teaching over performance, why not?!

March 10, 2008 at 08:21 PM · i say this on 2 levels.

1. from personal contacts, way too many people in training are treating performance as the ONLY holy grail until too late and teaching as the second banana, the last resort. we have award winners dying to find performance opportunities to make a living (and not very successful), then teachers who are doing very well with job security and money (over 100k is not that difficult if managed well).

2. on a larger scale, there is a huge imbalance between the ratio of desire for performance vs teaching. this is like everyone in med school going after cardiothoracic surgery over research, everyone in law school to become personal injury lawyers over other branches,,, why is this skewedness so blant in classical music and people get away with this absurdity until way to far down the wrong road?

i think it is time for very smart and talented musicians to wise up and think about teaching, early, seriously and with respect. we need to nurture teachers early before they become disillusioned, weird mad scientists! :)

hug a young teacher today if you agree!!! :):):) (and kiss an older one)

Replies (20)

March 10, 2008 at 09:46 PM · 1.The only music teachers I've heard of making $100k are collegiate or very in-demand private teachers on the East US coast. Public school teachers in the US for the most part make DIRT (most places I've been). Especially in light of how much crap and red tape they must deal with-both from the schools system as well as from students.

2. Positions in Collegiate teaching-where the bulk of the security and money you speak of are relatively rare.

Positions in public schools (in the US) are fairly easy to find in comparison-but the hours are enormous, the effort immense, and the pay is dirt, and the amount of BS one must deal with from everywhere is unimaginable.

For studio teachers and collegiate positions-performance experience is desired, as well of course pedogogical skill etc etc....but there's still the strong desire for the students to study under a (master) performer on the instrument. Thus a performer is fundamentally desired in addition to a good teacher.

For public schools....most BM in ed programs I've seen place the musical emphasis on learning how to do everything else at the expense of furthering your work on the major instrument....because when all is said and done-once you're out in the professional world teaching public school, you'll likely be subbing Algebra I, having lunch duty, teaching 6th grade band, conducting 7th grade choir, directing the school talent show, teaching in school private/group woodwind lessons....and eventually if you're lucky you might get to teach string students before the school day ends---and you're often doing this at 2 or more schools, with commuting etc etc......and if you're VERY fortunate at the end of the day you might have not only the time but also the energy to enjoy your violin yourself.




Thus if someone enjoys playing the violin, for playing the violins sake-although they may be far from skilled enough to perform publically; is it wise to direct them into a field (public school teaching is primarily what I speak of here) where odds are quite good they'll end up doing most things except the violin on a regular basis?

In all honesty I don't know the answer to that. It is important to be frank and honest with a student (both vocally, and on letters of rec)-but at the same time, the decision must be theirs.

In the US, teachers (especially public school) are treated like dirt-getting flak both from parents (often), as well as from the bureacracy that employs them. Please do hug them!

(just not in a really random creepy way :>) )

March 10, 2008 at 10:39 PM · I did more than just think about it, I have a bachelor's in music ed in addition to one in performance. And after four and a half years, much of it spent learning how to play every instrument other than my own, I finally have to admit that I am the wrong person for it. Believe me, I am no snob; I've worked with several phenomenal teachers for whom I have great respect. You can only put so much lipstick on a pig, though. I simply am not comfortable with the pressure of being solely in charge of children in large groups (meaning more than, say, four) for hours every day.

March 10, 2008 at 10:56 PM · Al,

If teaching were that terrific, there wouldn't be the large amount of turnover. While ASTA is always trumpeting the fact that there's a large need for string teachers, what they don't tell you is why: lots of people try it and quit after a couple of years.

And as far as salary: the average starting salary for string professors at the college level is about $36,000. In fact, it's the lowest-paid discipline in college teacher.

