Catching the entrepreneurial social-media wave, the Curtis Institute of Music says it will offer two free online courses through Coursera - one on Beethoven piano sonatas, the other a broad survey of Western music - that will open the school beyond its narrow specialization to the general music-appreciation student.
Curtis is one of 29 schools announced Thursday as new affiliates of Silicon Valley-based Coursera, the massive open online course (MOOC) platform that, despite having debuted less than a year ago, now claims about 1.45 million course enrollments per month.
Pennsylvania State University and Rutgers University are also among the newly announced partners, joining previous recruits such as Stanford, Duke, Penn, and Princeton.
Curtis is constructing the noncredit courses especially for its Coursera experiment.
"It could be a way for a young music student who wants to get his or her feet wet, it could be an entry point for someone of any age who has been fascinated by classical music and intimidated by the sounds and culture of it but who wants to learn more," says David Ludwig, Curtis' artistic chair of performance studies.
Curtis, which hopes to begin the offerings in the fall, will produce the video courses and Coursera will distribute them. The structure and syllabuses have not been fully developed, but each class is expected to last 20 minutes, be offered over six or seven weeks, and include a component that allows students to meet, at least online, and exchange ideas.
"The Beethoven sonatas are interesting because we all know amateur or aspiring music students who really don't have a community to be part of and to share their own playing, and we could get to a point eventually where there are tens of thousands of pianists and music lovers who are able to talk and collaborate and maybe upload their performances."
"Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas" will be led by pianist and Curtis faculty member Jonathan Biss, an obvious bit of synergy with his 10-year project of recording the 32 sonatas, and will include "interactive homework assignments and peer review workshops."
Ludwig, a composer, will join conductor Jonathan Coopersmith for the Western music survey, with an emphasis on using performances by Curtis faculty and students.
Some colleges and universities on Coursera's roster are equity partners; Caltech and Penn have invested a combined $3.7 million in the company, according to Coursera. A Penn spokesman declined to discuss its business arrangement. The for-profit company has larger investments from venture capital firms.
The business arrangement with Curtis, however, calls for no money to change hands - only intellectual capital.
"Part of this is just for the experiment of it," said Ludwig, who called the Coursera agreement "incredibly flexible" and covering no set period of time.
In a sense, the expansion of Curtis' outreach beyond its core constituency represents evolution for a school that once kept its students' recitals closed to the public but now courts public participation and substantial annual support. Last summer, the school launched an adult education course geared toward a general audience.
The prospect of a burgeoning online presence, said Ludwig, is "an opportunity to share our music-making, our traditions, everything that is uniquely Curtis with the entire world and to reach audiences we haven't even dreamed of yet."