McGill’s Music’s New Dean: “What We Do Best”by Crystal Chan
/ October 1, 2011
Flash version here.
to Sean Ferguson, “is in his blood.” Ferguson has been at the school
since 1990: first as a student, then a teacher. He was the director
of the Digital Composition Studios, formerly director of the Centre
for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT),
and started as the Dean of McGill’s Schulich School of Music—the
biggest music school in Canada—on May 1, 2011.
As a student [at McGill University], I had an incredible education.
It was such an amazing experience for me. No matter what our challenges
are, no matter what our budgetary situation is, our first priority is
to do that for our students: to allow them to have amazing, life-altering
I’m really interested
in the idea of collaboration. I really think that not all questions
can be best solved through interdisciplinary collaboration, but a lot
of them can be. And a lot of things that you would never be able to
do any other way you can do if you just bring people together with different
backgrounds and get them to work on the same project. That’s something
that I think we’re very strong at here and that I want to continue
[As director of McGill’s
Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology
and Digital Composition Studio] one of my main roles was to be the Teflon
so that artists and researchers in science technology could interact
with as little friction as possible. The thing that I’m proudest of
was that, with the support of Stephen McAdams, I was able to make it
so that the researchers in science and technology understood and came
to value the contributions of artists, and that the artists grew to
appreciate and understand the contributions of the scientists and technologists.
The university is
looking at around a $106-million debt. This year there was 2.5% [budget
cut to McGill music]. Universities all across North America are having
these kinds of challenges; I think we have it better than a lot of places.
The next two or three years I anticipate will be a very exciting time
in terms of hiring new people at the school of music. A university is
about the people that are there: it’s about the professors, it’s
about the support staff, it’s about the students.
One area that I think
that I would like to focus on for the next couple of years is hiring
in our performance department. In the last decade there’s been a lot
of diversity and growth in music research. There’s been a huge increase
in the music technology area, in the sound recording area. So I would
really love to put some effort into focusing on how we can have the
same type of growth and same type of energy [in the performance department].
We have some of the top musicians in Montreal as teachers. What we don’t
have are full-time tenure track staff in a lot of key positions. This
creates challenges because those people have the kind of commitment
to the university that part-time people cannot have. I predict that
in three years the performance department will be almost unrecognizable
since there will be so much new blood coming in who will have their
own ideas, passions, and visions.
The other area that
we have traditionally been very strong in that I would like to continue
building up is contemporary music. At universities we have an obligation
to go beyond established knowledge. Contemporary music is a place where
we can really push into new directions and try new things and experiment
in a way that’s very exciting. One of the things that I would love
to do is provide a clearer structure within which that can take place,
because right now there is no contemporary music area, for example.
One of my favourite
quotes is by Steve Jobs. I remember reading an interview with him where
they asked him where his innovation with Apple came from and he said:
‘Innovation with Apple comes from not just doing every single thing
that comes along; innovation comes from saying no to a thousand things
so that you can concentrate on the core things that are the most important
for you.’ This can do a lot of good because it forces you to really
make choices. I think it can be a kind of a head clearing experience
for me because fortunately we can say: ‘we can’t do everything so
what do we do best? Where are we excellent and where do we see ourselves