March 11, 2008 at 01:02 AM · Teaching has many subcategories, of course. I used freelance everywhere and had a very large studio with all levels of students. My schedule was hectic but also flexible. I could get up at a reasonable hour, squeeze in a couple hours of practice, then go teach and have rehearsal. Lack of health benefits, and the near zero bank account every August were definite downsides. Since I enjoy teaching (that is, when you really get to teach) I decided to go back to school for my teaching certificate. It would be nearly impossible to return to my old lifestyle, as I have a family now and must have adequate insurance (my spouse is another violinist who would explode if he had to teach in school). The difficulty with school jobs is that you are expected to do more than is humanly possible. And, your job may be dependent on how many bodies are in your room, not necessarily the quality they are able to produce. This model works when your students have the resources and motivation to seek private instruction, but it is a supreme exercise in frustration when they will only practice during class or won't go beyond because they are "good enough". In my current position, I teach half a day in an elementary and half in a middle school, both "arts magnet". It's an urban setting, so behavior norms are quite skewed from other environments. My students practically roll on the floor when I make a normal musical gesture for a dynamic or tempo change. Getting them to recognize the benefits of polishing a performance to a set standard (we have festival Wednesday) is nearly impossible because their daily environment is a "here and now" phenomenon. All of this is extremely taxing, if you truly care about teaching. Then there are those endless things that teachers must do-grades, lessons plans every Thursday evening, meetings, meetings, meetings,...If your district or your immediate supervisor is not supportive, it can be pretty awful.

March 11, 2008 at 02:35 AM · hey people, that sounds so gloomy! what i am suggesting is to be an entrepreneur and be your own boss by building your own studio, as early as you can. if you can do better, work for yourself. as i said, i know of violinists who are doing really quite well hustling on their own pace (not college or conservatory related). is it better that your students give you headaches or your employer? just think, you can always give back headaches to your students! money is important or not important which is up to you, but to be able to establish something of your own has its own reward. of course, the ones i know are all very talented in teaching, in fact, none of them have had education/major achievement in this country, but they communicate in violin language very effectively and they are realistic. they put all their energy into teaching without any more second guessing.

of course owning your own business is easier said than done, particularly if you do not like dealing with people (but doesn't performance involve dealing with people?:) to be your own boss can be scary because there is no safety net to fall back to. with your back against the wall, some of you may perform beyond expectation and surprise yourselves. comparing with other startups, all you need is a violin (heck, you can use the students'), a place to teach (your or mine:) and your willingness to make a difference... in your students' future and your urgency to buy that 17 c italian on your own.

i wish you all well and i think it is not wise to push the solo gig dream for too far too long, if you allow yourself to come to senses. you may need to balance violin as an art and violin as a profession and choose a branch wisely. find your own niche. if you are a people person with the skills, students will find you!

don't be shy to earn a good living because you need to live, too! how do you start a studio of 50? with 1!

March 11, 2008 at 06:17 AM · I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I have found a nice mix between teaching and performing in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. I do not have a doctorate but did obtain a master's in violin performance from NEC. My teaching experience is from the school of hard knocks, as they say. Admittedly, it helps to be in the right place at the right time. I came back to the Baltimore-Washington area after studying in Israel and promptly auditioned for a number of newly formed orchestras and teaching positions. I decided to stay put rather than seek greener pastures elsewhere and now I can look back on it and feel it was the right decision. I think if you stick around in a certain area, people get to know you, you become a reliable known quantity as they say, and you can find sufficient work of all kinds. I have no regrets. I'm glad for both the performing and teaching opportunities- every step has been a learning experience and I value the opportunities I've had and continue to have. To quote John Schaar, "The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination."

March 11, 2008 at 09:19 AM · I like teaching, make a decent enough salary, and am one of two teachers in the town. The other one is moving next spring. Great job security.

But I really think people are born to teach or not teach. You shouldn't do it just because you couldn't do anything else.

If, as a violinist, you are constantly going to other people to show them what you learned, if you love explaining how something is done, if you critically analyze everything you hear, if you love researching, tinkering and fixing, and if you have an infectious passion for music, then you've been called to teach!

