“How in good conscience can we continue to graduate thousands of students a year who have no hope of getting a job in the field they were trained for?”
–Michael Drapkin, clarinetist
BusinessWeek.com, March 28, 2007
Amid the tumult in the music industry, music conservatories continue to enroll vast numbers of students.
Are conservatories equipping these students to succeed in today’s music scene?
First, to clarify terminology, I use the label “conservatory” to refer to degree-granting schools that provide classical musicians with professional preparation.
Such institutions, whether they function independently or as entities within universities, promise in their mission statements to train students for “professional careers” (UNC School of the Arts, where I teach*) or to “be leaders in the world of music” (University of Miami; I’m an alum).
So, do conservatories deliver on this pledge?
Educational Outcomes and Innovations
At present, we don’t know how effectively conservatories prepare graduates to succeed. But that should change soon, thanks to SNAAP, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, which is gathering information about how arts graduates fare.
Selected data now appear on the SNAAP website, but more figures are forthcoming.
Aside from SNAAP, we can see that conservatories are transforming, and, as a result, students have more opportunities than ever to pick up the entrepreneurial skills they need to forge 21st-century careers.
Two examples of conservatory transformations are the School of Music at the University of South Carolina and the Institute for Music Leadership at the Eastman School of Music.
Through these sorts of developments, conservatories are advancing away from primarily training students for unlikely careers in major orchestras or as touring virtuosi and toward arming graduates with the know-how they need to be independent professionals.
Such empowered graduates can more readily assemble portfolio careers that incorporate performing, teaching, contracting, publishing, recording, and more.
Or they can specialize, as my former student Marty Fort did in creating the Columbia Arts Academy and the Music Academy Success training program.
Necessary but Insufficient?
In sum, many conservatories now offer resources aimed at outfitting students with broad professional preparation (of course, music degrees also come with countless less-tangible benefits).
Unfortunately, the majority of students appear not to be taking advantage of those offerings.
Hoverman, et al (2010) report that 61% of the music students they surveyed who had access to on-campus entrepreneurship resources and knew that they were available didn’t access them. A finding that matches what I’ve observed during my 30 years in higher education.
As I see it, entrepreneurship and career centers are necessary, but, in and of themselves, aren’t sufficient.
Conservatory cultures also need to evolve such that students can acquire expertise as independent artists via standard curricular activities.
As I wrote in my post, “Music Education and Entrepreneurship,” such comprehensive expertise encompasses, along with entrepreneurial know-how, greater understanding of arts economies as well as collaborative, creative, occupational health, and technology skills.
Students won’t gain proficiency in these subjects without multi-year opportunities to study them and apply what they learn beyond the insular contexts of school-sponsored lessons, ensembles, and recitals.
Speaking of technology, let me dispel the myth that today’s students are tech-savvy simply because they’re digital natives.
Although they voraciously consume web culture, students don’t automatically have the wherewithal to use new software, write compelling prose, and be creators of high-quality online content.
Yet creators of online content they must become, which necessitates that they benefit from continuing chances to build up the tech and writing chops that web-smart artists possess.
The Musical Temperament
Along with the complexities of renovating conservatory cultures comes the intricacy of tailoring new programs to musicians’ personalities and the rigors of practice and performance.
Which leads me to a central reason why I believe that only a minority of students access on-campus entrepreneurship resources: Young musicians characteristically display high levels of introversion, sensitivity, and anxiety (see Kemp, 2000).
Students’ anxieties intensify when they have to deal with career issues, and that triggers avoidant behaviors.
I also suspect that plenty of music faculty and administrators contend with comparable traits, which probably compounds the difficulties they face when attempting to confront contemporary issues.
Choosing a Conservatory
With all this in mind, I hope that young musicians who aspire to attend conservatories and go on to professional careers will draft artistic visions, research schools thoroughly, and then, when they enroll, tap on-campus resources and speak up when resources are lacking.
Such students and their families should also remember that although many schools such as the one where I teach continue to update their offerings, numerous others lag, so a conservatory’s historical reputation might not say much regarding whether their programs are keeping pace with ongoing changes in the music industry.
What about those conservatories that, despite the dearth of traditional jobs, still primarily groom graduates for careers as orchestral players or solo virtuosi?
They’ll be at the forefront if the mid twentieth century ever comes back.
See my book The Musician’s Way for strategies that equip musicians with inclusive skills; visit the Music Careers page at MusiciansWay.com for online resources.
*Update: In the spring of 2012, I left UNCSA to take on the role of Director of the Music Entrepreneurship & Career Center at the Peabody Institute.
The art-career tango
Career strategies that drive creativity
Music education and entrepreneurship
Music: The practical career?
What makes an entrepreneurial musician?
© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Sad truth: There are every year a limited number of professional opera / symphonic job openings, even fewer (far fewer) chances for a solo career. EVERY school with a ‘music department’, to offer such a curriculum NEEDS to have enough players for an orchestra. To attain this minimum students MUST be enrolled, even though they may have zero chance for these careers. In the Bay Area where I lived, there were about TEN such institutions. But the number of JOBS opening were FAR fewer that those graduating. These organizations also ‘help’ students to gain the funding for the tuition, assuring a lovely debt that will follow the young graduates. The teachers, usually paid by number of students are tempted to ‘keep even minimally talented (or hardworking) students on the roster. All this suggests that the stated goals are not, and can not be attained by the majority of students. Many students have no realization of these facts, and are as disappointed at the athletic students from various universities who discover there is no place for them in the professional sport world.
