New Conservatory Dean looks to improve visibility

Alex Schaaf

There is a new dean in town, and he is going to make sure Lawrence never looks the same. Just kidding; he is not quite that radical, but the new Dean of the Conservatory, Brian Pertl, is looking to make a few small but vital changes to increase the visibility of both the Conservatory and the university in general.
In his opening address at this year’s welcome week concert, Pertl introduced himself to Lawrentians for the first time, telling his unique and interesting background story.
Graduating from Lawrence in 1986 with both a Bachelor of Music degree in trombone performance and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, he traveled to Australia, Tibet, Nepal and India on the Thomas Watson Fellowship, studying such things as Aboriginal didgeridoo playing and Tibetan sacred chanting.
Pertl then went on to receive a master’s degree and a doctorate before landing an unlikely job at Microsoft. There, he was appointed the task of selecting and captioning many different pieces of music from around the world for the Encarta World Atlas Project.
Many students may remember Encarta from middle-school days, and at the time it was a revolutionary and groundbreaking tool, but as Pertl admits, it did become less relevant with the quick rise of user-created websites.
“Things like Wikipedia really changed the game, where all of a sudden, spending lots of money to have a full editorial staff creating encyclopedias when your competitors are basically spending nothing, we just can’t do this anymore,” he said. “So they basically stopped.”
Pertl went on to describe the shift to Lawrence.
“In the last years that big project sort of dwindled,” said Pertl. “I was doing things like working on the MSN website, X-Box, things like that, which is interesting, but to me wasn’t as meaningful as working on the educational product.”
“So this opportunity to switch into a place like Lawrence where you’re right in the heart of things and you have the potential to make a lot of impact, it seemed to make a lot of sense,” Pertl concluded.
“It does seem like a drastic shift from Microsoft to Lawrence,” he went on to say. “But for me, it sort of made sense, because before starting at Microsoft 16 years ago, my assumption was I would be a professor teaching in a college somewhere, that’s my first passion.”
Pertl is a firm advocate of the liberal arts education, saying that he “wouldn’t have left Microsoft to come anywhere else.”
“That whole idea of the broad liberal arts education sent me out prepared for everything I’ve done since,” he said. “I felt like the liberal education I got here prepared to me to be very adaptable and agile, and I think that’s just amazing. In today’s world, it’s even more important to have that broad liberal arts education. Spending a thousand hours in the practice room is not, I think, the best way to become a professional musician.”
While not a radical bent on reshaping the foundations of the Conservatory, there are a few changes the new dean wants to see happen.
“My background is in ethnomusicography, so I’d like to increase our world music and ethnography, and I think it fits into Lawrence’s liberal arts theme. We learn different languages, we study abroad, and I think we need to do that in music too. That’s a big area that I want to see boosted, and that’s already happening,” he said.
Another change makes sense after considering his background in technology.
“I want to increase the web presence, to make that more dynamic. I want to start web-casting all of the concerts from the chapel, so alums, parents, [and other] people can hear what’s going on in real time instead of just hearing about it from their students,” he said.
“I want to improve visibility,” he continued. “There’s a lot of great stuff here, and the thing I always hear is ‘Oh yes, Lawrence Conservatory, that’s one of education’s best kept secrets’ — I don’t want it to be a secret! I want people to know, if people say ‘I’m from Lawrence’ I want them to say, ‘Oh ok, I got it, that’s a great place!'”
Many students can breathe a sigh of relief, however, as the former Microsoft employee made no mention of removing the Apple computers from the Conservatory computer lab, among other places. They are safe for now.