Making his own kind of music
By: Frenche` Brewer, email@example.com, 803-777-3691
You get a different vibe when you enter David Cutler’s classroom in the School of Music.
Part of it is the mellow yellow color on the walls, part of it is the unconventional seating — café style tables and chairs. But mostly, it’s Cutler. When you meet him, you get the feeling that something different happens within the four long walls of his classroom.
Cutler — a classical and jazz pianist and composer, and author of “The Savvy Musician”— brought his brand of thought and instruction to the University of South Carolina this fall to teach music entrepreneurship. He also brought with him a vision.
Cutler says he came here with the goal to “help transform a great music school into a leading music school.”
But not in the conventional way. Cutler’s philosophy focuses on provoking thought, stretching the imagination and spurring leadership in his students.
“This program is not just about money — cultivating leadership is key,” Cutler says.
Why is that so important?
“There is no shortage of great piano players. We already have more than can reasonably be accommodated by today’s competitive job market. What the world desperately needs, however, is more leaders and innovators, people who can find new solutions to new problems,” Cutler says. “And if you happen to be a piano player, or a singer, or an educator, or conductor who can do that, there is demand for your skills and art.”
Cutler often challenges conventional wisdom in his classes. A blackboard that covers portions of one wall with what would appear to be streams of consciousness thoughts scribbled across it offers thought provoking lessons.
On the blackboard fondly referred to as the “wisdom wall,” “work to overcome your strengths” is emblazoned.
“This life lesson — articulated by a student — means that the things we’re really good at often put blinders on us. As a result, we may not recognize our full range of potential because we hide behind that talent,” Cutler says.
His unconventional approach has made a lasting impression on Elizabeth Gergel, a sophomore cello performance major from Asheville, N.C.
“In some ways this class has met my expectations, though in other ways it has exceeded them. Rather than solely teaching me information and skills, the class has taught me new ways of thinking,” Gergel says. “It has pushed my boundaries of creativity and innovation, and truly changed my outlook to be more worldly, exploratory and innovative.”
To encourage his students to stretch their imaginations, Cutler stresses group-think and challenges them to come up with projects requiring collaboration and action.
In his Entrepreneurship in Musicclass, each student pitches an idea for an arts-based venture with the potential to generate revenue. Students vote on the best concepts, form teams, create a business model and design sample events. The semester ends by presenting to external judges, who provide feedback and award cash prizes.
“Students learn not just by talking or reading or taking tests, but from doing,” Cutler says.
For Jessica Quattrini, a junior music and art major from Columbia, the class opened her eyes to the possibilities.
“This project gave me great work experience by showing me how to organize and construct a business model, and I learned how to prioritize my life and responsibilities,” Quattrini says.
One of the biggest changes in music higher education during the last 10 years, is a realization that churning out outstanding artists is not enough, Cutler says. Programs are now exploring ways that better prepare students for professional, financial and artistic success.
USC is the first university to offer a minor in music entrepreneurship. As part of his job, Cutler feels a responsibility to help students find a way to become relevant, viable and sustainable musicians.