Going to college and successfully mastering a skill is beneficial in many ways far beyond the actual subject matter. College graduates average far higher salaries and far lower unemployment rates than those who didn't attend college.
If classical music is a young adult's passion, there's no reason they shouldn't pursue that passion out of fear that they will not be able to make a living playing classical music.
Now the high cost of attending college is another issue all together!!
Besides, there's something that really annoys me about the term "knowing people or things". In example:
- Mark, you are 21, do you know who is Mozart?
- Wait what? Never heard of it?
- OMG, where have you been living???
+ Earth, all my life.
- Does anybody in this class know who Mozart was?
and here goes the annoying part...
* Everybody except Mark: YEEEEEEEES! A musician! Mark you suck! Noob!
- Of course! Thank God... ok, so, somebody, name a piece
- No one?
- OK, his name?
* Silence... (boy in the back) isn't Mozart his name?
- Okay... can somebody tell me where he was born, what country at least, or where he lived?
- When he was born, anybody please?
* Wasn't it nineteen... something? ... or...
- Sing a melody of his?
* Ta ta ta taaaaaan?
Having said that: I don't like the pessimistic tone of the article either nor the attempt to blame Juilliard for the author's astounding ignorance (not only is Springsteen a big animal in music, he has made himself an important animal in politics as well. The number of Americans who have not heard of him must be very low indeed).
A big part of the problem that the article describes is not new. Classical music has been dying ever since I was a boy. Yet it is still around. And while music as a career is now even more competitive than ever it has always been competitive. Many many young people (many more women than men back then) who studied violin and graduated perfectly well had to be content with teaching little children the beginnings of their craft. (BTW the complete absence of any mention of the teaching career path is another weird thing about the article--in addition to ignorance about Brude Springsteen). Don't get me wrong: Teaching is important and is a good career choice and is not all that easy either. But most people who study music dream of being a soloist, then scale back their dream to an orchestra job, then end up not being able to make that happen. It is hard to stomach.
Symphony number 1, symphony number 2, symphony number 3.... ;-)
This article sounds like it was written by a very earnest, sheltered Mormon kid that just made it to the big city - I guess the lecture is fine for other sheltered Mormon kids, but it's just bizarre for people that grew with a tv or a radio.
I took literature classes in college, and we didn't read, say Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, or Tom Clancy books in order to understand popular fiction. That didn't stop anyone from reading whatever they wanted in their free time.
I can't imagine how someone becomes a Bruce Springsteen fan while living outside of New Jersey - My buddy once had a live Springsteen show playing at his house, and the man was screaming at the top of his lungs for 3 hours - I was amazed that he didn't lose his voice or energy, even if I don't care for the music.
My parents were classical musicians, and didn't play me music outside of classical, but me and my brothers managed to get into jazz, rock, rap and other genres pretty easily.
What I do agree with is that a music school really should try and train musicians to play less "four square" in the context of other genres, so that they really are equipped to play stuff like jazz, folk or pop. Whenever I hear pop arrangements for string quartet, they sound unbearably stilted, because they don't tend to have the technical skills for playing "in the pocket" because of the way classical music and counting tends to be structured - These are important learned skills. It's not the fault of the music they are playing, but it's a big pet peeve of mine - I'm not saying there aren't SQs out there that can't do it, but it takes work to speak a different language without your native accent.
Enjoying Bruce Springsteen is one thing -- having never heard of him is another. But that's what happens when you're not allowed to have sleepovers.
As a vocational institution it may be lacking, but that is not what art is about.
I personally think the tuition at educational institutions is vastly inflated. People are willing to pay those rates because of perceived advances in career, as opposed to the value of the knowledge. Like many pyramid schemes we find that a lot of people buy in only to find that the vocational part does not pan out.
Still Freda's point that the facts in the article were curated toward its broader thesis is well taken.
I suspect that people who decide to do this are dedicated to the art. I believe Juilliard will continue because of its contribution to the art rather than any benefit to employment. I believe their ability to dramatically increase the employability of their graduates on the basis of changing their curriculum to be more focused on pop music is minimal. In fact, more and more pop music uses fewer acoustic instruments.
I believe that as long as you are grooming your mind to continuously learn and refine how you learn best, you are enhancing your ability to achieve a greater level of success in your future. Obviously, studying a subject that relates directly to whatever career path you choose would be optimal for landing a job in that field right out of college, but given the stats, it's not a requirement.
As long as there are kids growing up with a passion for classical music and dance, Juiliard will live on. Keep in mind, they graduate after a 4-year course of study in their very early twenties with decades left to learn new skills and wear many different hats.
Some of them are also totally sheltered. Usually it's the ones from rich families, which is an interesting observation.
Anyway, that has nothing to do with my school. I think music schools exist for a specific purpose, which is upholding the classical music performance tradition. If they're declining, I don't think they need to modernize; maybe it's just a dinosaur and it's time for it to go extinct. Certainly as someone with very broad musical interests, I don't feel the program helps me do anything except classical. I don't think the environment is even conducive to musical innovation. Try to imagine if R&B evolved out of a university! They'd have got caught up in the analysis and technicalities and there would be no room for the sort of random mutations that drive popular music.
