High school musicians will soon be able to take a class from the Juilliard School. Well, kind of.
The noted conservatory, which offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in music, is lending its name and expertise to a series of online K-12 courses that will be marketed to individual students and school districts starting this fall and offered through Pearson’s Connections platform.
Juilliard President Joseph Polisi said the courses will fill a need by providing rigorous music study for young people, something that’s increasingly rare in the K-12 realm as school districts slash arts funding. Polisi said the online courses, which have been in the works for 18 months, are meant to complement classroom teachers and not replace them.
The New York arts school will receive payments based on the number of students who enroll in the online classes. Neither Juilliard nor Connections would say how much money is at stake, but Polisi said the payout would go largely to scholarships for Juilliard students and that financial gain wasn’t the main reason for the partnership. School districts and individual students who want access to the lessons will pay a licensing fee, the amount of which hasn't been decided.
“Primarily what drove it is that we have an enormous passion for the idea that art should be an important part of the American educational system,” the president said.
Online education, both in colleges and K-12, isn’t new. But the most successful online efforts tend to be in subject areas such as science or math. And to be sure, there are limitations in offering an online music class.
“I don’t think we’re ever planning on having a band director in New York and a band in Topeka,” Polisi said. But, using national standards for music education, he said Juilliard’s online courses can offer something else by using technology to provide real-world examples of theoretical concepts.
“When you study a work of music, you don’t study it in a theoretical closeted way but rather within the context of repertoire,” he said. “If you’re studying repetitive eighth notes, instead of just looking at those repetitive eight notes on a sheet of paper, you hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”
The first set of classes will launch this fall, with separate curriculums for grades kindergarten-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Second-grade students, Polisi said, might learn the beginning stages of musical notation. Those using the high school materials could be studying complex rhythms and notes in obscure clefs.
Eventually, separate classes might be added in music history, music theory, drama history or dance history.
Mary Lou Falcone, a former elementary school music teacher who has taught a class at Juilliard for 17 years, is optimistic about the project. “I think what Juilliard is about to do is definitely a plus,” she said. “It can only enhance what’s going on in the classroom and, secondly, there is a fabulous cachet to the Juilliard name. I think there is an excitement with learning something that comes out of the Juilliard School.”
And the courses will indeed come from the Juilliard School, Polisi said. He’ll have final say on the course materials, and Juilliard faculty will have input in designing the curriculum.
The idea of a specialized college lending its name to an online K-12 venture has precedents. In 2010, Vermont’s Middlebury College started working with a for-profit company to offer pre-college language programs online  -- despite concerns from some faculty members.
Steven Guttentag, president of Connections Learning, said online education companies are eager to sign up colleges for both their expertise and the legitimacy their name offers. When the company was looking to expand its scanty music offerings, Guttentag said, Juilliard's brand offered a sense of authority and its faculty had the ability to create a viable set of materials.
“Obviously it’s an unparalleled name out there,” he said. “Honestly, the world of e-learning is still a question mark for some people. Having that association will give this some real credibility and the confidence that they’re not going to put their name on anything that isn’t consistent with their reputation.”
While the software isn’t designed for a teacher to remotely conduct a symphony, Guttentag said the hope is to slowly work some performance skills into the online Juilliard curriculum. The company will pilot a project this fall that would allow a Juilliard alumnus or faculty member to offer online private lessons to a student in a different city.
Juilliard’s materials will be sold to individual students and districts, both those with and without music teachers. The intention is that the software will supplement classroom instruction, but the reality is that some students and schools don’t have music programs. In those cases, Polisi said, Juilliard’s online offerings could engage aspiring musicians who otherwise might be on their own.
“The whole idea that these young students really become immersed in the literature and the materials of music and the structure of music and then, like everything else in education, these young people will find their path,” he said. “Right now, they don’t even have a path to look for. That’s where we’re making a difference.”