DMA-- worth it?
I'm currently applying to DMA programs, and was thrilled to see that I made it past the prescreen round for University of Michigan, Thornton School of Music at USC, Eastman, CIM, Peabody and CCM. My dream is of teaching at the college level- even at a tiny, no-name college- as long as my students are willing to work hard. This year I got to teach at the college level a significant amount as a TA while finishing up my MM and enjoyed it tremendously. It confirmed my feeling that teaching at the college level is what I really want to do.
Everyone and their mother is more than happy to tell me how terrible teaching at the college level is, that a DMA is a waste of money, that I will never get a job, I will die bankrupt and bitter, etc etc etc. How much weight should I give to any of these statements?
(For the record, people said similar things about an MM degree, but I ended up getting a full scholarship and amazing growth and opportunities from it, so I feel like it was certainly worth it!)
If you want a college teaching job and you're not a major international star, the DMA is your entry ticket. It is a job requirement. If you had said you were planning to take professional orchestra auditions, the DMA would be meaningless.
Our music department just went through the search process for a new professor to direct the university orchestra. It was fun and exciting to play in the orchestra for their demonstration rehearsals. I was really struck by the depth and diversity of the applicants' backgrounds and by the breadth of their skills and interests. (The same is true of the music department's last few hires, so it's not an anomaly, but as you might expect, applicants for a conducting position tend more toward being generalists than you would as a prospective violin professor.) I don't think the current process is complete, so I should be careful how much I say, but these days, I think a college music department is going to be looking for someone who is more than just a great violinist who is going to teach great violin lessons. They're going to have applicants who will bring a lot more to the job. So as you get close to applications and especially interviews, I think it really pays to do your homework on the places where you're applying, to see what kind of skill set already exists within the music (and other arts!) departments, and what kinds of ideas and aptitudes you might bring to that party that would enhance and extend the activities already underway there -- activities that might range from different types of artistic performances to new ideas for updating core courses, to community outreach efforts. Not only are you looking for a good fit, but obviously they are too.
I have played in community orchestras, community college orchestras, and college-community orchestras since 1949. The experiences I have had have given me the greatest respect for the faculty members who have guided, coached, and directed these orchestras and the other associated musical activities of their departments.
"My dream is of teaching at the college level- even at a tiny, no-name college- as long as my students are willing to work hard..."
Also worth noting, to Andy Victor's comment, that a few decades back people had tenured roles and made decent money. Now most profs are adjuncts, and may actually make less money from teaching lessons at the university than they would per-hour teaching kids privately.
As far as other skills, I have taught viola in the past, studied conducting, and have taught music theory and ear training. I feel pretty confident about my ability to do many things that would make me an attractive candidate. I know that most of the schools on my list- Eastman, CIM, USC, UMich, Peabody- have excellent reputations but are known for being expensive and stingy with scholarship. How important is the name of the school on the resume in terms of hire-ability? I have heard from some that it is worth borrowing some to attend a school like Eastman or CIM for the name, especially for DMA, because it will make me a much more attractive candidate for a professorship. I was told by many people not to even bother looking at less prestigious music schools for DMA, such as UC Boulder or U Utah, because they would not help me get through the resume screening process for job applications.
One other thought- I have noticed the trend that even at private HIGH SCHOOLS many new hires have DMA’s!! It seems impossible to get any decent teaching job without one these days! One of my first teaching jobs was at a private music school on the East Coast. Half the teachers had DMA’s, but most of the students were only middle school age (up to a few high school seniors) and not very advanced at all. However, the pay was commensurate with # of degrees and years of teaching experience. The teachers with DMA’s earned far more than I did, with only a B. Mus degree. Therefore, even if I never obtain a tenure-track college job, perhaps a DMA will still help me command a higher hourly rate for private teaching. Thoughts?
Well, there is a good reason why private high schools expect their applicants to have DMAs: Because they can. It's stone-cold proof of what Scott is saying about the glut of DMAs on the market.
I know you are absolutely right- degree inflation is real. But doesn't that make it that much more important to have a DMA if I want to be competitive in the (teaching) job market? I know a DMA has no relevance for winning an orchestra job, but I don't have much interest in that, at least right now. I have held two professional orchestra jobs in the past five years - not the best or biggest orchestras, but modest salaried positions- and decided that is not the career I really want to pursue for many reasons.
I was editing and expanding my post while you were writing yours.
Interesting about the U Professor vs. local private music teacher dynamic. I had never considered that. I never had trouble finding students- usually the opposite. Lots of kids/parents wanted to work with me. The problem is that I honestly don't love teaching little KIDS. I don't like dealing with the behavior issues. I have no desire to be a disciplinarian, and don't enjoy feeling like a glorified babysitter. (Ironically, I used to baby sit during undergrad and liked it a lot more than teaching violin to little kids. It's amazing how much more fun little kids are when you aren't trying to coax them into holding a wooden box awkwardly under their jaw while standing still! ) However, I really enjoy working with motivated teens and twenty-somethings. It's an entirely different dynamic. I find it very rewarding.
But violin teaching is a pyramid. Lots of little kids at the bottom, precious few conservatoire-bound high-schoolers at the top.
A DMA is absolutely meaningless when it comes to private teaching and the fees you might be able to command. Reputation and track record are far more important when it comes to charging more than the going rate--and whatever the going rate is, there will be an upper bound that is not likely to be much above the going rate unless you have some sort of amazing story in your bio. A DMA is not that story.
Liz, there are people on this forum who are consistently hostile to the DMA.
You are very close to finishing the masters, so go ahead and run through to the end of the race. You will get a superior credential and will learn more stuff during those extra two years. I only have the BA in music and will never know what might have happened if I continued. I had a choice of going to a good grad. music program or joining a top professional ensemble. At the time my thinking was that it was better to do the thing than study the thing.
