Robert Cart Heads Cali School

Growing up on a farm in Indiana has given Robert Cart, the new director of the John J. Cali School of Music, a down-to-earth sense of practicality that he hopes will serve him well as he steers the School into the next phase of its development.

The former dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey as well as a professional operatic tenor and flutist, Cart inherits a school whose enrollment has risen nearly 40 percent in the past five years to 465 students.

“He has strong leadership qualities and he understands the challenges that a young musician is faced with today,” says Ruth Rendleman, professor of piano and head of the search committee for the position. “We felt he would be helpful in updating our curriculum so that it’s relevant to 21st century musicians. As a former dean, he knows the ropes and we thought he could really hit the ground running,”

Although he only joined the University in August 2011, Cart has already drawn up his list of top priorities: raising national awareness about the school, putting a greater focus on chamber music, and teaching music students to think like entrepreneurs.

“We have a very highly regarded music program here. In New Jersey, I would say we’re number one for state schools, and one of my goals is to expand our outreach and our recruitment nationwide,” said the 47-year-old Cart, who holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Maryland, a Master of Music in Voice Performance from Indiana University, and a Bachelor of Music from DePauw University in Indiana. He also studied at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies in England.

Cart plans to look for talented students both nationally and at arts high schools across New Jersey. “We need to support the state and bring in students who might be incredibly talented musicians but who might not have the financial resources to go to college,” Cart explains. “In Camden, for instance, the Creative and Performing Arts High School has a strong jazz program with whom we intend to develop an affiliation agreement that will help to build our jazz program.”

Undergraduates at the Cali School can choose from five programs: music education, music therapy, performance, theory/composition, and jazz studies. The same offerings apply to graduate students, except for the jazz program. Other tracks include professional certification programs in music education and music therapy; Artist’s Diploma and Performer’s Certificate degrees in performance; and undergraduate and graduate concentrations and minors. The majority of students at the Cali School are preparing for music teaching careers in the K-12 school system.

Today’s economic realities have a lot to do with Cart’s two other priorities, which are intertwined. As budgetary constraints make traditional jobs in orchestras harder to find, Cart says that young musicians need to think more creatively about ways of jumpstarting their careers.

“Chamber music is a natural way of easing yourself into the professional world,” notes Cart as an example. “Pulling together a string quartet or a woodwind quartet and performing in recitals around the country is easier than finding a job in an orchestra. Not a lot of schools are focusing on chamber music and I would like to see us develop that niche.”

Since organizing and marketing a chamber music group takes business savvy, one of Cart’s goals is to establish a center for entrepreneurship at the Cali School that will feature courses, lectures, and guest speakers aimed at teaching musicians how to do these things. “Everything we do should be centered on training our students to be entrepreneurial,” says Cart. “Most people from my generation weren’t trained in writing grant proposals, finding donors, marketing, publicity, and so on. But we need to help students understand what the real world is like.”

Two-thirds of the School’s 20 full-time faculty members and 120 adjunct professors also perform professionally, which Cart fully supports: “Absolutely, it’s part of their scholarly and artistic activity.” Cart himself is regularly on stage with leading opera companies in Europe and the US, and maintains an active schedule as a flutist.

Cart would also like to beef up the piano program and introduce a new liberal arts-based Bachelor of Arts degree in music to appeal to students who might love music but want a career in another field. “I think it’s important to build music into society and culture,” Cart says. “A Bachelor of Arts degree has fewer music courses [compared with the professional baccalaureate degrees currently offered] so students can take the prerequisites they need for advanced study in another field.”