September 7, 2012 at 3:00 AMThe era of the symphony orchestra is done. I’ve said this with a heavy heart for the past fifteen years. It has gone the way of dozens of other artistic mediums (portable mp3 players replaced CD players that replaced their tape predecessors; digital photos taken by camera phones replaced film that replaced its predecessors, etc.) It is no longer commonplace for every city to have a professional symphony orchestra, but rather a luxury for certain cities and for those patrons that can afford to keep it going (private and corporate.) Don’t get me wrong – I really hate stating the obvious, especially since I am a lover of classical music. I love playing it, studying it, practicing it, and teaching it. The history of each piece is so unique and representative of the times in which they were written. The great works will always withstand the test of time. However, the number of people who will pay to see them performed live is dwindling. The costs are going up, yet the demand is going down.
Then why are the universities sending out thousands of graduates into a field where they can only hope to land a position in a rare, well-funded orchestra? These graduates are not only not finding jobs, but are missing most of the skills necessary to find other work, or more importantly, having the skills to create their own work.
I have a theory.
Universities are slow to change. The bureaucrats and academians (yes, I made up this word) are not as open-minded as one would think. They want to protect their jobs more than they care about the students that merely pass through their halls. It’s self-preservation for them. By creating more graduates, they increase their numbers and tenure. Since only a tiny minority of the music school graduates land the coveted symphony jobs, those that don’t usually end up doing a career not in their chosen field, or end up teaching themselves. Universities expand to meet the demands of the higher population of students going to college, and they expand the departments where people want to major. Since most universities only want professors who have masters or doctoral degrees, those who have these credentials get the jobs. Those who usually have these credentials also were a product of the same university system where the goal is to get and keep their job. Many of the university professors that I have encountered throughout the past twenty-plus years have not had to create their own businesses and make a living as freelance musicians. They have had the regular job of teaching as their “fall-back” and have not been forced to make the same decisions that today’s students face.
It’s a perpetual cycle. I don’t see a change coming, yet. But I’m hoping for it. And this is what I propose:
1. All music students should be required to double major in business. The music program teaches you how to play music, but the business program will teach you how to make a living performing music. Marketing, taxes, accounting, licensing, advertising, legal, etc. are all extremely important subjects to know to be a freelance musician. Most musicians don’t realize what they can and cannot deduct on IRS forms, and have to pay an accountant to deal with it. Most also do not realize that they are offering a service; this service needs to be marketed and advertised.
2. All music students should be required to learn about unions. This is not just the musicians’ union, but all unions in the field of the performing arts. Not all states have the same rules or laws, and many times music graduates hope to work and tour all over the world. These students need to know the policies and procedures, as well as the laws, of every potential performing arts venue.
3. All music students should be required to learn about insurance. This is every type of insurance from instrument to liability to even health insurance.
4. All music students should be required to learn about contracts and the legalese. Even if they are offered a position with a prestigious symphony, it is usually under a contract, and each person needs to be able to read it and understand it. They need to know that everything is negotiable, and they should never sign it without reading it thoroughly. This subject of contracts is even more important when you are freelance, as all work should take place under a contract. Details should be in writing to avoid confusion, and it binds all the parties involved to certain responsibilities.
5. Universities should offer classes in multiple styles and genres, and encourage students to study those other than their chosen major style. Jazz studies will help classical music majors with improvisation, while theory classes will help vocalists understand chord patterns and progressions.
6. All music students should learn about recording arts. I’m not asking that each musician learn every detail of a mixing board, but rather to understand the specific microphone placement and recording of their chosen instrument(s). Most musicians will have some experience with recording during their lifetime, especially if they are submitting a recorded audition for a symphony orchestra.
7. In addition to learning about recording arts, all music students should learn how to play to a click track/pre-recorded track. This is especially helpful to have some experience with this, as many of the jobs that require a symphony are film and television studios.
8. All music students should learn how to amplify their instruments electronically. They should learn the difference between pickups and microphones, wired and wireless, amps and speakers, direct-input boxes and pre-amps, etc. More and more of today’s jobs include specific amplification of instruments for live settings and large venues.
9. All music students should learn the basics on how to clean and care for their instruments, including minor repairs. This seems so obvious, yet I know professional string musicians that still are not sure how to reset the sound post if it falls, or even how to shape a bridge to their liking. Yes, I do leave major work to the professionals, but in a bind, I know how to repair most any problem without doing major damage so the professional luthier can later do a permanent repair.
10. All music students should learn preventative medicine. For this, I am specifically referring to how to stretch and warm-up properly before every practice session, as well as every performance. Diet, exercise, and overall health are essential to being able to perform, regardless of instrument. You have to learn how to stay healthy in order to prolong your career. Professional athletes have a much shorter career than most professional musicians, yet musicians are sometimes required to do more physically every day. Taking care of your body will ensure you have a longer and rewarding music career.
