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Aaron Vandermeer
Professor:
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Posted 09.14.2011


What should AEEN readers know about UNC-Pembroke?

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) was founded in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School, an institution to train American Indian public school teachers.  It has since grown into a more comprehensive Master’s Level I institution serving students from more diverse origins and offering a range of baccalaureate and master’s programs.  One of the most diverse universities in the nation, the student population is presently comprised of 16.33% Native American, 30.75% African American, 40.97% Caucasian, 2.92% Hispanic/Latino, 1.5% Asian, .09% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 3% Multi-racial, 1.37% Non-resident Alien, and 3.07% Other students.  UNCP prides itself upon offering high quality educational opportunities to many underrepresented and disadvantaged students, nontraditional populations, first generation college students, and those returning to school after military service.  Though the enrollment has increased substantially in the last five years to nearly 7,000 students (undergraduate and graduate), the small college ambience and a faculty dedicated to teaching have remained at the core of the University's character.  Our motto is:  "UNCP -- Where Learning Gets Personal."


Overall, how does your institution respond to, or reflect, Pembroke?


UNCP occupies 108 acres along the western edge of the town of Pembroke and represents one of the most significant sources of employment in Robeson County, home to the largest population of Native Americans in the state.  Largely because of its heritage and locale, UNCP partners with numerous community agencies and area schools.  Combining the opportunities available at a larger university with the personal attention of a small college, the university provides an intellectually challenging environment with a faculty dedicated to creative, effective teaching and scholarship.

Situated in the rural southeastern area of North Carolina, the region also includes the counties of Scotland, Richmond, Robeson, Moore, and Hoke.  Historically, individuals residing in these counties have long depended on employment opportunities in the textile, tobacco, and light manufacturing industries; however, these industries have been in decline for years and were further beset by the recent recession.  As a partial response to this economic reality, UNCP established the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship (TFCE), which was founded in 2006 with a generous gift from Jim and Sally Thomas.  Jim Thomas is a Lumbee Indian from Pembroke, and wanted to give back to the community by helping others start their own businesses.  The center provides consulting services at no charge to all local businesses and has established entrepreneurship programs at the UNCP.  These entrepreneurship programs interact with nearly all degree areas on campus, thze flagships of which are the Biotech and Music Business programs.


How did you become interested in entrepreneurship education?


I did my graduate work at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana.  I spent six years at IU, obtaining my Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies and completing the coursework for a doctorate in Brass Pedagogy.  Toward the end of my studies, I began to realize how incredibly competitive the job market was becoming, particularly in the areas of higher education and performance opportunities.  Many of my colleagues were sending out one application after another or taking numerous auditions, and fewer than I had expected were readily obtaining employment.  It became apparent that job opportunities were declining and the number of highly qualified applicants were increasing.  When confronted with this reality, one can't help but ponder alternative opportunities related to the skill set so diligently (and expensively) acquired.  This space is naturally the domain of the musician-entrepreneur. At the time I was not yet aware of the academic field of entrepreneurial studies.  Upon my 2007 hiring at UNCP, I was charged with coordinating the Jazz Studies and Music Business programs, and was fortunate to arrive in Pembroke shortly after a fellow former Indiana resident, Dr. Michael Menefee, had been hired as the Distinguished Professor for Entrepreneurship at the TFCE.   Mike had developed the Entrepreneurship program at Purdue.  We began to explore the ways our programs could work together, and after learning more about the field of entrepreneurship, it became clear that our combined curricula could form an excellent basis for training the modern musician-entrepreneur.


Your Music Business program is somewhat unique as it consists of Music Business, jazz, technology and entrepreneurship courses. Could you speak to this very interesting mix? How was it developed?


With significant innovations in global information sharing as well as the advent of the affordable home and portable recording studio, opportunities abound for the creative musician-entrepreneur.  Our curriculum was developed using this observation as a basic unifying principle.  My colleague, Larry Arnold (Music and Media Integration), and I first sought to utilize institutional resources that could benefit the program.  We identified the new Entrepreneurship Certificate program and Media Integration Studies as two important assets.  The foundation became:  Music - Technology - Entrepreneurship.

MUSIC:
Jazz musicians have taken an entrepreneurial approach to their careers throughout most of the history of Jazz in America, with the only possible exception occurring during the Swing Era from approximately 1935 - 1945, where it was America's popular music and jobs were relatively plentiful.  In this regard, it was somewhat of a natural fit to use Jazz Studies as the musical basis for the degree program.  However, there are many other reasons why this makes good sense.

