Thoughts from the Director
The performing arts at Sarah Lawrence are set in the context of a very unique liberal arts program—one stressing independent, individual inquiry where teaching is not about handing down wisdom or theory and learning is not about the systematic memorization of facts. To be a composer or any other artist at the College requires that both teacher and student are open to discovering the deepest sense of self. As a teacher I am primarily interested in what makes up my students' imaginations. In order to advise them I need to know a lot about them as human beings—whatever they feel comfortable to reveal to me—everything from their musical preferences to how they like to have fun. And every student is different, and every student changes along the way. So the approach to teaching is different in each case, even during each individual conference. Some students need more formal approaches than others who might need to experiment with a certain freedom. Somehow in this process there is an extraordinary interchange between student and teacher that allows for understanding to occur, for music to be made.
—Chester Biscardi, Composer and Director of the Music Program
The following are some excerpts from the article, "Chester Biscardi Takes His Music on the Road," an interview with Mr. Biscardi by Lisa Wlodarski for Sarah Lawrence Magazine.
"Often for contemporary composers, and contemporary artists in general, you're always in the process of reinventing the whole art form. Everything is available: abstraction, consonance, dissonance and so on," Biscardi says. "I think that's really confusing to some students."
Perhaps his colleagues [at seminars he does across the country] also hope that a dose of the type of teaching Biscardi does at Sarah Lawrence will spur their students on to more creative experimentation with their many musical options.
"I'll go to these seminars, and the students have clearly done all of the technical study, but they are kind of shy about experimentation and being open about who they are as people," Biscardi says.
"They want to know exactly how you did it. They'll say, 'Where do your initial ideas come from?' I'll have different answers. The pitch, the rhythm of a piece depends on the way an idea evolves," he explains. "They'll ask, 'Why do you have the harmony there?' And I'll say, 'Because that was the right one.'"
Some students have a hard time with that, he says.
"Often they've been told that each note has to have a very specific place dictated by some sort of system, but not all music is written that way," he says. "A problem in the twentieth century is that the academy has produced a lot of people who write by the book."
Biscardi attributes this to a lack of consistent individual attention.
"When I do these seminars, I teach as if I'm teaching at Sarah Lawrence, and students always respond to it," he says. "When I teach composition, that is such an individual experience with each student. I'm trying to understand what kind of person she or he is, what kind of music he or she wants to write, and how to reveal that."
Biscardi says he returns from his travels to Sarah Lawrence grateful that he has the luxury here of working one-on-one with his composition students.
"Every time I go away and I teach a seminar, I come back feeling absolutely sure that I would not want to be teaching at any other place than Sarah Lawrence."