11. Universities need to hire experienced, professional musicians who have been in the field and know how to teach it. Degrees are wonderful, but the experience should weigh more when it comes to wanting students to understand the realities associated with a music career.
12. And finally, as old-fashioned as this sounds, all music students should be required to learn how to act and dress for each role. Musicians must be versatile in appearance in order to fit the jobs. Symphonies prefer traditional appearance (no strange hair colors, no tattoos, neutral fingernail shades, conservative makeup and jewelry, long-sleeved blouses, long dresses, well-fitting tuxes, polished shoes, etc.) Jazz ensembles sometimes prefer a mix between symphonic dress and all black attire with nice suits being an option to the tuxes. Rock ensembles usually prefer nothing traditional where most anything is acceptable. The working musicians I know fit into ALL these styles of appearances, and more. When I need to fit into “rock,” I sometimes wear hairpieces in bright colors, paint my nails, and wear short skirts and fishnets. When I play with a symphony, I wear long black formal attire, conservative makeup, no or clear nail polish, natural hair in a neat style, sheer black hose and closed-toe black heels.
Just as most companies are slow to change, schools and universities are slow to change, too. Today’s society and marketplace seem to adapt quickly to the constant fluctuations and “improvements,” and I simply think that our educational institutions need to adapt, too, by giving us graduates that are actually trained and employable immediately. Perhaps our employment rate would be different overall if the educational system really did recognize what companies want in their graduates, and would only graduate those students that are truly ready for those jobs. Again, it’s just my theory.
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Look at all the magnificent concert halls that have been built around the country in the last ten years in places like Omaha and Dayton as well as larger cities.
There is simply no evidence that "orchestras are dying."
It is true that musicians need to understand the business and the importance of the union in improving the profession.
As for preserving Symphony Orchestras, there are always challenges, ups and downs, problems to be solved, adjustments to be made. Let's remember that even the New York Philharmonic did not become a 52 week season orchestra until 1957 (please correct me if I have the date wrong) And look at all the wonderful young orchestras such as the Chicago Civic, Detroit Civic, New World Symphony and the repertory they play which includes the Rite of Spring and Mahler symphonies. It's unfortunate that it is fashionable for certain people to present negative news and predict the demise of classical symphony orchestras. Are things working smoothly? No. It has always been a struggle but a struggle worth fighting for. The challenge exists because Symphony Orchestras and all high quality Arts organizations do not produce "bottom line" material profits. They "produce" inspiration, emotions, motivation, faith in humanity; those of us who are active in the Arts need to constantly work to secure appropriate financial support. I am a classical musician, proud to be one and never regretted becoming one; always eager to face new challenges. By the way, back in the 60s and 70s I used to read and hear the same negative view and predictions of the demise of symphony orchestras in England; that we have too many professional orchestras in London, and surely one of them has to go. Not only none of them have gone, there are more terrific ensembles presenting wonderful classical concerts. There are many examples of accomplishments in terms of quality of performance, programming, outreach activities, and on and on, that our symphony orchestras can be proud of. But because of the system of funding we all need to constantly make the case for the true value of what symphony and chamber orchestras contribute to society. Listening to a live performance in a concert hall by a good professional orchestra is not something that can be replaced.
I have been a paid symphonic musician for much of my career, and although I have not been in the orchestras you have listed, this does not mean I have not been in professional orchestras. Orlando is considered a "major city" and we have seen orchestras come and go. Fortunately, we do have a symphony, but it is not a 52 week season orchestra. Again, my symphonic experience is not limited to Orlando, but this is where I currently reside. I could move to another city to be a symphonic musician with a well-paid salary, but I choose to stay here. It's my choice. Just as it every musician's choice to decide where they want to live and set their careers. Did you choose where you live? And your career? I hope so. I am very happy with my choices, and I hope you are, too. Life's too short to be unhappy. :-)
And a side note: I NEVER said universities should not teach musicians to be the best artists possible. I believe that the students and professors should know how to make a career out of music without relying only on symphony orchestras. The suggestions are in addition to what is already taught, not replacements.
As for preparing students, there are many things they need to learn and do. When someone chooses to pursue studies (I intentionally use the word "studies" and not "career") in music, they should focus on the goal of becoming the best musician they can possibly be. If Bach, Mozart and Beethoven or Schoenberg speak to them then they should devote themselves to this music. When they need to pursue a career and making a living they may have to make adjustments and learn to play other composers or types of music. The degree of adjustment that they can make and/or are willing to make is an individual matter and has to do with one's integrity and taste among other things.