Many students that express interest in our Music Business program come to UNCP inspired to participate in one of the many sub-genres of music that comprise the Popular Music industry.  Jazz is the ancestral root of music in more popular but less complex styles and remains closely related.  It provides an outstanding pedagogical model for musicians interested in modern commercial music.  It yields a rich palate with which to creatively differentiate and develop the music styles many of the students want to play.  Jazz history is better documented than earlier music histories, it enlightens the student about relations of music to a cultural zeitgeist with which they are more familiar, it helps students interpret the generations of their parents and grandparents, and it reinforces concepts and events in American history.  Most significantly for Music Business majors, Jazz history informs students about the rapid evolution of the industry since the invention of the microphone and recording, and the drum set and electric instruments that feature so prominently in the overwhelming market share of music recordings sold and instruments purchased today.

Jazz Composition facilitates the creation of original student works for small, economically-friendly, ensembles.  It also deals with shorter forms that are at the root of American popular music since 1950.

The small ensemble as major ensemble, specifically the Jazz Combo, is essential to the philosophy of the curriculum.  Not only does it make sense from an economic standpoint for the future musician-entrepreneur -- it is much more realistic to rehearse, record, gain employment and tour with, say, five musicians than it is with the 100 musicians of a symphony orchestra -- it facilitates curricular synergy with the courses on the degree, including Jazz Composition, studio recording, and media integration studies.  Combos teach creativity and versatility.  Many styles of jazz are performed, some verging on the popular.  Songs made famous in a particular style can be played in a completely different style.  Students quickly realize formal organizational norms, and get ideas on how to manipulate them.  Jazz Combo also provides a great format for teaching theory, as chord-scale relationship are necessarily realized for improvisation.  It is a creative endeavor where student have input, experience intimate musical camaraderie, and are encouraged to develop their own voice.  The music is never the same twice, and new ideas are the currency, much like in entrepreneurship.  The instrumentation is closely associated with the cornerstone of popular music groups -- keyboards, bass, guitar, drums.  The combo is small, elastic, and has the potential to provide many performance opportunities in a variety of venues.  Students are also encouraged to work together outside of the classroom.

Additionally, the use of the Jazz curriculum reflects a significant portion of our student and regional community where the African-American Baptist church is a staple.  The musical traditions are central to the ethos of these churches, and the music they hear at Sunday services -- Gospel -- is really a form of Jazz, as the great New Orleans-born musician and scholar Danny Barker noted in the 1970s.  The UNCP Music Department regularly sees talented students from this background applying to school, especially on bass and drums, that have well developed ears and musicianship, and have been performing regularly since they were young.  However, their musical literacy skills are often sub-par or non-existent due to the primacy of the oral tradition in the church.  These instrumental students have too often been rejected from schools of music when only the standard Euro-centric music curriculum is available.  These students are often surprised to learn that they are playing a form of jazz, but their skills transfer well to the Jazz Combo format and thus, they are put in a position to
succeed, developing a string musical literacy, extended technique, honing their skills, and ultimately bringing these skills back to their church.

TECHNOLOGY:
This component of the program added two courses addressing recording skills:  
Audio Production and Studio Techniques.  These courses are designed to encourage and equip the student musician with the ability to be self-sufficient in the era of portable and home studios, diminishing the need to confront the often intimidating and inconvenient obstacle of traveling to an established recording facility and paying for expensive studio time. The other two courses, Media Integration and Media Integration Production, are team-taught in partnership with the UNCP Digital Academy.  Commonly known as multimedia studies, students in these courses complete original digital work at the intersection of three main areas -- digital art, animation, and audio production.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP:
This module of the curriculum uses the twocourses that comprise the Entrepreneurship Studies portion of the Certificate Program:  
Innovation, Growth and Sustainability, and Planning and Strategy.  These courses proceed methodically through competencies needed to run a successful business.  The final course of the certificate, Planning and Strategy, culminates in the production of a viable business plan ready to be enacted, as assessed by the faculty of Music Business and Entrepreneurship Studies.


Are the three entrepreneurship courses taught in the music department or in the business school?

The three courses in the entrepreneurship sequence are taught in the business school.  The final course of the series results in the formation of a business plan that is program-specific.

You also have an interesting required course in the Music Business degree - Web Design. What was the rational for making this course required in the degree plan?

Unfortunately, the Web Design course became a casualty of the substantial budget cuts experienced by schools of the UNC system.  However, the rational was that basic web design skills can be a valuable tool for any entrepreneur, but are particularly important for the musician-entrepreneur.  One of our pedagogical themes in the Music Business program is developing Multiple Revenue Streams.  Students in the program develop skills in performance, recording, and technology, and some also endeavor to compose, write, or start arts organizations.  With multi-faceted careers and the typical need for low start-up costs in business ventures, musician-entrepreneurs need a quick way to gain exposure and refer potential clients to their services.  Our students will likely have private instructional studios, home/portable recording facilities, and may participate in many musical groups each year.  This reality renders it implausible to constantly communicate with and pay a web designer to keep up with their multi-faceted careers.  Programs such as iWeb have made it possible to construct attractive sites that provide much of the basic functionality required of their needs.  Though web sites of many established businesses require advanced design skills that demand programming expertise that takes years to develop, the basic skill set for the musician is nevertheless a valuable tool.


