Peter Jutras was appointed director of the Hugh Hodgson School of Music in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences in July 2019. Jutras, who is in his 14th year as a piano faculty member at UGA, talked with Columns about the next era for the Hodgson School, which is expanding its presence in the musical world.
Columns: What was the state of the art in the Hodgson School in your first semester as director?
Peter Jutras: I’ve seen tremendous growth since I arrived in 2006, both in quantity but also in quality: We’ve hired a number of remarkable faculty members in that time who are truly world-class performers, world-class artists and teachers. We’ve become one of the leading schools in the Southeast.
The world of music, and particularly classical music, is changing, and I want us to adapt so our students can be relevant and have the skills for a marketplace that is very different from, say, 30-40 years ago. Music is as important to the human condition as it always has been. There is no culture any place in the world, any time in human history that doesn’t make music. Classical music remains very popular; people still have a keen interest in it—even though they may not be attending concerts as frequently as traditional audience members did in decades past.
How are people experiencing it now, compared to the past?
There’s a lot more customizable consumption. People are finding music online, investigating different recordings, artists and genres. People in general are more eclectic in their musical tastes; you see more and more people who build playlists that have classical and pop, bluegrass and indie rock from maybe an Athens band, all that fits together. And our students are well-equipped to navigate those different styles. I want to help them enhance those skills and be musicians for all people and all occasions.
There really is no such thing as incoherent musical tastes anymore.
At the same time, the level of skill, virtuosity and artistry that our students have when they play classical repertoire at a really high level is important to the world and valuable to people. We’re in a time where anyone can make music just by dropping beats on a computer, and that’s great. I love to see that participation. But we also need to hold a place for quality and artistry. That’s what our students and our faculty do, and I think that’s really valuable.
Training in classical music remains the focus of the school of music.
It remains one of our focuses, and it’s something we do very well. I don’t ever want it to be lost that we train teachers at an equally high level. We train music therapists, we train scholars and researchers in theory and musicology, we train composers.
Now having said all that, and understanding the value of classical music, we are talking a bit about expanding the repertoire in the building and getting more involved in a variety of musical styles. Within our composition faculty—an extremely talented group—you’ll see mixes of styles, genres and elements in some of the music they’re creating.
The “Charlottesville” faculty collaboration is at once very innovative but also sparked a lot of interest with the students. It’s a new and different thing we might not have seen at the school of music 20 years ago. Maybe even 10.
Yes. And I think what was particularly compelling about that project is that it showed the power of music to be a force for starting important conversations, in drawing attention to issues. And that’s one thing I’m interested in doing more of, and we’re already doing a lot of it—that is, using music to help people, to help the world, to go out and be a force for good.
Have the peer and aspirant institutions for the School of Music changed?
That’s definitely changed in the last 14 years, and we are playing in a much higher league, so to speak. When I came here, the school was excellent, but a lot of our students were applying to other schools in Georgia and in the region. In the last few years, we consistently get applicants who are also applying to schools such as Eastman, Indiana and the New England Conservatory, and we’re winning some of those battles. Some students are choosing UGA over those schools.
And on the flip side, we’re now sending some of our undergrads to those places for graduate school. If you go to conferences with other music administrators, people are talking about Georgia, and they realize that it’s growing and things are happening here.
How does the school expand opportunities for UGA students outside the School of Music?
I want to involve as many people from outside the school as we can in our programs. I bet everybody would love to take a music class if they could—we don’t have the space for that. We get a lot of requests from nonmusic students about guitar, piano and voice classes. We have popular music and rock music classes that can count as part of the core for undergrads.
The Community Music School has really grown in the last 10-15 years, and there are all kinds of opportunities for UGA students to take lessons with our graduate students, who are really good teachers and accomplished performers. Any UGA student can take a lesson on any instrument. Piano and guitar are very popular, but if someone wants to come and take trumpet lessons, they can do that. It’s a program we started several years ago, and they actually register for a class and get credit for the lessons.
Beyond that, and the more you dig into current trends in higher education, you realize how creativity, innovation, experiences are crucial parts of the process of learning. And those are things we’ve been doing all along, since the Hodgson School was started. Creativity is what we do every day. To be an excellent university, we need excellence in the arts.
You also see the growing interest around the country in STEM-specific programs acknowledging that we need to involve artists. We need to integrate the arts more holistically so that we can learn from that creative process, learn about the work that it takes to get good at an instrument and learn about that process of practicing.
Most of this is anecdotal. But you hear from people in the corporate world, and they are often interested in hiring musicians because they value people who can think independently, who have different ways of looking at challenges and who have the dedication, work ethic and passion you find in musicians.