Your suggestions may be useful for some people under certain circumstances. In that context your article is perfectly fine. But if the premise is that Symphony Orchestras are reaching their end, and therefore those pursuing musical studies should direct their main focus on matters other than becoming the best musicians possible, then I cannot agree with you.
And yes, I am both an educator and performer.
There are a few dozen paid openings each year in all of the symphonies in the world (counting those that pay enough to actually live on). There are a few dozen world-class musicians graduating from UNT in Denton, Texas every year, and there are about 100 other top-notch music schools worldwide that produce similar numbers of excellent instrumentalists.
The numbers just don't work. There are 100's if not 1000's of applicants for every available opening, and you have to jump through unbelievable hoops just to get an audition. If you want to earn a living as a musician, your best best is not going to be with a major symphony.
I make pretty good money just teaching. Fortunately, I enjoy teaching even more than I do performing, although I do find four or five fairly well-paid gigs a year. At my level of performance (which is decidedly mediocre), a knowledge of marketing is more important than my musical ability. That's just the facts of life.
The blog makes the point that the days of the symphony orchestra are over. But there are two alternatives. One is that we never had days of symphony orchestras without struggles (I think this point was made quite sufficiently in a previous posting), and the other is that we're in a down phase of a cyclic economy during which it is normal to expect professional wages and benefits to suffer, especially in the arts which are viewed by many throughout society as less essential than other professions such as medicine or law.
The imbalance between music schools pumping out competent graduates by the hundreds and very few living-wage symphonic jobs available is not new but seems to be getting worse. I think the biggest reason is that over the last 30 years violin pedagogy has improved dramatically such that it is now possible for many more of our young people to reach the skill level that a violinist would need to play in an orchestra. Honestly you don't need the skill of Joshua Bell to play in the Chicago Symphony. Also consider the impact of classical music education blossoming across eastern Asia throughout the last 50 years, and the population of that region of the world. This development has raised the level of competition very sharply.
Violin performance is not the only field in which there are too many young people entering college with only a "hope and a prayer" of eeking out a stable professional career in a traditional context. It is true in virtually every field of the arts and humanities. Even there is concern that law schools graduate too many, and have been for quite some time.
I don't advocate a violin student trying to also become a financier/marketer/accountant, and a luthier, and a computer programmer, etc. The jack-of-all-trades approach is the wrong way. Division of labor is the basis of civilization. A young person should ask himself whether there is anything in common between two important lists: What he enjoys doing, and what he can do well enough that there is a strong likelihood of making a living wage doing it? If he chooses a risky career pathway, there should be a fallback. And it should not ALWAYS be teaching the violin.
Thank you for your comments! I agree with you to an extent regarding volume with your comment on Number 8, but there are other instances where the amplification is used:
"Your point 8, however, makes me ill. My wife and I dance quite a bit and are increasingly treated to amplified music. We HATE it. If only for the health hazard (do young musicians really want to deaf by age 40?), I would think that a deal killer for a musical career."
I play amplified violin for many different things, and it is not to make it louder for me. One specific is for weddings on the beach. With the waves and wind noise, plus the sound of my violin disappearing into the wind, an acoustic pickup allows the music to be heard by all. Another place is for conventions. Usually, only those next to the strings can hear them; when it is amplified, they can feed the sound through the entire ballroom via the sound system, while keeping it a low enough volume so as to allow conversation. Another place is when I am performing at venues where I may be heard acoustically, but I am performing with other electric instruments and the sound has to balance equally. I also use the acoustic pickup when I am recording as it gives a different feed than just the microphones. Sound technicians place microphones over, below and farther away in the room, then also take the feed from the acoustic pickup and blend all four to create that perfect sound they want in their recordings. These are just some examples of where I need to "amplify" my violin without actually making it deafening to the listener. The sound technicians who don't understand louder is not better are the ones to blame if the volume is too high. And yes, I have had some bad experiences with that, too!
Again, Dr. Franko, thank you for your comments!!!
PS - I read your bio - quite impressive! :-)
My conservatory education did not include courses in this area in the 1970's - 80's however many schools are currently addressing how to be an artist-citizen and entrepreneur in the 21st century.
John R. Beck
Percussion Faculty - UNC School of the Arts
Career Development Seminar Instructor
President Elect - Percussive Arts Society
Many of you have been tracking the nightmarishly-inept administrative shortcomings of the Minnesota Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis, SPCO, and others recently--which prompted a blog on violinist.com about what music students should be learning these days. This is especially close to me, as these ensembles contain amazing musicians and many of my great friends and colleagues who are facing numerous serious issues.
