“All graduates are equal, but some more than others”. Reflections over the reform of higher music education in Italy.
Building upon the main results of an empirical research based on a mixed method approach (documentary and official data analysis; teachers’ questionnaire; interviews and focus groups with informed actors), the paper offers a paradoxical picture: the formal upgrade of arts and music sector to the tertiary level – strongly sued by the artistic workers union – has in practice amounted to a downgrade of the higher music education system, jeopardizing its own survival. Changes promoted by the reform, in fact, were not dictated by requirements from the music field, but by an “academic drift” activating a series of isomorphic processes endorsing criteria and rules, as well as rhetoric and ceremonies, originated from the University system, at its turn redefined according to standards set by the Bologna process.
The first step of the reform was a delegitimisation of the old “Conservatory model”, traditionally based on a highly selective and meritocratic school system; pupils’ early development of a self-discipline made of daily practice building sound technical bases; an exclusive one-to-one relation between pupils and teacher (the maestro), similar to that of craftsmen’s workshops; early recognition of professional vocation. Although obsolete in many aspects and in urgent need of modernising improvements, this model had managed to safeguard the renowned Italian tradition of professional music education, as proven by the high number of well-known of Italian musicians still active worldwide. Following the reform, Italian Conservatories’ were however forced to redefine their organization according to dominant academic models, despite their inconsistency with the specific requirements of musical training and with their longstanding teaching tradition. Among the several problems emerging from the first 15 years of reform implementation, the main ones concern the increasingly difficult recruitment of music students in the tertiary level, given the inadequate offer of music education at the primary and secondary one (vocation crisis); the dispersion of learning in a high number of exams to reach convertibility with the credits required by titles’ standardisation, leading to a generally lower level of students’ technical skills, the postponement of their specialisation and, last but not least, of their entry in an increasingly competitive labour market.