In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen (AEC)

The Association of European Conservatories and the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) for decades have taken certain responsibilities for supporting and nurturing professional music study in Europe and the United States respectively. For many mid-century years, the associations were aware of each other, although contacts were infrequent. All the while, NASM member institutions in the United States and AEC members in Europe established exchanges of students, faculties, and performances.

Formalization of the European Union as a multinational operating entity was a major catalyst for closer cooperation among all collegiate-level institutions in Europe, and eventually, for the preparation and operation of means to seek definitional levels of commonality across the continent. Conservatoires and music schools were no exception. Seeing ahead, AEC began to reorganize. Contact with NASM increased.

The 1999 Bologna Declaration of European Ministers of Education provided a common basis for European discussion on these and other points. Policy goals articulated in the Declaration raised operational questions for Europe as a whole, including the meanings of degree titles in terms of content, the nature of credit for music study and other collegiate work, capabilities for students to move credit from one institution to another within and beyond Europe, and the natures of quality assurance that in turn, led eventually to Europe-wide considerations of institutional and programmatic accreditation.

NASM had been founded as an accreditation organization in 1924 and had decades of music field experience in just such issues. A strong relationship between AEC and NASM became more natural than ever, always informed and bound by the similar basic purposes of music schools in Europe and the United States and mutual interest in fostering bilateral relationships between European and American institutions.

The new level of the relationship began with discussions among association principals and visits to annual meetings. The Executive Director of NASM attended the AEC 1998 Congress in Helsinki and brought greetings from American music schools. This was followed by visits to NASM meetings by AEC officers, including its Executive Director. These visits provided opportunities to share ideas and concerns and grow the understanding essential to productive relationships. The individuals involved not only worked well together, they enjoyed each other’s company.

After considering the results of these conditions and endeavors, NASM officers determined that NASM’s cooperation policy would support the independence of Europe, European institutions, and the AEC. In other words, NASM would share ideas and techniques upon request in the context of helping the AEC and its member institutions develop what was right for them. NASM decision makers had faith that this service-oriented approach would produce sufficient commonality to facilitate exchanges and relationships at all levels over many years.

A cornerstone of this effort was the Music Study, Accountability, and Mobility project mutually conceived in 2001 and completed in 2004. Funding came from the European Union, the U.S. Department of Education, and the two associations. The finished project received high commendations from both governmental entities. It provided opportunities to enlarge discussions among AEC and NASM members, and to prepare a comprehensive report dealing with the items in the title. The resulting document has power in part due to its focus on the nature of professional music study, the international agreements it contains, especially about purposes and definitions, and the mechanics of international institution-to-institution cooperation. It includes statements about the nature of standards and evaluation in music and music study. All statements from this project are advisory, a compendium of thoughts formed into ideas and then into explanations. Developers and commenters kept music at the center as they developed and proposed a framework able to respect and support a variety of institutional approaches. The report affirmed that standards did not, could not mean standardization. Texts developed through this project may be found on both the NASM and AEC websites.

Between 2005 and 2007, AEC and NASM came together once again to participate in the Mundus Musicalis project, an initiative coordinated jointly by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Department of Music (NTNU) and AEC. This project, the first in the field of music supported by the EU programme Erasmus Mundus, focused predominantly on the study of trends in higher music education particularly as they relate to professional music training. A discussion of the project and its finding may be found on the AEC website.

AEC and NASM have maintained their close relationship ever since. Consultation and visits to each other’s annual meetings are regular and welcomed occurrences. From time-to-time, the associations join together to create and present topic-focused sessions of particular import to their respective members. Upon request, NASM assisted as AEC developed the independent accreditation program now known as MusiQuE and achieved its European recognition. NASM representatives to the Music Study, Mobility, and Accountability project spoke to the AEC 2003 Congress in Karlsruhe about how standards and freedom could work together and reinforce each other, how agreement on aims need not result in standardization of means. AEC leaders said at the time that this explanation helped the AEC assure its members about positive features and safeguards in effective accreditation and how the system could be useful in defining and protecting the overall nature and necessities of professional music study in larger policy and funding contexts.

In this special year, NASM congratulates and commends the AEC for 70 years of distinguished service to music and musicians. American musicians and schools honor the centuries-old contributions of European music schools to the advancement of excellence in the musical arts. The American musical world would not be what it is without the repertoire, the musicians, and the teachers that continue to come to us from Europe. NASM is honored to have the AEC and its members as international colleagues and friends. The kindness and generosity of AEC members and staff are a constant, highlighted when NASM visits the AEC Congress each year. NASM members look forward to the thoughtful remarks of AEC representatives each November. These shared events broaden horizons and cultivate friendships, remind us all of the size and scope of our fundamental mission, and the importance of each working part.

NASM looks forward to a long and continually productive relationship with the AEC – two independent, mutually supportive organizations working to further the art of music through professional music study and training. It is the best of good fortune that the two associations have each other and work together.

NASM sends best wishes to AEC and all its member institutions, and offers a deep appreciation for past and continuing contributions to the great art we all revere and have the great good fortune to serve.