Michelle Obama hosts music education event. Strictly no classical

Michelle Obama hosts music education event. Strictly no classical


norman lebrecht

May 20, 2014

The First Lady is participating in something called Turnaround Arts initiative, a worthy attempt to upgrade failing schools by adding arts education. She has recuited a number of celebrities to highlight the cause. But when push comes to shove and the kids come to the White House today, all she’ll hear is guitar, drums, ukelel and rap. What kind of message is that? Closing of the American Mind.

Press release extract below.

michelle obama

On Tuesday, May 20, First Lady Michelle Obama will host students from Turnaround Arts schools across the nation and renowned performers and artists at the first-ever White House talent show. Students will perform and showcase their work at the White House, joined by the Turnaround Artists who have been volunteering with their schools to support their arts education. Artists participating in Tuesday’s White House event include Sarah Jessica Parker, Chuck Close, John Lloyd Young, Damian Woetzel, George Wolfe, Alfre Woodard, Troy Andrews (Trombone Shorty), Cristina Pato, Shane Shanahan and Kojiro Umezaki. Artists in attendance include Kerry James Marshall, Kal Penn, Frank Gehry, Clarence Greenwood (Citizen Cope), Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Doc Shaw and Chad Smith.


  • Christy says:

    Unfortunately, I believe the only classical artist participating in Turnaround Arts is Ms. Fleming. She is on the other coast. The event involves only those artists.

    The US desperately needs another classical artist to infiltrate popular culture to even a small extent. Classical artists, even those who are accessible, can often seem so isolated and cut off.

  • Suzanne Doob says:

    This is leadership? So sad.

  • Theresa says:

    If Walmart were sponsoring classical artists (not that I’m advocating that).. . The Obamas never met a corporate sponsorship they didn’t like.

  • Alan Karnovitz says:

    The term “artist” is the most abused term in the English language. Pretty clear that the Obama’s know nothing of western art music and will do nothing to promote it. One has to really go back to the Reagan and Carter Administrations to when great classical musicians were welcome guests to the White House. Think Horowitz and Feltsman to name just two.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Dear Alan, you failed to mention Jackie Kennedy. Her name must be remembered for she is THE person who was able to gather the most important artists in the White House. That said, it is a rare occasion to see, for example, the mayor of San Francisco at one of the Symphony’s regular concerts. Or New York’s mayor at the MET or at a performance of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Or the Obamas at a concert of the National Symphony. Overall, I have the impression that it is bad publicity for a political leader in the US to be observed at high culture events, as this might be interpreted as “elitist behavior”, which equals ineligibility for public office. I fondly remember being a regular at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, many years ago, and seeing the city’s mayor in one of the back rows in the orchestra enjoying a fine concert together with his fellow subcribers. As for Michelle’s event: the situation in the US is so dire that any exposure to music is an achievement. But not all is lost: I attended a concert by the San Francisco Youth Symphony two days ago: Wagner Siegfried Rhine Journey, Haydn 104, Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra – absolutely brilliant. The audience – kids of elementary school age all the way up to octogenarians – went through the roof.

    • m2n2k says:

      To be fair, inviting Feltsman was more a political gesture than a cultural one.

  • This depiction does a disservice to the Turnaround Arts program, which I wrote about in a long arts-education piece last year (and which, at at least one school, includes Suzuki training): http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/liveblog/wp/2013/02/21/magazine-the-education-issue-after-years-of-crouching-arts-ed-is-raising-its-hand-again/

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Thank you, Anne, I just read your article. There is some great work done in many places, and still very much more to do. The challenges are huge, and at the same time it is good to keep aware of what is happening right now. Not all is lost, thank goodness.

    • Christy says:

      Thank you, Anne. A wonderful program. The report on the news last evening was excellent.

      My question is this – how do classical music and classical artists become more involved?

  • Joe says:

    Maybe she can hold up a sign that reads “#save our arts” and all will be well.

  • Geoffrey says:

    Folks, we should applaud any effort to get the arts back in schools and to get our nation’s youth artistically reinvigorated. As a classical musician myself, I have to say that it is this sort of petulant isolationism and crying foul from the classical music community that is heralding the decline of the art form. You can’t force classical music on society. There has to be a demand for it.

  • Evan T says:

    Out of curiosity, why is it that journalism on arts education, and music education in particular, often excludes mention of the voices of highly qualified certified music educators and in place emphasizes professional performers who take part in schools or organizations that provide services to schools. For instance, in Anne Midgette’s article the National Association for Music Education is mentioned in one sentence but the majority of the article leaves out mentioning or including the perspectives of certified music educators who are turning around schools, who have successful sustainable and thriving programs, or are working tirelessly to maintain music programs in areas that are defunded? It seems pretty consistent that an article on music education in schools is more likely to mention El Sistema, teaching artists, or professional performers than certified music educators, so I wonder why this is?

    On another note, a growing number of music education programs in schools are broadening to be more inclusive of the types of genres and instrumentation mentioned in the original post.