We have now officially reached the conclusion of the Music Academy Remote Learning Institute (MARLI). The seminars, lessons, and classes have ended. The performances—so thoughtfully produced—have all been uploaded, the winners of the various opportunities selected. What we’re left with is a sense of optimism in the knowledge that not even a pandemic can quell the artistic spirit, that the challenges we face today can be overcome through hard work and creativity, and that the future of this art form lies in the hands of these extraordinary fellows.
MARLI was an idea born out of necessity but built upon a foundation of existing ideas and principles. Like all transformational moments, this experience will feature prominently in the history of the Music Academy and is certain to leave an indelible mark on its future. The conversations started this summer are only the beginning.
For the final “In Review” post of MARLI, I sat down over Zoom with Music Academy President and CEO Scott Reed to talk about MARLI’s place in the present and future of the Academy.
Music Academy President and CEO Scott Reed
Henry Michaels: When did Music Academy first begin exploring the idea of a remote festival experience? Describe a little of the process.
Scott Reed: We began looking at options right away. When the pandemic started to take shape and the world started to understand the seriousness of COVID-19, the Music Academy began talking about how we were going to move forward. We didn’t feel that cancelling the summer was an option for us. We were committed to delivering our mission no matter what. We knew it would involve a focus on innovation and on what a successful remote learning model could look like under these circumstances.
We started with reviewing the financial models. It was very important that we made sure that we were fiscally responsible and that whatever decisions we made would not be detrimental either in the short or the long term. At the same time, we knew we were going to need help. We’re experts in teaching, we’re experts in training, and we’re experts in producing high-quality performances, but the virtual environment represented a steep learning curve for us. When I spoke with Chief Artistic Officer Jamie Broumas, we both agreed that we needed to find people who were highly proficient in online training and who aligned with our organizational values. She quickly identified Jennifer Bowman and Casey Molino Dunn. When we spoke to both of them, we were wowed! We just knew these were the right people for the job. We made a brilliant decision in bringing them both on.
This organization mobilized in a way that I have never seen in the 20-plus years that I’ve been involved. Everybody. The faculty, the fellows, the administration, the board, our investors all mobilized. We were all singularly focused on standing up as an organization to provide tools, training, and inspiration for our fellows. It was a great reminder that you can have all the ideas in the world, but when you have the right people that can implement and execute, that’s when the magic happens.
Music Academy has been focused on issues like innovation, audience engagement, entrepreneurship, and social justice over the last few years, especially with the Classical Evolution/Revolution conference. But Classical Evolution/Revolution always happened during the Summer Festival, when things were intensely busy for both fellows, faculty, and the community. In many ways MARLI has felt like an opportunity to slow-down and rediscover what’s important. How do you think this experience will change the Academy’s approach to these important topics moving forward?
I’m glad you mentioned Classical Evolution/Revolution. The MARLI pivot wasn’t about figuring out how to create conversations around career development, innovation, and social justice. We’d already been doing that through Classical Evolution/Revolution. But it was difficult to make that truly work during the Summer Festival, which is such a saturated time.
With MARLI it was like a revelation. It isn’t necessary to fly in all the panelists or deal with complicated travel schedules. The fellows can sit in their rooms and listen to these discussions. Plus, suddenly instead of sitting in a concert hall with 150 feet between them and the panelists, they’re face to face with them. And then you can do breakout sessions and now a small group of ten fellows are having engaging conversations with leading innovators in our industry such as Julia Bullock, Claire Chase, Beth Morrison and Conrad Tao.
We’ve realized this the way to do it. That’s what’s been so great about MARLI. MARLI wasn’t about figuring out how to do a Summer Festival in 2020. It was about bringing new methods of training and performing to our program that are sustainable and will make us more effective. The virtual panels are one place where I don’t think we’ll ever turn back.
What has the reaction to MARLI been like among the people you’ve spoken with?
The word that keeps coming up is gratitude. The gratitude our faculty have to the Music Academy, the gratitude that our fellows have to the Music Academy, the gratitude our administration has, the gratitude I have. There is no one person we can point to as the creator of MARLI. It has taken every single person in this organization to pull this off. It’s fun to stand back and see the Music Academy of the West, this incredible organization, and feel such gratitude that we’ve been able to accomplish this collectively.
What have been some of the highlights of MARLI for you, personally?
In terms of the big picture, it’s been amazing for me to see how this organization has pivoted. But really it’s been the fellows. I was so struck watching the Copland Fanfare for the Common Man during the end credits as it showed the fellows in all their locations. It was an illuminating moment where I realized just how many circumstances the fellows had to overcome to make this program successful. And I was so proud and overwhelmed in that moment when I saw those credits, reflecting on how incredible these fellows are and how essential their relentlessness was in making MARLI possible.
As we approach the end of this new endeavor, what do you feel will be MARLI’s most enduring impact?
MARLI has transformed our organization. There have been moments in our history that have changed our course. When the Music Academy was given the Miraflores estate in 1951, when Marilyn Horne became the director of our voice program in 1996, when we launched our partnership with the New York Philharmonic in 2014 and then the LSO in 2018—these were things that made people look at the Music Academy differently and made us think about the organization differently. MARLI has been one of those moments. I think people will look back on this as a time when Music Academy changed. It’s a moment that we realized we can always—will always—be relevant, that we will always be willing to step up to the plate and do what is necessary to serve our mission.
I would also say embracing technology, embracing this magnificent virtual world that can be overwhelming and intimidating, has opened up so many new possibilities for our organization. We’ve recommitted to ourselves that we’re an organization that embraces change and is always willing to evolve. We know MARLI was successful because MARLI isn’t a one-off. MARLI will continue to influence how we run our program and make it more accessible going forward.