As a viola maker, Ella Fitzgerald clarity, easy of emission, dynamic range, colours, texture and focus is all I want from my violas.
The author, who studied at Julliard, who had never heard of Springsteen, got a job to work with Springsteen, and seemed to have completed the job alright. That sounds like she was well-prepared, just happening to not know a famous name.
If anything, music majors seem to be much better prepared than computer science majors. Programmers rarely know what they are doing the first month of their job.
Springsteen is also effectively hyperbole - a self-plug by the author for apparent relevance but no real musical significance. His reference actually diminishes the author's argument as it seems to value historical fame in a similar manner to which she objects to "outdated Beethoven".
That aside, I think her general points have validity, and especially in contrast to "outdated Beethoven" from the perspective of it having been and being done ad nauseum already and the need for new music. Beethoven didn't sit still in his own time, and wouldn't expect us to either. I hear Jazz in some of of his music, so I'm certainly inclined to believe that he would have incorporated more modern rhythmic elements in his work if was able to compose in the present. Which is not to say that he would have been churning out music along the lines of Springsteen.
Which is also not to say that the classical music of the late 20th century is remarkably good and better than ever. I think it declined markedly for several reasons including the wars, and that need not continue to be so in this century. However it won't change if we just keep on playing Beethoven.
Juilliard will thrive - there are a lot of young Chinese and American musicians who can afford to study there - as long as Covid can be forgotten quickly, and money-grubbers don't decide virus research is more profitable than music.
[Edit: Brava, Stephen!]
Suzuki camps -- something of a bastion of tradition -- frequently now offer a fiddling elective, and often, an improv elective. (And check out "Supernova", multigenre recorded variants on the Suzuki music, which is getting popular in the Suzuki community for group lessons.)
My community music school -- and from what I've seen, the community music schools in many other cities -- offers not just classical, but instruction in many genres. Some of that instruction is specifically designed for classically-trained players (whether children, teens, or adults) who are crossing over into another genre. Indeed, of late, they've been showcasing faculty performances in other styles. (Most of them are gigging/teaching freelancers, and like many modern freelancers, are multigenre.)
Talk to a young freelancer and there's a good chance that they play in a band.
Instead, Suzuki took a German beer-drinking tune and claimed authorship of it (Allegretto in Book 1).
Anyone who wants a book of Springsteen tunes (or Bryan Adams or Robbie Williams) can find one on Amazon, probably published by Hal Leonard or such.
For those that don’t follow pop culture, it’s their choice. But in my view, it’s not a classical music conservatory’s job to teach pop music or other forms of music (as wonderful as it can be). You can learn about all of that stuff on your own, especially now with all of this great digital media or you can go to another school like Berkelee which specializes in alternative styles.
With that said, there are areas I think conservatory college programs in the US can improve on. It’s well known, there’s little to no serious academic work in reading and writing, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, or the study of economics at many of these conservatories. So I do partially agree with the writer that a change to curriculum could be good, but it should be a change towards offering serious academic courses not watered down music courses.
Study your violin performance degree because nothing else will do. If you are looking for a more secure manner to make a living, go for something else. Even being a really great violinist won't ensure a lucrative career in music. In my opinion, music school degrees are worth it for those who have their heart into them, although they can also get quite expensive for most in the case of the big name schools.
(For what it's worth, there are also "music business" classes/seminars in many of these music schools.)
When a player needs to improvise in another style, he/she will do it, because of personal interest in those styles. They will seek to get better on their own. Juilliard is not responsible to "broaden" anyone musical pursuits beyond their intended scope. There are other schools for that.
In short, blame the student, not the school, for being musically contrived. Even within classical, it is up to each player to broaden his/her own repertoire beyond the required and hackneyed. A good teacher can only do so much.
Feel free to disagree. I am sure I won't convince anyone who already has his/her mind made up about these issues. Play what you love.
(My apologies for repeating much of what others had already stated-I realized it after posting. Will leave it unedited as a sort of "I agree with some of the posters above" statement.)
Someone with a PhD in English, say, who has a wide vocabulary, or an actor, who can bring a characterization to life from a script, does not necessarily have the particular skill to freestyle rap or to perform improv comedy.
I agree it's not up to the college to teach every style. However, back in my day I did come across teachers who would discourage students from playing other styles (I even have an old violin teaching book that talks about how you will mix with unsavory characters if you play other styles of music - I must scan that and post it some time). The further back you go the more extreme this was. This may not be the case these days - I don't know. Maybe Julliard, for instance, is more open minded these days. Students should at the very least not be discouraged.
This conversation has focussed on pop as the author of the article was talking about knowledge of popular culture. However, I would suggest it more valuable is for a string player to hear a whole range of string playing from different cultures whether one is going to play those or not. It throws into perspective one's own culture and the style that has been chosen. The violin can be played so many different ways. For me as a young classical player it was a revelation hearing South Indian violin and how different that was - but on the same instrument I played. Sometimes it's just about perspective and being informed rather than living in a cave.