March 11, 2008 at 10:34 AM · What you are suggesting Al is possible but not everybodies circumstances are the same.It has taken me 20 years to build up a solid teaching career but I was fortunate in the beginning not to be the bread winner of the family.I also built slowly as I was a mother and needed to dedicate time to my children.Once they grew up I had already everything in place to expand.Even then it is not easy.In Europe children go to school, we dont have the concept of home schooling so all elementary age childrten have to be slotted in between 16:45 and 19:30 after which they are too tired to do very much.This means the older ones from middle school up have to be juggled around them.Middle and upper school students also go to school on Saturday mornings but at least one can pack elementary school kids in on a Saturday morning.The result is that at 40 students I am at my maximum ,plus 3 orchestral groups to rehearse,plus elemantary general school music classes in the morning.I work from 10 in the morning until 9 in the evening with only Sundays free.Then of course there are the concerts and recitals that are not always paid for.The time arranging parts, writing music and other adnmistrative bits and pieces that are not always paid for.This is the kind of work one does because they feel passionate about and commitnent needs to be 200%.Sarting out for a young person needing to earn a living is hard going.

March 11, 2008 at 10:40 AM · Well, I think a lot of the reason is the way the training system is structured and the messages that adults send to students. Since it's widely held that you have to start early to have a chance to be a good performer, in music you have a lot of kids making very adult-like decisions about careers--decisions that they may or may not be ready to make, or at least decisions that they wouldn't necessarily make in the way an adult makes them.

In most other fields, including teaching, kids are allowed to try on different careers in their minds and then change their minds. You will often hear a kid saying they want to be a teacher, or a police officer, or a fire fighter, or a homeschooling mom when they grow up, and I don't think adults discourage them, but I think they do just say "sure, honey" and let them explore and move on to the next fantasy when they are ready--or not.

And in most other fields like the ones Al mentions--law, science, medicine--those career decisions about cardiology vs. research or patent law vs. the public defender's office are made by adults. Doogie Howser notwithstanding, most people go to law, medical, and graduate school in their twenties.

But with music performance there is this endless talk about "dreams" and "the stars" and "going for it" and "regrets" and "having what it takes" that saturates the whole pedagogy from a very early age. There isn't much of a sense of exploring or finding oneself, at least not in any way but musically. And I think that many (not all) young kids take that rhetoric and internalize it in ways that adults wouldn't. So music teaching often isn't really on the radar screen until a student becomes an adult and develops more adult-like analytical capacities.

March 11, 2008 at 11:57 AM · thank you for the above excellent info/insight, not as gloomy as it could be:)

i guess here is a catch 22: you have to be a decent player to be a decent teacher, but once you are a decent player, you want to be a performer instead :)

agree with emily that it indeed takes a special breed to go into teaching and karen analyzed it well the dilemma/conflicts. but happy to see people like ron/janet who have carved their own paths. and that soon emily will have a monopoly on the turf:)

all in all, as they say in golf, drive for show, putt for dough. i hope people can rely on their instinct (instead of being overly inflenced by the hype) and pursue something solid from early on.

as for teaching, one bad thing is that you can't slack off because your best endorsement comes from your current students!

March 11, 2008 at 12:37 PM · Marc, it's like you described my life. Karen, very thoughtful post. I remember my teacher saying "if you can't do, teach. If you can't teach, teach teachers."

My opinion is that conservatories really miss the target for MOST of their students. Conservatories are in the business of making superstars, which will then bring them bigger acclaim, more notoriety, and therefore more money. For most of the students who attended conservatories I can safely say we are all talented, motivated, and need true direction in our career. At conservatory we are not given the option of teaching. We are pointed in the direction of the nearest practice room and are told "don't worry about teaching, that's only for those who don't make it as performers."

So we all get disillusioned that we are there to be trained to be performers and we wake up suddenly and realize that for 98% us that, although performing is an important part of our lives, is not stable enough financially and needs to be supplemented.

Music education is to blame, in the following ways:

1. In public schools music education is pushed aside as an elective, and is not given the structure and support needed.

2. Private teachers are not held under any universal standards, and families that do not have any experience may have a difficult time distinguishing between a good/bad teacher.

3. Conservatories lead you to believe that you will graduate and land a "job" playing without giving you the necessary tools to find that job such as:

-resume and portfolio building skills

-marketing skills

-teaching requirements

-business training especially in the area of

non-profit organizations

Maybe someday soon I'll post a thread on "Why conservatories may not be the best option"

March 11, 2008 at 01:36 PM · But Al, that's a good thing not to slack off- one should always want to do one's best, don't you think, whether as teacher or performer or both.

