Art is power

There are no music stands in Rooms 106 at the School of Music. There’s no podium either. What you will find are spaces for brainstorming and planning — whiteboards and corkboards, flip charts and Post-it notes, books on finance and leadership.

And just in case there’s a need play out those ideas, the room has a seven-foot Baldwin piano.

More idea incubator than music studio, the SPARKLab is a training ground where USC music students hone skills that reach beyond the concert hall, explains Rebecca Nagel, a professional oboist and the director of Carolina’s Music Leadership Laboratory, or SPARK.

“Twenty five years from now, I’d like see the arts — and music specifically — as more than a pretty frill,” Nagel says. “Future generations will need to know how to communicate verbally, virtually and visually. They will need to know how to share their musicianship with all aspects of society. They will need the skills to communicate successfully with everyone from the mayor to the business community to their neighbors.”

Historically, musicians have always been a bit entrepreneurial, contracting their talents for functions such as weddings and corporate events, symphony orchestras concerts and recording sessions.

But Nagel believes the successful musician of tomorrow will be valuable to health care, economic development and government.

The SPARK program gets music students active in the community, partnering them with schools and community service organizations as well as medical facilities and other institutions, including Oliver Gospel Mission, Richland Library, SisterCare and Dorn Veterans Administration Medical Center.

“Music should be an important element in community development,” says Nagel. “Companies want to locate in places that have an active arts life. The arts make communities livable. Who doesn’t want to be around beautiful sights and sounds?”

UofSC music students also take part in arts advocacy, get involved in fundraising and grant writing, and take a course in personal finance as applied to the life of a musician. And just as she wants her students to be able to navigate corporate boardrooms and the halls of government, Nagel hopes leaders in those areas begin to recognize just how important artists are to our communities.

“Music has the ability to connect us to each other,” she says. “I believe that everyone has felt connected to the world around them through the arts and through music. I think music makes us human.”

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This story originally appeared in the September issue of USC Times.

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