The National Youth Orchestra of Spain, during a rehearseal at
Madrid National Auditorium of Music (June 2019)
La formación superior de nuestros músicos / The higher training of our musicians
Presentation at the round table on this topic at Stage '95 - La Roca del Vallés (Barcelona), July 16, 1995
First of all, I would like to thank for having been invited by "La Caixa" Foundation to participate in this meeting, within an activity as worthy of all praise as this Stage dedicated to Chamber Music is, all the more so since this musical facet is going through truly critical moments in our days, as evidenced by the almost definitive disappearance, starting next year, of the "Chamber and Polyphony Cycle" of the Madrid National Music Auditorium. On the other hand, I want to highlight the happy idea that someone would think of calling a group of musicians to talk not so much about music (the bad tongues assure that there is only one thing that we musicians enjoy more than the own music: speaking of it) as about its teaching.
In addition, as a composer, I am pleased to see that three Spanish composers sit down at this round table on the higher training of our musicians -although the moderator exercises other things, I know that deep down in his heart he is as much a composer as any of the rest-, because although it is a coincidence, entropy has come to coincide with the reality that throughout history it has been up to composers to open the gap in musical evolution in its technical and aesthetic aspects, which in turn has led to a parallel development, although, by academic prudence, always lagging behind the former, in its pedagogical aspect.
As a composer I have been invited, and as such I wish to develop this presentation, in the conviction that the best way to serve the cause at hand is to speak from the point of view of a composer -a professional- actively involved in teaching. This double role is sometimes hard to put into practice, but it has the advantage that it allows us to consider certain things with a double perspective: thus, the contemplation from within the professional practice allows me to detect the deficiencies that make it difficult, my teaching part taking care of analyzing the reasons for these deficiencies, looking for their causes in training, and trying to correct them from pedagogical practice. Naturally, all of this conditioned by the continuous review of my own formative experience.
Quickly summarizing the conclusions of this entire process, I could say that as a teacher, also involved in a reform of the caliber of which is being carried out, I can through this reflection review the educational system to modify it, update it and, in short, make it effective, while, as a composer, I accept the inherited and shared responsibility that implies being obliged to open paths that lead to a continuous review of what is taught, as well as the formulas that make the evolution of musical thought feasible.
To proceed correctly with all this, it is necessary to have a clear awareness of what is intended, with which we come to the first platitude of this presentation, which should not be less worth mentioning because it is so. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the blush towards the platitude often leads us to forget that behind its formulation there is always the Truth. What is intended with the reform in progress, in that sense, is nothing other than quality training, which allows the full development of the artistic capacities of the students and makes their future professional practice possible in the best conditions. Consequently, professional practice is nothing but the heads of a coin whose tails, for its full value, cannot be other than the training that qualifies for it.
As an active composer, I am obliged to denounce that, in the current situation of the country -happily in the process of being solved, although the medium or long term sometimes makes us skeptica - these heads and these tails do not correspond to the same coin, but two, and very different: one, the good one, the legal tender, is used for the sale and purchase of the professional practice that nourishes the needs of our society. Those needs are, as we all know, ever greater: they have forced a proliferation of orchestras and auditoriums, and in little more than a decade they have changed our previously desert landscape. And it turns out, also as we all know, that the tails of that coin is not the musical training of our graduates, but the high number of foreign professionals who have been imported so that musical activity was not only possible, but also that it developed within the level of quality of foreign groups, to which we are accustomed through the radio, the records, and their frequent visits to our country.
Our senior graduates - except isolated cases, of course- belong to the tails of the other coin: false, it would seem, more than a coin, an honorary medal. Its title is similar, from a purely legal point of view, to that of foreigners who enter through Irún, which is where the Spanish ingenuity used to place the main "exit" of our musicians; however, their quality is far below that guaranteed by the latter, not allowing competition or, therefore, a professional practice that takes refuge, most of the time, in teaching. Second truism-paradox: it is precisely this aspect of teaching that is the most neglected of our higher degree, as we all know. In this way the ball -of mud, more than of snow - grows more and more fat, in a continuous self-degradation of teaching.
Faced with this situation, the undertaking is clear: withdraw all those coins from circulation, melt them together and mint a new single currency, in accordance with those circulating in the countries of the European Union: in a word, and third truism: listing in the European market.
An analysis of the possible causes of such a regrettable situation yields the following balance: a) a barely formative curriculum, since all its attention seems to be focused on a single aspect, that related to the purely specific of each specialty, and even this is not cared as it should on many occasions; b) as a consequence, immense gaps -quasi oceans- in relation to the educational aspects not contemplated, together with c) mistreated contents of the few non-specific subjects that make up the curriculum, which are frequently subjected to a theoretical treatment more speculative than real, alien to any practical application (for example the air of an unsolvable problem that some harmony exercises acquire, or that torture called severe counterpoint, a true diabolical invention with which we torment our students during a course, and according to whose guidelines not a single work has been composed throughout history). Other non-academic causes must necessarily refer to a lack of clarity in teaching, which has led to a strange hybrid, excessive for amateurs and insufficient for professionals, as well as very unfavorable conditions for its impartation, derived mainly from the uncontrolled overcrowding that has overwhelmed our centers for many years.
The logical solutions should follow, in my opinion, the reverse process: first, addressing the more prosaic aspects, if you will, of the problem (such as those referring to infrastructure, classification of centers, teacher / student numerical relationship, etc.), which not only guarantee that the teaching will be carried out in suitable conditions, but also contribute to clarifying them, clearly delimiting the professional world from the non-professional, and proceeding to do so through a rigorous process of selection of the students.
In second place is the reform of the curriculum, whose upper stage must be very particularly cared, since it must lead to the professional world not in the form of a cataract, from whose fall only a few disasters survive, but as an enriching delta, in the sense that it must open to educational aspects that must go beyond the purely technical specific of the specialty itself.
Within this general approach, the recently approved Royal Decree on basic aspects of the higher-level music curriculum seeks a homogeneous treatment of the different specialties, establishing for each one of them a structure based on three large areas: the specific, the theoretical-humanistic, and the ensembles. Each of these areas will have to give rise, in the development that each educational Administration proceeds to elaborate, to a series of subjects related to them, the set of which will configure the definitive curriculum or study plan for each specialty. Thus, the specific area of a specialty such as Piano could be integrated, in addition to the teaching of the instrument itself, by other subjects such as Tuning and mechanics of the instrument or Stylistic evolution of the repertoire; The theoretical-humanistic area would have a strong presence of Analysis, along with other subjects such as History of music, Historical sources of musical interpretation or Contemporary music; the ensemble area would focus fundamentally on the practice of Chamber Music, and would force the students to participate in the Superior Conservatory Choir ... the different specialties are developed in a similar line.
Finally, I would not like to put an end to these words without remembering, since I am addressing an audience made up mainly of students who may be teaching tomorrow, that a reform of these characteristics has a necessary normative part, which allows be formulated in writing and published in the BOE for your knowledge and compliance. But its success is not in any way guaranteed in this way, but it goes through a complete awareness, through the sensitization of its ethical fiber, of the teachers in charge of carrying it out, because every educational system obliges its components to participate actively in its review process.
Madrid, July 15, 1995