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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On zillions for Colburn and Juilliard,
and the death of a landsnail named Edmund,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

$? ' Dear Alice,

Did you read the Chicago Tribune article about all the money flooding into American Conservatories? A $90 million endowment at Northwestern, $120 million at the Colburn School, and $193 million for Juilliard. I don't get it. Symphonies are in trouble -- chamber music is dying -- and all these billionaires can think of to do is to endow a building or two at a conservatory?
D G, Chicago

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Alice Dear D,

Got hold of the article and I know what you mean -- though its author does try to analyze it, mentioning (a) the aging -- in some cases crumbling -- buildings; (b) the huge demand for places, especially from foreigners; (c) the fact that, in 2007-08, 110,778 music majors entered institutions (no, not mental institutions!!!!) -- in other words, demand is more than holding up; (d) the stampede effect, whereby a couple of huge and well-publicized donations suggest the idea to others; (e) the truth that the US is now both big enough and rich enough to support even niche interests at universities, and even (f), the idea that, after 9/11, there has been a turning to the arts generally, trying to make sense of a crazy world.

While Gwyn Richards, dean of Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music (my alma mater, back before somebody called Jacobs spent $44 million on it, when it was still called Indiana University School of Music) opined: 'Maybe now we're back to the idea that [you're] going to college really to be educated as a person, and that what you do as an undergraduate doesn't have to be directly tied to what you do professionally.'

It sounds to me as if there is an element of truth in all these answers, though I know what you mean about the orchestras -- and the irony of state-of-the-art facilities training up 110,000 students for -- what??? The only one that doesn't ring quite true is Gwyn Richards'. In these days of specialization, I can't really think that the West is going to go back to some liberal arts ideal of creating rounded people. (I'd like to think it's true, but I suspect differently!!!!!!)

With regard to your implied question: yes, of course the zillions would be better spent on struggling orchestras (and on starving Africans, come to that), but it doesn't have the same ring, does it??? The Jacobs endowment for starving Africans. The Jacobs Symphony Orchestra of Jacksonville. Compare that to your name engraved on a mega-building and going down in history, as the alma mater of:


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? ' Dear Alice,

I don't know what it is, but every time you buzz off and I have to look after your pets, they always die. Was it something I said?

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Alice Dear Peter,

No, of course not!!!! That Giant African Landsnail was for it. He had long since stopped exuberantly climbing Everest (out of his cage, up the wall and all the way up to the ceiling), which was why he was christened Edmund Hilary. He had lost interest in the outsides of cucumbers and only got really excited when the weather was warm enough for a 'run' in the garden (moving at a whopping .000001 miles per 24 hours).

Now he has gone to that great garden in the sky, where cucumbers grow on trees, the grass is composed of mango, and the sun is always a steady warmth but never too hot for a snail. I only hope that they know he's a natural climber, and that there's some wall somewhere that he can have a go at.

Your friend,

Copyright © 2 May 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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