What Classical Musicians’ Lack, Part 3

What Classical Music Lacks

My apologies for taking longer than I expected with the last part of this article series. I originally wrote the first installment of this series as a two-part article on the challenges facing students as they entered the professional field of music. After writing the second part I realized that this had obviously extended to a three-part series.

But, after seeing the discussion that emerged from these two articles, and reflecting on the topic myself, I began having some difficulty with how to end it. I wanted to take time in this last part to look at some less-discussed issues, but the feedback from the first two parts caused me to rethink what, and how, I wanted to present it.

As such, the below represents what I still believe to be issues facing those who embark on a career in music but which seem to have less awareness raised around them than the previous topics we discussed in parts one and two.

Access to “Knowledge”

This is ironic, considering our world is now more connected than ever before. With the Internet, information of the ages is at our fingertips. We can watch videos of more performances, listen to more recordings, and read more about music than any generation before us.

But one thing we must remember is that information is not the same as knowledge. Although information is powerful, it doesn’t always benefit us as we expect. In no age before ours could someone on their own take so much information about so many different topics such as: “how to play Bach,” “how to start a business,” “how to market yourself,” etc. and yet still do all the wrong things with them. Knowledge and wisdom still come from guidance and experience. That is where the influence of teachers, counselors, colleagues, and coworkers come in.

This is not to slam those who experiment and try new things during the course of their professional lives. Risk is inherent in any venture – musical or otherwise. But the emphasis on independence and self-reliance, along with the tools afforded to people by modern technology, can go too far to the extreme in making people overlook the knowledge of those who have come before us.

In the confusion of information overload, we are in need of mentorship now more than ever before.

Building a “Standard Model” of Music Education

In the original LinkedIn thread, one of the participants stressed the importance of building a “working model of business education for music (and other arts) students” that would train these people to be prepared for a professional life in music.

This platform would:

…incorporate the use of the Internet as the medium for the dispensing of information and as the collection point for statistics and “homework” assignments for participants… making use of as many free Internet resources (YouTube, e-mail, a custom website, etc.) as possible to convey information… Another dimension of the project is to create a residential option for students who want a more intensive experience and a greater opportunity to gain access to mentoring assistance.

The necessity of learning about and being trained for entrepreneurship in practical ways dominates the discussion. In previous articles I have gotten responses of how I perhaps ignored the saliency of entrepreneur-oriented programs in conservatories in music schools. Obviously I am not the only one who has held the opinion that there are opportunities for other organizations to step up. The participant who cited this “platform” has founded an organization that is actively develop such a system, the goal of which would be to establish a standard by which we could prepare our aspiring professional musicians.

While I pointed out that much improvement had been made but that more was needed, I want to take this opportunity to take the other side. There are indeed many great examples of “centers of entrepreneurship” for music students.

But, is it possible to create some sort of “ideal standard”? When it comes to entrepreneurship, many things are based on context. Universal “rules” and “theories” often break down in the face of real-world and changing circumstances. If there is anything “standard” that our music students need to be learning outside of their artistic craft, it is cultivating the ability to be adaptable, resourceful, and versatile to deal with ever-changing circumstances. Some traditional schools are doing a great a job of instilling these qualities in their students.

Rather than constantly seeking alternatives to traditional schooling, it might be better for us to focus on giving students the right balance of such “abstract” qualities along with the practical skills they need.

My hope is that the process can be reduced to paper in such a way that it can be handed to schools and conservatories in the form of a roadmap that produces predictable results if all the steps are followed.

I don’t believe that this can be simplified to a degree of a single document that purports to be a panacea for all cases. I also don’t believe it needs to come from outside of schools and conservatories and “handed” to them… as such a statement seems to me to be somewhat of an insult. Schools and conservatories are absolutely capable of producing something of this necessity.

However, I like the idea of the term roadmap here. As musicians, we are used to scanning a piece of music ahead of time and building a “roadmap” in our heads of how we will go through the piece. We will still encounter unexpected challenges on the way to the end, but we nonetheless have a framework through which we can handle these challenges.

It is the same with navigating the professional challenges of a career in music. It’s not a one-size-fits-all model but rather promoting the development of a framework that people can adapt to fit their own unique situations and goals. Here the LinkedIn participant hits the nail on the head:

…(The results is) the creation of a playbook that would be similar to a franchisee’s handbook for a business like a McDonald’s restaurant or a SubWay sandwich shop. It would contain all the steps to be taken, the order in which to take them, the estimated budget, the number of persons to be involved, their minimum requirements as defined by experience, the time commitment required, the space requirements, the project descriptions for students, the subject matter, a complete instruction outline, a list of references, suggested tuition costs, links to a central website, and the complete source code for the website itself and its related data model…

Not every single one of these things may be present in all cases, but the comprehensiveness of its outlook gives us all a general idea of what we need to be aware of in starting any sort of musical venture.

Equalizing Supply and Demand

Here is the last aspect of this discussion… something that I’ve heard little discussion of, and what I’d like to close this series with. No matter what we do to prepare and equip musicians, there is a fundamental problem which unfortunately will likely scuttle most of our efforts. Supply and demand for music positions are often unequal.

Point-in-case: for a long time (some might argue always) there have been fewer available positions than there have been players looking to fill them, as produced by the various music programs.

Why should we expect that graduates of music programs should find pertinent employment in any greater proportion than do, say, philosophy or history majors?

If there are more people looking to fill jobs than there are jobs, what can be done? Job creation is the answer most come up with to this… and yet there is only so much we can control here. But there is one aspect of this spectrum which we do have control over… and it is not the demand side but the supply side.

For some time, schools in the medical field have seen the need to implement enrollment limits to at least try and equalize the number of graduates with the number of available jobs. The question is whether or not conservatories, music schools, and music departments should do the same on a wide scale. Some argue that this could lead to a near-elimination of music education… as there are correspondingly few jobs available. Others argue that a phased implementation of this is necessary to help gradually balance out graduates with opportunities beyond school.

Regardless of your opinion, I would argue that this is a discussion we are not having which is worth having. I’ve seen very few people raise the issue of the ethics in knowingly admitting students into educational programs that – under current circumstances – offer slim chances of a career actually happening. In a way, it seems almost deceptively callous.

Your thoughts?

It’s been a pleasure to be a part of this discussion with everyone who has participated over the last month. I am interested in hearing your ideas and responses on these topics and on the series subject matter overall.

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