March 11, 2008 at 02:27 PM · This hinges in some part, I think, on how self-absorbed many young folks are while trying to grow up and "find themselves". The current and recent generations of parents have helped this along. They tend to believe and treat their kids as though they are extra-special in everything they may take an interest in, no matter what their actual capabilities, work ethic or progress. Sue

March 11, 2008 at 02:26 PM · yes ron you are right. i think since performers are always on stage, it gives the impression that their every move is followed and may be held to a higher standard. yet, similarly, a teacher's every move, even in front of a 4 year old, also makes lasting, penetrating impressions, just not under glamor of the limelight. i guess what i am saying is that even though the teachers are not on stage, they cannot really take it easy! their are huge figures to those little elephants with good memories!

also, i am confident most of you will agree that the most effective advertising comes from the faith/mouth of your students and fellow teachers.

a side note: when we moved and was looking for a teacher, i called up one. after a little exchange of info, he said: actually i will recommend a better one. i was very impressed by his thoughtfulness and integrity. (or, may be he reads v.com and my nutty posts and knows how to avoid trouble! :) hahahaha!

March 11, 2008 at 03:39 PM · Well Marina- you're welcome;>)

When I did my BM I had to teach in public schools for 3 months, and one of several things I learned was that it was just not worth my time or effort for the results I got. Apart from a few very driven string players who progressed (3 maybe four out of 100-150)-the rest always had the same corrections every week and never went anywhere technically/musically/artistically-regardless of what antics I'd do, or my co-op teacher did.

I think the problem lies much deeper than all this though. The attitude in virtually every field nowadays seems to be one of breeding "professionals" in it. This even trickles down to public school nowadays in the attitudes kids have.

If you're not in a given fields coursework to further your professional development, then it is assumed you are there simply because you only want the 3 credit hours of XXXXXXXX subject field to get your diploma or what have you-and the second you get your final grade you're going to forget the subject matter, and you don't give a flip about the content matter otherwise.

I took astrophysics coursework during my BM-and the profs seemed genuinely flabbergasted by the notion of "here is someone who is here because they want to learn and wants to be there" not simply someone who needs a credit.

The frustrating part being for educators-kids & their parents come in and expect to be able to learn to play Ÿsaye or solo Bach etc etc by coming to class once or twice a week and not practicing otherwise....or the kids come in with no desire to be there-apart from satisfying a graduation requirement. The attitude being "I can't/won't/don't want to do this professionally, why should I be here?" There's no longer a desire to do things for fun and to learn them so you can do them in your spare time really (and simply enjoy the art of doing and learning). It's either you are in it to be a professional or you're wasting (our-student and teacher's) time and $$$$$.

This above all else seems to breed the notion of performer over teacher, IMHO. It's treated like an all or nothing poker game.

I think part of this is that people also have come to reverse causation. They *expect* that if they find a teacher, and they can learn....but they don't take seriously the "do-it-yourself" attitude of yore that is necessary outside of the classroom. That "can-do" initiative is really what seems to be lacking nowadays in general.

Another part of the problem derives form the notion of "talent" that seems to have penetrated society, that I always hear the uninitiated going on about-either parents or concert goers after concerts. What they typically mean is the idea that every kid has some magic thing they are born knowing how to do (superlatively-usually) without working hard for it. Kids often times swallow this idea hook, line, and sinker.

To put it in the words of the great Sarasate himself:

“For 37 years I've practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius”

March 11, 2008 at 03:30 PM · "I think the problem lies much deeper than all this though. The attitude in virtually every field nowadays seems to be one of breeding "professionals" in it."

Yes, Marc, I agree completely. From the student's point of view there can be a real danger of feeling like the teacher or the school doesn't want you there at all if you're not "in it 100%." You come to be not in the club anymore and end up quitting altogether. And that's not just in music.

But I think if you look actively and keep in mind what you want, you can find teachers, students, and whole institutions that buck this trend.

