Jake Heggie delivered the commencement speech at Eastman yesterday. Excuse the grainy photo quality.

Arts & Entertainment

Jake Heggie Wants to Get the Arts Back into Public Schools

The composer, whose opera Moby-Dick debuted in Dallas several years ago, spoke at my sister's Eastman School of Music graduation. It was a great speech.

I was in Rochester, New York, yesterday to see my sister graduate from the Eastman School of Music with a master of music degree in vocal performance. I was already plenty excited to be at the ceremony—to see her walk across the stage, accept her diploma, enter the world of opera hopefuls. But when I was scanning the printed program before it began, I saw that the commencement speaker was a name I recognized: Jake Heggie.

One of the American composer’s operas, Moby-Dick, had premiered at The Dallas Opera a few years back. Another, Great Scott, debuted at the Winspear in the fall of 2015. He’s sort of an anomaly in the modern opera scene, in that he is successful as a classical composer in 2017. That’s pretty much unheard of. Peter Simek wrote about his rise to fame for the magazine two years ago.

In his speech, he talked about things you’d expect to hear from him—how music is essential and essentially optimistic. How he thinks the future of opera and other classical music is brighter than most might assume. How important it is that these students share their talents with the world. He also spoke about how music was his lifeline after his father committed suicide when the kid was just 10 years old.

But he also called for the graduates to help the crusade of getting the arts back into public schools now. Music classes have been cut from core curriculum for some time, and that is hurting education, he said. With a dad who’s a pianist and a sister who’s an opera singer, I happen to think the arts are pretty darn important for kids to learn and for the world to hear in a society that’s so often all doom and gloom.

“Do whatever it takes,” Heggie said. “Help those young people find a voice, a chance to make music. Show them what it means to show up for another. You’ve done the good work—now go out and do the great work.”


  • LF Taylor

    So someone at a MUSIC school graduation thought there should be more music in public schools? That must have been very controversial. Given the (mostly) dismal job prospects of music school graduates outside of education, what he should have told the graduates is to make sure you have something to fall back on once you realize you can’t make a living in music. That would have stirred ’em up.

    • MattL1

      But it was his speech, not yours. Thankfully. Who in their right mind would give such a dismal, uninspiring speech as the one you propose during a fucking graduation ceremony?

      • LF Taylor

        The point was that this speech was hardly newsworthy: An obscure composer delivers a commencement speech at a music school calling for more music in public schools. What he said was uninteresting because it was neither counter-intuitive (dog bites man, or in this case, have a fallback plan in case music doesn’t work out) nor does he have the power to make it happen (say, if a President or Governor had said it). But Christiana now can deduct the cost of her trip to her sister’s graduation as a business expense. And per the below, I don’t think it’s cynical at all to acknowledge that these schools charge hefty tuition (in this case $37K/year in tuition and fees – https://www.esm.rochester.edu/financialaid/cost-of-attendance/graduate/ ) to educate people to enter a field that is already overcrowded, and that the students may regret their choice later.

        • MattL1

          Again, why the fuck would you say ANY of that in a graduation speech? Do you think that the students (who are graduating, by the way; a bit too late for your inane lectures on choosing a field of study) don’t know this already?

    • Robert Tiltawhirl

      That’s quite a shade of cynicism you’re wearing.

      I’m certain those who have spent years and treasure on a master’s education at a prestigious music school have taken that into consideration. There’s plenty of room for career musicians in our society. Maybe fewer spots than the number of aspiring musicians, but these grads will be okay. And if a hoped-for music career doesn’t pan out, I’m certain they’re smart enough to tack over to something else and still devote a meaningful part of their lives to music, whether it’s for extra scratch or just for the love of it.

      • Kate Whaley

        Absolutely. 100% true.