• A few things. There are several gross inaccuracies in her descriptions, many of which have already been fleshed out by my colleagues in the Orchestral Percussion forums. Most personally to me, Ms. Jones asserts that teachers recruit and train too many students (for a shrinking number of positions) so that they can keep their jobs. And I quote:"Universities are slow to change. The bureaucrats and academians (yes, I made up this word) are not as open-minded as one would think. They want to protect their jobs more than they care about the students that merely pass through their halls. It’s self-preservation for them. By creating more graduates, they increase their numbers and tenure. Since only a tiny minority of the music school graduates land the coveted symphony jobs, those that don’t usually end up doing a career not in their chosen field, or end up teaching themselves. Universities expand to meet the demands of the higher population of students going to college, and they expand the departments where people want to major. Since most universities only want professors who have masters or doctoral degrees, those who have these credentials get the jobs. Those who usually have these credentials also were a product of the same university system where the goal is to get and keep their job. Many of the university professors that I have encountered throughout the past twenty-plus years have not had to create their own businesses and make a living as freelance musicians. They have had the regular job of teaching as their “fall-back” and have not been forced to make the same decisions that today’s students face."
• As a tenured professor in the third-largest music school in the United States, my position currently entails 2.5 full-time loads, and I love it--even with all the extra work--and no day is 9-5. Our enrollment is based upon the number of ensembles that must be filled, which with 1150 music majors is quite a large number. My job is not only to place students in top-flight graduate programs like NEC, Juilliard, MSM, Indiana, Michigan, CIM, Eastman, etc., but also university positions, secondary positions, elementary positions--basically, to do everything in my power to help them realize their dream of whatever they want to do. And sometimes that ends up being something other than music. As for caring for their jobs over their students, this is just ludicrous. My students are almost as close to me as my own family, and I work tirelessly behind the scenes to see them succeed in any field they choose.
• As a huge music program, we do turn out a large number of graduates--many go to graduate programs to specialize in performance or education; many become band directors/orchestra directors, general music teachers, music therapists, commercial musicians, arts administrators--and in my area we've been fortunate to field several university professors as well.
• But my percussion students have also become doctors, lawyers, servicemen and women with the armed forces, music industry professionals, landscape architects, and one is a professional poker player making six figures. The most important point, however--is that we teach our students to be free-thinking team players who want to build a better society--disciplined, focused, determined, motivated, service-minded and well aware of what lies in front of them depending upon their individual aspirations. These are desirable qualities in any human being, not just a musician. And as for hiring people with experience instead of degrees, I would point to my track record--and that of many peers--which is easily accessed through a simple Google search. I don't teach because I can't play--in fact, I was hired and eventually tenured because of my playing AND teaching.
• Yes, the dynamic is changing--which is why many programs like NEC, Eastman, FSU and others have implemented entrepreneurship programs/certificates in addition to traditional studies (theory, history, pedagogy, applied)--these include business courses in marketing, taxes, non-profit work, fundraising, insurance, contracts, audio and video engineering, website development, and becoming advocates for their large and small endeavors. Ms. Jones is obviously not aware of these developments during the time she has worried about the eventual demise of orchestras as we know them.
• Is our general public underinformed? Yes. Blame the cuts in arts funding at the primary and secondary levels--blame us for not doing the best job we can to educate the current and future audiences, board members and legislators. Can the average person tell the difference between a good regional orchestra and a world-class ensemble like Chicago, Cleveland, Berlin? Many cannot--recently a survey concluded that 90% of people couldn't tell the difference between compressed and non-compressed music (as in mp3s for iPods and other media). And the fact is that many of the so-called regional orchestras are really, really amazing. Are administrators of these struggling organizations short-sighted and largely ignorant in what makes an ensemble special? Absolutely.
• The thing that gets me is the small circle in which these idiotic managers travel--do some homework; you'll note that there are managerial connections between Atlanta, NEC, Minnesota, Philadelphia, etc. Someone is not doing their job when they make reference calls.
• In the end, classical music is one of the most competitive and largely misunderstood fields on the planet. But this is all of our faults--it's OUR job--every single one of us, to champion the cause, bring people to concerts, have them come up on stage and feel like they are a part of something magical. We have to come up with new ways to show people how special our art form truly is--because who's going to do it if we don't?
• So stop complaining from outside our world about what you think is happening, and imagine your boss telling you that you have no contract, you cannot park in the parking garage, you have no health benefits, and there are guards outside WAC (Woodruff, I'm talking to you). We all have to help each other in this sink-or-swim environment of low IQs, short attention spans, and a complete paradigm shift in the ways that music is experienced and preserved.
• You can find me in the swimming pool ready to help any swimmer who's not afraid to jump in. And Ms. Jones is welcomed to come to FSU and shadow my colleagues and me for a few weeks to see what's really happening in higher education.
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