Thanks for the comment, Lloyd. I agree that music schools have been disappointingly slow to catch up to the cultural transformations of the past 20 years, and I think that your criticism is deserved.
Still, changes are taking place, and top schools are gradually integrating entrepreneurship and music business education into their curricula so that more graduates can generate their own income streams and take charge of their futures.
I’m excited to be part of that change, and I expect that the music students graduating in this decade will far better equipped to succeed as artists than any of their predecessors.
Conservatory: A institution that promotes and conserves something of the past.
Is it considered oxymoronic to ask “are conservatories preparing young professionals for the future”?
We all know well there are to many institutions churning out musicians faster then there are jobs available. This is because conservatories are run like a business, just like any other. Supply and demand dictates there are simply more aspiring artists then their are people willing to pay to hear them; many, willing to pay top dollar for a education in the arts, as administrations and trustee boards are quite happy being in business with college loan providers.
Are they preparing students for the future? The fact most of the top 30 schools in music ranked by US News and W.R. dont offer mandatory business of music classes doesn’t seem to point so. The classes that were offered at my own alma matters offered nothing but what we can expect and know already; ex keep auditioning, dont give up, practice, you may have to teach on the side etc. Not one mention of any useful information such as how to get a agent, royalties, contracts, etc. It also did not help very much the professors teaching the class were well older then the internet age. Upon almost every orchestra going bankrupt on the continent, success in this field is dependent upon constant reinvention. I dont think schools have a firm grasp on what it takes to succeed in the 21st century arts.
Upon choosing a school, I would choose one that offered a career starting potential package; included in tuition was by graduation, a artist website with a course on web design so you know how to use it, and a debut in a NY recital hall. Such a program does not exist.
Thanks, everyone, for the supportive words.
Angela: Let’s hope that graduate programs that ignore honest professional preparation will soon become things of the past. And brava to you for following your dreams and forging your own path.
Excellent article – it echoes what I wrote in my latest blog post “You Need Skills – the skills they didn’t teach you in grad school” at http://fluteangel.wordpress.com. I graduated 4 years ago and most of what I do now that deals with forging my own career has little to do with what I learned in school. Most of the courses are still focused on performing/orchestral jobs and getting professorships, which we all know there are only so many of those jobs to go around.
Keep up the great work!
Thanks for writing this article. I am a young musician and when I attend college I plan on studying music further. I will also share this website with a friend of mine who is a talented violinist. She is a 9th grader and already researching Universities.
You brought up some things that I never would have even considering thinking about. I don’t believe that I do or will suffer from the ‘avoidant behaviors’ you spoke about. I have already started using my talents for generating income. Although not much, enough for an eighth grader. Knowing that the ‘entrepreneurship resources’ are available. I will be making a note of that to add to my list of ‘things to check on’ while researching interviews.
I’ll be sharing this with my parents too.
Conservatories, like most schools in this country, supposedly prepare students to have a career, but I’m interested in an idea proposed by Wendell Berry and others, that the standard for judging schools should be their effects on their local communities and ecosystems. Making community vitality (and community musicality) the standard for a music school might have many positive effects on music training. Schools wouldn’t be able to remain so insular; students would learn to relate to nonspecialists; projects would address the actual musical needs and capacities of an actual community. It seems to me that this would be excellent training for a life of service in music.
Of course many music schools have community projects, but their main focus is still on the profession and the tradition, not on the community. I can’t picture what might result from changing the standard, but I’d love to watch some schools try it. I think it would be good for schools, good for communities, good for music, and good for the people involved.
Very good article. I am delighted that Conservatories are finally getting with it. You could have included even such bastions as Julliard and Curtis. I’d be glad to share info about activities at the latter where I am now teaching (part-time) in my retirement.
These are issues that I was tryi8ng to address 40 years ago with little support from the traditional artist directors.
Thanks for the supportive words, Angela, and for the links.
I heartily concur with the comprehensive, project-centered approach you describe in your superb ISME article.
I also agree that complexities abound when we attempt to transform institutional cultures, but your landmark achievements at the New England Conservatory confirm that cultures can evolve.
Great stuff, Jerry!
The issue of how to change a school’s culture is fascinating. The question of how to build entrepreneurship and career development awareness and skills across the curriculum and embed it in the institutional culture is complex. Successful approaches needs to be multi-layered, especially because required classes are too easily “ghetttoed,” and may be experienced as completely disconnected from the mainstream curriculum and degree focus.
I wrote an article on this same subject for the ISME conference last year in China: “Career Development and Entrepreneurship Across the Curriculum: Best Practices” that can be accessed as a PDF at http://angelabeeching.com/bt/Links.html
And of course, there’s Gary Beckman’s book that tackles this: “Disciplining the Arts: Teaching Entrepreneurship in Context” http://books.google.com/books?id=Kezlpy9UaAsC
Thanks for your continuing the conversation on this, Jerry!