My two cents. First, I think it’s useful to remember that the issue of what Juilliard should or should not include in their curriculum is a mission and branding issue which belongs 100% to Juilliard and is not really ours to choose. But, since we’re debating it anyway, haha, I just want to observe that it seems to me that the real issue we are all dancing around is fundamentally about attitude--that classical disdain for lowly popular idioms. (Never mind the fact that virtually all of classical music was written in the popular idiom of its time and place, and things like improvisation were taught to music students and expected of players, just as they are in the popular idioms of our time. Just sayin’.)
We all know that snobbish whiff of elitism and superiority that comes with that Juilliard diploma. It took me years to shake it off. I like to joke that it took me years to forget everything I learned at Juilliard, but that’s not just a reference to my bow arm. And, of course, it makes for a better joke, but the truth is that I didn’t lose that Juilliard bow arm, I built on it.
But I did lose the attitude. And when I did, a door opened to the richness of the wider musical world. I understand the laser focus needed to compete in the classical world. I’ve lived in that bubble. But at what point does that musical purity become musical malnutrition?
I think the attitude issue is important and not just a matter of gossiping about our colleagues because it is a mindset which is at odds with the general zeitgeist of social equity. Classical music, for all its myriad virtues, sits in an awkward place in this moment of wokeness, something that Juilliard is well aware of, as are all the orchestras. Is it still OK to proudly trumpet being the elite in an elite field? Is it OK to be proud of that musical narrowness?
Juilliard is the epitome of exclusivity. That’s a big part of their brand and their mission. And to some degree, that attitude of elitism is cooked into the brand and mission of most orchestras. It will be interesting to see how they can balance that exclusivity with a culture struggling towards greater inclusivity.
By the way, Tessa Lark does appear to routinely teach masterclasses at top conservatories.
If any music schools are in danger of disappearing, it's all the marginal, mediocre ones that really shouldn't be training (or pretend to be training) professional musicians. Tiny colleges in the middle of nowhere don't need to be training professional musicians, and nor do most state schools. These are the schools that are perpetually in a crisis of student recruitment.
Once, I had an interview at some school in the south, and the previous violin teacher had apparently stopped recruiting when he got tenure. The chair asked me with a worried look, "what will you do to recruit students?" I've also heard of deans at lower-level schools who harass the studio teachers about their recruiting. Frankly, I'm glad I never ended up permanently in that never-ending rat race and having to recruit anyone with a pulse just to make some quota and save my own neck.
Juilliard? It will be just fine. The important thing, even for the elite students, is to have a realistic view of the job market.
I've played many, many gigs with, among others, Led Zeppelin, Donna Summer, Roger Miller, and many others. There's no special, esoteric knowledge or training required to play pop or country. The only needed skill is to be able to sight read and understand syncopation, and not get lost in the chart if there are some Da Capos or repeats or you are told to vamp while the artist does their patter. It's not rocket science. And you don't have to have heard of the artist, either. All you have to know is A. are you available? and B. are you willing to do the gig for whatever the fee is?
The real question for those gigs is, going forward, whether anyone will be hiring string players to do them, even if Juilliard give them a few token lessons in pop music. It may not matter.
There was a time when it was popular to hire lots of string players in each town. I never played with the Moody Blues, but I know many that did years ago. I also know many people that did studio work. But much of that work has dried up or gone abroad. Country used to use string sections, but it went out of style long ago.
Scott, those kind of gigs you played in a section don't need much adaptation because they are hiring classical musicians for that classical string section sound. Check out someone like Tracy though - that's a whole different ballgame!
But it strikes me that if Juilliard students want a course in consumer economics or Shakespeare, Columbia University is three miles away and will already have entire departments of faculty members who have made those subjects their bread and butter. In other words, Juilliard shouldn't be re-inventing the wheel of liberal education. They should strive instead to be even better at what they already do very well. Their competitors aren't sleeping.
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Violinist.com Summer Music Programs Directory
ARIA International Summer Academy
Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine
It's not Juilliard's fault this person does not have a broad cultural exposure. It's either her fault or her parents' fault or her violin teacher's fault. Rock, jazz, pop, bluegrass, and other genres must have been deliberately hidden from her to have arrived at that level of ignorance.
It doesn't need to be that way. Rachel Barton Pine is well known for being a metal-head. I suspect Ms. Pine just had more innate curiosity growing up, and parents who were open to letting her explore it. And maybe enough raw talent that she didn't need to spend 7 hours practicing every day to the exclusion of the rest of her childhood -- exclusion that is largely deliberate if you believe the legend of the "tiger mom."
Juilliard will continue to prepare students for the orchestral market as long as there are students, like the one mentioned in the first part of the article (I could not bear to read further), who are willing to take out behemoth loans to get that very education for their chance at a salaried job as a section player. If you don't want the "problem" to exist, don't finance it!
Open your eyes! Know what you're buying! If you want to drive a 1967 Pontiac GTO, don't buy a 2021 Dodge Caravan, no matter how many cup-holders the salesperson says it has. But if you want to join the local Jeep club and drive in the part of the Fourth-of-July Parade that has all the Jeeps, then, yeah, you need to buy a Jeep.