There is a very wide breadth of program tracks at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and this afternoon, I attended “The Arts and Our Kids” session, moderated by Damian Woetzel. The three presenters, Aaron Dworkin, David Finckel, and Wu Han are all musicians, and personally, this session was very inspiring given my own personal passion for music. Many times, I think a song can express emotions and feelings far better than words.
Without question, the highlight of the session was hearing about the work that Aaron is doing as the Founder and President of the Sphinx Organization. The aim of the organization is to drive greater participation of Blacks and Latinos in classical music. I was unaware of the fact that only 1-2% of members of symphony orchestras across the United States are Black or Latino.
All of the panelists clearly see a reduction in arts and music education within schools. In fact, as Aaron was talking about his experiences in Detroit, he stated that “Motown could not happen again” in that city given the challenge of providing kids any sort of musical education. Sphinx has a division called Overture where teachers go into Detroit’s underserved communities to deliver a music education program.
What I loved about the program is the drive for excellence that is required of students in the program – and more broadly for musicians. We celebrate a great baseball player who manages to be successful in getting 3 hits out of every 10 times he comes to the plate – a .300 batting average. The best NBA basketball players shoot around 90% from the free throw line. A musician that hits 95% of the right notes and misses the other 5% is going to lead to a very unhappy audience that wants its money back.
The Sphinx Organization demands a level of excellence that is exceptionally high. Everyone in the program has to stand up and perform. There is no favoritism, and a jury decides on awards for students in the program. Aaron mentioned that in one particular year, no one in the jury felt that any of the students were deserving. It is a complete meritocracy, enabling the kids to embrace music, fail in a safe environment, and grow again so that when they audition for an orchestra or apply for Juilliard, they know that they are going to deliver a winning performance. Aaron should be congratulated for the work he has done over the last fifteen years.
Bob Schukai is global head of mobile technology at Thomson Reuters, where he is responsible for overseeing the development and execution of mobile growth strategy across the organization. Prior to joining Thomson Reuters, Schukai was vice president of wireless/broadband technologies for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. from 2005 to 2010. During that time, he was responsible for global research and development activities in the areas of mobile/wireless, broadband, Internet protocol television, and games. Schukai also spent more than 18 years working for Motorola in the US and United Kingdom. In his last role at Motorola, he served as director of global 3G strategy and business development. He is a 24-year member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a technical and professional association of more than 365,000 individual members in approximately 150 countries.