I take lessons at the Longy School of Music, which is both a conservatory and a community-based music school. It seems to be a good model that balances both goals. As an adult learner/amateur, I couldn't be happier with the quality of instruction I've received there and even the performing opportunities available to me (even if I don't always take advantage of those).

But, getting back to my earlier post, I think it usually takes a more adult sensibility to really appreciate what a place like that has to offer. Kids these days have goals and expectations and reward charts and college admissions so drummed into them that it's hard to for them to look beyond their late teens or so and realize that there's still a whole life on the other side.

March 12, 2008 at 01:44 PM · I spoke with the dean at Curtis a week or so ago and he said that approximately 60% of the graduates go on to graduate school (Juilliard, NEC, Yale mostly) and 40% go on to orchestra jobs or some type of freelance work combined with teaching.

On another note: I have seen teachers combine teaching with other careers, even non-music careers very successfully. One example is a violinist friend of mine who plays at an impressive level but has struggled to find himself as an artist. After all his performance degrees and much thought over several years, he has decided that he would rather not play in an orchestra, and that he is unlikely at this stage to have any sort of major career as a soloist. He also cannot see himself teaching the youngest players or players who are not very serious, and the thought of teaching in a school string program just is not attractive to him at all. This would sound hopeless, but he has found a niche for himself and is really, really happy. He has a business that provides DJ's to clubs and he produces electronic dance music and he has a very small studio of students ages 9 and up, all who have finished the Suzuki books and are highly motivated. His business provides enough income that he is free to have two or three students at a time. His students get an unusual amount of concentrated time and energy from him, and as a result, he produces unusually skilled players. He gets so much joy out of his work with his little pupils. He has very strong ideas about how fine players are nurtured and he feels he can "do it right" given that he has financial security. He also plays a recital here and there and occasionally with a chamber group and has projects of his own (recording solo Bach and Ysaye ect,,,) and is writing a book on violin technique.

There is a tradition of colleges and conservatories to hire teachers who have had careers as performers. At some point passing the torch seems to become important to them. In observing lessons, I have seen teachers relate lots of stories about their own past teachers and encounters with famous players. They often want to pass on the bowings and fingerings that their old master gave them and more importantly a particular philosophy of playing. I know of several who have returned in their mid or later career to teach at the institution that they attended. I think the affection they feel for their old teachers drives violinists to want eventually to be important to the artistic growth of someone else.

In other fields, the teaching profession, although not the most financially rewarding option, is the most sought after. Despite the fact that one can make much more money in industry or medicine, the competition for academic positions is unbelievable. I have colleagues who have taken one post-doctoral studies position after another in the hopes that eventually they will find a tenure-track job. Somewhere during graduate school, as happened with me, these individuals happen to have a teaching assignment and get "hooked". I am sure this happens in music as well.

March 12, 2008 at 03:02 PM · jennifer, that is an informative post.

i guess a precise breakdown of that 40% will be more revealing.

i wonder if you know, say for the top 10 major orchestras in this country, on the average, how many openings are there per orchestra per year for new auditions? (i guess people competing for the open slots come from both recent graduates as well as veterans?)

is there an industry stat showing how do recent graduates compare (in the competition) with veterans for the open slots?

March 12, 2008 at 03:25 PM · With all due respect to students who attend Curtis, I would hesitate to gauge a whole industry of musicians based on those percentages simply because it's... Curtis! And by the way, what do the 60% percent who go on to grad school do afterwards? We all know people who stay in school well into their thirties or forties and pile up degrees until they figure out what to do. Can't stay in school forever though, gotta do something.

The experience your friend had, well I think most musicians find their own niche as well. In the end it seems we all end up doing a combination of things like teaching, freelancing, and the odd recital here and there.

March 12, 2008 at 04:09 PM · Al,

I wondered about the precise breakdown of that 40% too.

The dean gave me another statistic that is fairly informative. He said that ten years after graduation 85% of the graduates are still making a living in music. He pointed out that this is a much higher % than it is for other undergraduate degrees where career changes are common place. Life requires flexibility no matter what one's chosen profession is. Hopefully we all find something in which we excel.

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