When I made the decision to become a music major, I didn’t allow the question of practicality into my head. I remember saying things like, “Mooooom, it’s what I do!” “It’s meeeeee!” and “I can’t live without it!!!”
At times, musicians who are already working professionally have acquired a comprehensive education in music before reaching college. A music degree would not necessarily enhance their careers. Language study, literature, or history might make more sense.
Lately, though, I have gotten to know several accomplished musicians (not yet professional level) who have either double-majored (solo instrument/biochemistry, solo instrument/computer science, solo instrument/liberal arts) or chosen other fields while hoping to continue with music, professionally or “on the side,” after college.
Students’ reasons for going to college seem to be far different in 2015 than in past decades. Tuition has become so expensive, fewer students can afford to spend time in college exploring their interests and deciding what kind of job they might want to have post-graduation. Priorities have shifted, making it far more important to choose a major that corresponds with the best job prospects. Student loans go on and on, so having a decent salary soon after graduation is paramount.
Schools with which I am familiar have stopped offering “fun” courses, concentrating on business training instead. At UMass/Amherst, for example, it was easy to sign up for private music lessons for one credit through the university whether one was a degree student or not. The Continuing Education department offered tap dancing, drawing for beginners, and adult piano class for years. Now the summer catalog features classes in arts management, languages, and wind energy. Take a look at the Fall Continuing Ed. course listings here. Want tap dancing? Photography? Drawing? Try someplace else.
In Connecticut, students would hang out at the jazz department at The Hartt School in the evenings. Faculty would jam along with students for camaraderie and fun. What an opportunity! For the past few years, though, the place has been quiet after 5:00 p.m. One professor told me that students just want their piece of paper (degree).
In addition, I have heard that high school guidance counselors have been recommending against going to music school. Why? The changing job market is undoubtedly a major consideration. What is happening to pursuing things one is curious about? That seems to be more elusive.
Funding has shriveled so much recently that concert series have been canceled. Orchestras, opera companies, and smaller groups have disbanded. Players in surviving organizations have taken major pay cuts.
It is true that only a small number of those pursuing a major career in music will actually “make it big.” Even with a great deal of talent, luck is required. Having money and knowing influential people both make a difference, Being ready for one’s luck is crucial. And even then, there are no guarantees.
Do these scenarios sound familiar? Is this why Bert Stratton recommends, in his New York Times op-ed piece, not going to music school?
A different writer provides an accurate list of what is needed to make it as a pro.
Paul Weller of Salon talks about the music industry today.
With all this in mind, my goal in teaching has always been to instill a love of music in my students. When a child is grown, I would like for him/her to know what is happening when attending a concert, listening to a soundtrack, and educating his/her own children later on. Isn’t this where informed audiences come from? Future supporters of the arts? Savvy board members? Donors with an eye on sustaining the arts for generations?
Audiences and financial support are crucial. Aren’t people who were exposed to music as children more likely to be enthusiastic participants in adulthood?
… and links
Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts, by Randy Cohen
Why is music important?
Throw out the bath water! An excellent article about breaking down fences, expanding the definition of art to be friendlier and inclusive:
Each of these articles is relevant to the place music occupies in today’s world. In the interest of a civilized society, we all need to care so music remains in our schools, our concert halls, and all of our lives.
What in this dialogue resonates with you? Would you send your students to music school? Your children? How are you engaged in encouraging creative expression?
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