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Michelle Jones

Careers in the ARTS vs. Other Trades

April 29, 2012 at 2:45 PM

This is the time of year where I usually ask my students what are their goals in music. It’s near the end of this semester, and we review what we have done, and plan our next summer sessions and goals. For my students completing their junior year of high school, this is where I really want to know what are their plans for college. Do you want to play/study music in college? Are you planning a career in the arts? What accomplishments have you completed that will aid your entrance into your college of choice? Are you ready for the audition process? These questions and their answers give me the information I need to give them the tools to succeed.

Some of my students are very interested in hip-hop and dance music. Although we still use the traditional methods for learning music (reading, writing, phrasing, memorizing, etc.), I put an additional emphasis on improvisation and identifying patterns in music. What makes this style “hip-hop?” Is it the lyrics? The instruments? The key element is LISTENING. Then I teach how the student can create that style with their instrument(s).

Some of my students are interested in composing. Part of our lessons is spent doing it the old fashioned way with pencil and manuscript paper, while others are spent learning how to do the same thing with computers and software programs. We learn the difference between handwriting it to get the emotion through the placement of notes (close together if want a quick run, farther apart if you want to linger a bit), then how to transcribe that same emotion into a computer program.

During these discussions about goals, I prefer to discuss the difference between having a career in the arts verses other traditional trades. My favourite example is from a fellow musician, Daniel Jordan. He compares musicians to plumbers. Musicians do what we do because we have a passion for it; we are (or should be) always practicing and perfecting our art to continue to provide an excellent service to the listeners. We get together as a group on a regular basis to practice together, to share ideas, to create. Daniel says he knows of NO PLUMBERS who will get together for 3 hours on a Saturday night to fix toilets together and share their ideas, let alone practice doing it for free. I am sure he means no disrespect to plumbers for their skill and service, but merely uses it as an example of how they are not expected by society to practice as a group, or even practice at home several hours each day. Musicians are expected to do this and be perfectly prepared for a live gig, and yet many times clients expect us to do it for free or “PUBLICITY” or “PROMOTION.” So how do we change the expectations of society in this regard?

Although many of my students pursue majors/careers other than music, I see one of my roles as the teacher is to help shape good audience members and purchasers of music. If they understand how many years it takes to be a professional musician, and how many hours of practice goes into it, then perhaps they will understand the value of pricing when they have to hire a musician or band. Perhaps they will also understand why concert and show tickets are so expensive, although that usually involves another lesson where we discuss the economics of being in a band, or another lesson about the financial risk involved in creating a show. Again, this may be the subject for a future post.

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