My husband Gilberto Serembe and I gave in our resignation from our respective conservatorio a year before they became effective. His reasons are different from mine. At the Conservatorio of Milan, where I have taught for 33 years, during the penultimate year, the usual group of colleagues of Composition once again failed two of my excellent students. (A very long story which started from the first year I entered as a teacher in 1985 after having taught at the Conservatorios of Vicenza, Mantova, and Brescia for 6 years. Votes always on the decline and once a very good student was unjustly failed at the Fugue exam twice and had to repeat the year, with then very much longer and harder exams.) So, last year a student immediately went to another conservatorio and another did not want to leave me, but I also advised him to go there. I now leave the Milan Conservatorio because of my health, which includes many pathologies for which I am officially 55% disabled, and because of the teaching situation and the atmosphere of the Composition department that has not changed since the post-war period. The students are forced to compose by a group of teachers as they wish, as if by some kind of decree, and if they compose with a tonal basis and with traditional techniques they are heavily penalized. Frankly, I’m glad to leave, but my good students will miss me. Today I feel very free. I diverted the other students in other classes and made sure that my class remained empty and in fact, they immediately had to close it. 14 classes of composition will remain with an average of 2.5 students per class with all the teachers who will invent other secondary courses so as to be able to reach the completion of the total amount of hours they have to teach according to the new Reform which has standardised the Conservatorios of Italy to university levels with at least 21 exams for the Bachelor’s Degree!! What a dispersion of time, instead of each student mainly studying his/her main subject, as we used to do!
I would have so many stories to tell that one would really be disgusted and incredulous. When I was a pupil 45 years ago it was all less bureaucratic, but the situation of the Composition department was not very different. Twenty years ago I joined the commission to create the new music courses for the so-called Reform of the Conservatorios and was the only advocate of the Orchestration course. None of the teachers wanted to create or teach this course because it was considered the symbol of old Traditional Music, of the final studies of traditional techniques, until one day I requested and received the pamphlets from the conservatories in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Cologne, the Royal College in London and the Juilliard School in New York and brought them to a meeting. I opened the pages concerning the Orchestration courses and placed them on the large table in the Professors’ room and there was a great, eloquent silence. They established two compulsory courses for the Batchelor’s Degree and one for the Master’s Degree. Gradually over time, the professors transformed the two Orchestration courses of the Batchelor’s Degree into one obligatory and one optional. Then they changed all the credits by lowering them, then they abolished the second course, then they abolished the only course of the Master’s Degree and finally, just for the 2018-19 school year, my last, they removed the exam and the vote, simply leaving a written consensus. This last year I only had a student but by chance good, willing, and grateful who also wanted to do written exercises. Instead, our coordinator assigned thirty Orchestration students to another of my colleagues! With this tactic, he wronged and hurt him, me, and even the other students … and then he resigned! It will be more than 15 years that I have taught this subject and, since from the first year I had many, very good students, the other teachers, in turn, taught Orchestration taking students away from me more and more as the years went by. They sent out spy students who talked and laughed between themselves during lessons and asked me provocative questions. They spoke badly about me behind my back. My own pupils told me this. The various successive coordinators assigned me other courses to do, such as Orchestration for non-composers and for electronic music. For the latter, ALLOWED IN THE CONSERVATORIO IN GREAT QUANTITIES AND WITHOUT MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE, to the point of not being able to read and never having put their hands on a keyboard, I had to exclude written exercises. I had to give lessons to Koreans and Chinese who did not even know a word of Italian, but just moved their fingers. This year they gave me Composition for electronic music, a high-sounding title. I could only teach them how to distinguish the various species of sevenths and their inversions on the piano. For me, however, it was a great achievement, as if I had taught well to a student of an advanced composition course. In the end, after much initial begrudging behaviour, the attitude of the nine students changed completely and they were all happy to have learned those few notions, to the point of coming to find me and even embrace me later on.
With the Reform, the Conservatorio of Milan has generally fallen in quality, except for the usual few exceptional young musicians that emerge. During the last exams, I passed through the corridor between the bar and the Verdi Concert Hall, which at that moment had all the doors open and from where there emerged a tremendous noise never heard before. A mad and disturbing musical confusion, as if many instruments were playing at random with batteries of drums at full strength. I was with a colleague who laughed and told me that the Pop-Rock music exams were in progress. It’s absurd! When I was a teenager I listened to the Beatles (I have a wonderful collection of 33 and 45 laps) and the Rolling Stones and other contemporaries, but when I started studying Harmony I told myself that I would not listen to Pop music anymore. So it was, if not by chance in a bar or on a beach. Pop-Rock music is not Classical music and a composer of this music does not even need to study the foundations of Harmony because it is anything but a Classical musical language. Indeed, studying Harmony and Counterpoint destroys the fantasy of Pop and Rock composers! Anyway, I had a tremendous shock and I will never forget this cacophonic experience, right in the Conservatorio for which I have affection, not only for my old school days and the walls but for all the good, if not excellent, students I have had.