Thanks for this, Scott. I'd add to that the following: Whatever field you are in, a doctorate is a worthwhile experience by itself regardless of its use for your career (well, maybe except the law). Mine was in organic chemistry and was essential even for the rather middling career I have had. But it was an experience I'd recommend anybody to have who has the chance.
I'm not hostile to the DMA. At one time I considered it for myself, before deciding to have a third child instead. It's just not a ticket to anything other than being eligible to apply for tenure-track teaching jobs. If that's what someone wants, then they need the DMA. If they have the time and money to spend getting several more years of an excellent musical education, the DMA is a perfectly fine way to do that as well as long as they understand what the degree can and cannot do for them. If what someone really wants is to win a major orchestra audition, though, the DMA is counterproductive. That time would be much better spent studying excerpts with a major orchestra concertmaster and taking auditions.
If you want to teach college, I would definitely get a DMA. Yes, there is a glut of DMA's but it's also become a requirement for higher ed. If you have already had orchestra jobs, it sounds like you can very easily become a triple threat (DMA + great player + professional experience), and there are not nearly as many of those as you might think so that gives you an advantage. The fact that you are flexible in location and love teaching young adults also means you are a good fit. My advice is to not go into unreasonable debt and to create your own track record of concerts and masterclasses/presentations while you are in school for DMA, so that you come out with a strong resume of being on the upswing. Continue adjunct teaching when you have the chance, and if you get the opportunity to teach in a classroom (history for example), take (if if you don't want to!) it as it will serve you well to make the cut in more desirable locations. Above all, have fun while doing it. I teach college full time, and although I don't like the email/admin part of the duties, I absolutely love teaching college and would not trade it. I'm lucky also to be in a location with a thriving music community where I continue to play and work on my playing. Side note: I never finished my DMA, so only MM, but now that I have ssat on many search committees I know that was a fluke and wouldn't fly to get a tenure track job anymore. I feel lucky. Good luck!
It seems to me you will have more decision-making freedom later if you avoid going into debt now. When choosing a DMA program, why not look for a well-known teacher at a place where you can get a scholarship? A location where you have opportunities to continue performing professionally would also be a plus.
You should do it if you get a scholarship. Don't go into debt because it will be hard to pay off with the salary of a faculty job. And if you don't get a faculty job, it will be even harder to pay off. You could probably find state school salaries in music departments online. Make sure you get a sense of what the starting salaries are before you take out debt 3-4 times one year's worth of salary. Also examine how many entry-level, full-time violin faculty jobs are available each year and assess your odds against the competition.
i would be interested (I am from Europe) to understand what it takes in the US to get a tenure-track position, say, assistant professor of violin, in the music department of some (possibly lower-tier) university. In the branch that I am familiar with (and there I am also familiar with the US system) what is needed is a PhD, but most of all, scientific publications. I suppose for violin this is different?
The DMA is the violin performance equivalent of a PhD and as discussed above, it is necessary unless you have a major performance career. If you look at the faculty at Juilliard, for example, quite a few do NOT have the DMA but what they have instead are major prizes and significant solo, chamber music, or orchestral careers. Frank Huang, who is concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, lists only the BM with additional studies on his Juilliard bio. In general, the lesser the music school, the more they care about what degrees their faculty hold. I think both of my conservatory/grad school teachers held only a master's.
The comparison of DMA and PhD is apt. However, my university (and I suspect many others) is now starting to broaden the range of faculty lines that are available, and the training requirements differ. For example we have "professor of practice" and "collegiate professor" positions, which are "permanent" types of jobs but NOT tenured (maybe 3-5 year contracts that are intended to be renewable). And for these, the requirement of a PhD is a little less strict, but there is much more emphasis on the breadth and depth of your experience. I'm not sure how that trend will play out in the performing arts departments though.
Thank you, everyone! I appreciate all the input.
There's a school of thinking that regards education as a financial investment, a means to an end, wherein one spends money on schooling in order to get specific career returns with "hard ROI".
I agree with Lydia, but I think for Liz, the focus should definitely be on the former sentiment (i.e. using the DMA as a means to obtaining opportunities and connections). I am all for self-actualization, but I think the time where one could claim that as a victory in and of itself passed long ago (i.e. undergrad). Mary's comments above hit on this quite well I feel - pursuing a DMA is worthwhile if you know what it is good for and that is what you want. It sounds like you do.
ROI vs. self-actualization is not entirely the province of the client. Universities today -- especially public universities -- are tripping over themselves trying to emphasize and "sell" the institution on ROI. It's been going that way for a long time and I don't think it's reversible. Programs within the university that emphasize self-actualization vs. ROI will eventually see their funding slashed. And you do have to wonder how ROI on a history course for non-history-majors would be measured. Are you really going to survey the salaries of your graduates ten years out to see whether those who took medieval history earn more than those who took Civil War history? You laugh ... but I can see the bean-counters wanting to do just that.
The University of Maryland relatively recently went through a bean-counting exercise looking at university revenue per square foot of space used, per program, which is why UMD no longer offers a an MM in instrumental pedagogy. (That required space for the grad students to do their teaching in, see, which has horrible revenue per sqft.) Even though the graduates had the best ROI / salaries, on the average, of the music grads. The ROI to the
"Everyone and their mother is more than happy to tell me how terrible teaching at the college level is, that a DMA is a waste of money, that I will never get a job, I will die bankrupt and bitter, etc etc etc. How much weight should I give to any of these statements?"
To be fair, I do mentoring for college students / early-career folks in my own field of computer science, and there, there's also plenty of seeking the advice of grizzled veterans only to ignore it entirely too. :-)
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