Leading Blog


Artists as Leaders of Society

Robert Cutietta
USC Thornton School of Music dean, Dr. Robert Cutietta, gave an entertaining and interesting commencement speech to The Colburn Conservatory of Music—the premier west coast performing arts school—that focused on artists as leaders of society.

Cutietta began by asking the graduates how they would have an impact on today’s world with degree in music performance. He stated, “Whether people know it or not, our society looks to its artists for a type of leadership that is not found elsewhere. When artists speak people listen. I think subconsciously, society believes that artists possess a certain type of wisdom, a certain outlook on the world, a certain trustworthiness that is seldom found elsewhere."

By way of example, he mentioned the world-class cellist Mstislav Rostropovich who died last month. Rostropovich was a defender of human rights in the former Soviet Union. Cutietta noted, “He used his music and his fame to be an inspiration to many artists and writers to think and act independently. His call was heard and respected by artists and non-artists alike because people inherently feel that artists, by their very nature, have something important to say.

“When the Berlin Wall fell (November 1989) Rostropovich used his music to highlight the importance of this event. He held an impromptu solo concert at the base of the wall. But he didn’t play flamboyant, celebratory fanfares, he performed Bach. What a great choice. What other music could capture the depth of emotions, the implications and complexities that the collapse of the wall really meant? No words could have captured that moment in time with the expressive subtleties as that solo performance.

“Likewise, could we even imagine the civil rights movement without the songs that moved us to tears and action, the Viet Nam war without many of the protest songs, or Bernstein’s Mass, or Yo-Yo Ma using his influence to highlight the impact Asia has had on Western art music.

“For some reason too many musicians are silent. I fear that something has changed and artists don’t see themselves as leaders of society.

“If artists abandon this role, the leadership paradigm loses its balance of power. For our future to remain bright, we need artists to be leaders to help envision the positive future that can be, by helping point out the present that shouldn’t be.”

Has this degree prepared you for the real world? Cutietta asked. “I hope not. If that is all it has done, then you and your teachers have wasted your time. The more important question is whether your degree prepares you to change the real world; to make it a better place for all of us to live in.”

Cutietta believes that their degree has prepared them to make an impact on the world because he told them, "you understand perfection. You understand hard work. You understand self-discipline. You understand working intimately with others towards a goal. And without a doubt, the most important thing you understand is the importance, the power, and meaningfulness of pure beauty.

“All of you share a very real and a very unique responsibility to lead, to be a leader and to make a difference; To use your phenomenal talent and training not just for self-serving gains, not just to become famous, but to truly make a difference.”

zipper hall
NOTE: The Colburn School has a great concert hall – Zipper Hall – but it also works as a good meeting venue for less than 400 people at a reasonable price. So, if you’re in downtown Los Angeles and need a place to meet you might check it out. It’s situated across from Disney Concert Hall and the LA Music Center.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:54 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Leadership



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