Professor, Huib Schippers, delivered the Regents’ Lecture on how global musical traditions either strive or struggle within their respective cultures.
For Spring 2023, the school’s Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience has programmed Dave Brubeck’s The Gates of Justice for a performance on Feb. 26 in Royce Hall. Written after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Brubeck intended his work to help heal the rift between Black and Jewish communities. It combines African American spirituals and the cantorial style of the Jewish temple. Accompanying the concert will be a symposium on the subject of social justice, and a second performance on Feb. 28 at Holman United Methodist Church.
Part of enhancing the School of Music’s brand was undertaking an important shift in planning and promoting the wealth of free public activities that it offers, including performances, talks, festivals, and more. In 2022, the School of Music launched its inaugural Signature, Statement, and Amplify series. The Signature Series offers selections from annual programming, while the Statement Series highlights special programming. Amplify is a series devoted to voices from underrepresented artists. Importantly, the Amplify Series collects events that also appear in the Signature and Statement Series.
“It was important to devote a series to voices that expand our musical experiences,” said Inaugural Dean Eileen Strempel. “We want to make sure that our Signature and Statement Series are not reserved for traditional western art music. We want to normalize an environment where inclusive excellence is reflected in the music and scholarship of all of our programming, as part of who we are as a school.”
The purpose of the strategic plan is to help make UCLA the place for twenty-first-century music education. Recent hirings have further diversified the faculty, another new gift from Herb Alpert has funded the renovation of our practice rooms, and students have new opportunities to perform with and be mentored (via paid internships) by music professionals.