How do we negotiate the need for music training to approach the 21st century when budget cuts not just thwart our efforts, but require us to scramble and get this info out to students?

I wish I knew the answer to this question!  It is certainly a great challenge to develop a focussed pedagogical approach to a degree program when the rules of the game are constantly changing.  However, the nature of the music industry is similar with the rapid evolution of technology and public tastes for music.  It would be folly to train students to acquire skills that will become obsolete in the near future.  It becomes necessary to adapt quickly to changes and have a good understanding of the implications of technological innovation.  It also behooves us to identify a core skill-set of the musician-entrepreneur that is unlikely to become antiquated and direct our efforts toward these competencies.  In music, some of the fundamental skills that shall not perish are proficiency on one's instrument or voice, the ability to dissect and (re)create music, and an understanding of the relationship of music to culture.  With regard to entrepreneurship, I think the greatest asset an educator can bestow upon the student is to teach them to see through the prism of the entrepreneur.  During the course of an undergraduate degree program, this nucleus of skills can still be substantially afforded even in times of waning budgets.


How are your students responding to the degree? Do they see this as a way to stay fiscally viable in Pembroke, NC or as an "out" to more metropolitan pursuits?

The major curriculum changes that modernized the degree program were enacted in 2009.  Since then, our enrollment has increased dramatically. Additionally, in 2011, we also began offering a Classical Track to the program, which has already generated significant interest.  Though I will stress that it is too early to make any grand pronouncements on the efficacy of our curriculum, I can say with confidence that any music student, excepting those intent on becoming a public school educator, will have a much better chance of forging and sustaining a career in music than those who choose programs with more traditional music curricula.  Though it isn't a substantial goal of our program to direct our graduates to develop businesses in and around the Pembroke region, we certainly welcome it, and, along with the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, we will do all we can to support such endeavors.  Currently, approximately one third of our students have plans to stay in the area after graduation, and entrepreneurial studies have the potential make this a viable option, even in a region besieged by poor economic indicators.  Approximately half our students envision moving to metropolitan areas with a vibrant performing arts scene.  Due to the nature of the curriculum as well as nature of global information sharing and e-commerce, we are in the favorable position of not being forced to promote one demographic over another.


How do you see the future of entrepreneurship education in music training?

I see the future of entrepreneurship education in the college music curriculum eventually becoming the convention in all music degree programs, with the possible exception of music education (though one can certainly muse upon entrepreneurial merits in this program, too).  As a Jazz scholar and educator, I have seen just how slowly the traditional university curriculum has adapted to changes in music.  Now over one hundred years after the emergence of jazz, it is still all too common for a music student to be able to achieve multiple degrees without requirement  of a single class on jazz topics.  The same can be said of the study of Rhythm 'n Blues and Rock 'n Roll, though they are comparatively young.  The curriculum is already sated, and what should be jettisoned in its stead?  The staunch institutionalization of the 1850's Germanic curriculum in music remains paramount -- codified before the innovations of the blues, ragtime, jazz, the recording, the microphone, the drum set, electric instruments -- and has been scantly altered since.  However, with conservatories over-producing exceptional musicians for many years, music written for large and expensive ensembles, and diminishing consumer demand for the standard music of the institution on record and in live performance, collegiate music programs find themselves necessarily at a crossroads.  Should we, then, stop teaching the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Berlioz?  Absolutely not!  However, the institution must adapt.  We are seeing this recognition and adjustment with a number of institutions considered to be in the top tier.  Currently, many of these schools are offering extra-curricular seminars to get their students thinking entrepreneurially, as exemplified by "Project Jumpstart" at Indiana University.  This is a sensible and manageable solution, but I think it does not go far enough.  I endorse the inclusion of entrepreneurial studies and basic recording and production courses on the curricula of nearly all music degree programs at schools of any pedigree.  These topics are not just for Music Industry degree programs anymore.  These skills have become practical and necessary, and I can imagine no reasonable way of avoiding them.


What makes the UNCP effort unique?

The effort of UNCP is unique with respect to a Music Business program in that it has significant components of entrepreneurial and multimedia studies.  It is also unusual in that we offer both Classical and Jazz & Commercial tracks to our program.  Additionally, our location in a region of low population density and modest economic performance has compelled us to be completely committed to the development of entrepreneurial thinking.

I hope we have created a curriculum that most closely resembles the skill set for the modern musician-entrepreneur of any stylistic sensibility.  Only time will tell, but I think our approach represents a big step in the right direction.


You can email Aaron
here.