The Musicians Of Tomorrow A Follow Up

In January, I wrote a piece about how we can make better musicians for tomorrow by instituting a music business component into the standard music conservatory curriculum.  Since that time I contacted the top music conservatories in the US to see if they already had a music business component as part of their required curriculum. 

I sent an email inquiry to the following conservatories and schools of music that have historically produced the larges numbers of professional orchestra musicians: Juilliard, Eastman, Oberlin, Peabody, Indiana University, Curtis, Northwestern, Rice, University of Michigan, Cincinnati, and CIT.  The email read as follows:
I am contacting your office to verify if your institution requires a music business component for your music performance majors If you do require such a class at either the undergraduate or graduate levels, could you please forward information about that required class?  Does the class adequately prepare future performers for the realities of the orchestra world?  If not, has such a class ever been considered for your curriculum? 

Unfortunately, only two even bothered to respond, even after repeated attempts: Eastman and Juilliard.  This tells me that not many conservatories consider the issue very important to the future of professional orchestra musicians.  And that’s not a good thing since much of the stress orchestra musicians endure is directly related to non artistic issues such as interacting with orchestra managers and dealing with master agreement issues.  [On a side note, I had a considerably frustrating time even attempting to find contact email for many of the administrative staff at each of these institutions.  What are they trying to hide from?  Why is it such a big deal to give out an email address for a conservatory Dean?  I can only imagine how upset I would have been if I were a parent that wanted to contact the Dean’s office.  The worst was Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore]

Luckily, Juilliard and Eastman are two of the best known schools out of that group and they were both very open about detailing how they prepare their students for non artistic related issues of the orchestra workplace. 

We’ll start with Juilliard, a conservatory with the deserved reputation for producing some of the best orchestral musicians in the world.  I had several email exchanges with Dean Stephen Clapp where he detailed the philosophy at their school:

“Our Career Development office of three full-time professionals offers seminars and individual advisement for all students and alumni.  The Career Development Seminar, a one-semester-long elective class, prepares students to create their own performance opportunities, rather than waiting for someone to invite them to play, or depending solely on a concert manager.  Department Seminars, required for fourth-year undergraduates and first year graduate students whose earlier degree is from another school, deals with threshold issues from student to professional status, and are coordinated in most cases by department chairs in violin, lower strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and voice.  An elective class, The Business of Music, is taught by Robert Sherman All these classes provide career-building skills for our students in the hopes that they will emerge as caring persons, aware of the world around them and committed to improve it.  I hope this list helps to clarify Juilliard’s career-directed curriculum.”

I followed up Dean Clapp’s response by inquiring if Juilliard offers a class that specifically prepares students by explaining the roles of the union, ICSOM, ROPA, music directors, management, boards, and explores how orchestra musicians can be more pro-active in shaping their workplace.  He replied with:

“The President of Local 802 comes each year to speak at a Seminar (the required fourth year program) session which includes students from all orchestral instrument groups.  Bi-weekly Seminar sessions of each orchestral instrument group also bring in professional orchestral players (frequently principals of strings, winds, brass and percussion) to talk about the realities of orchestral life, adjudicate mock auditions and give comments to students.  More than twenty faculty members are in the Philharmonic, Met Opera Orchestra, NY City Ballet, Orpheus, etc, so these issues are the subject of ongoing conversations in and out of lessons throughout the school year.  All of this being the case, we believe the questions you raise are covered in real-life conversations and experiences that pre-empt the necessity for a course.”

I then contacted a few Juilliard graduates who currently hold positions in professional orchestras across the country and Canada. Regrettably, none of them felt that they were really “well prepared” to deal with the non artistic realities of playing in an orchestra upon leaving Juilliard. Many of them felt that Juilliard was a very sheltered learning environment.  One alumnus said “the courses were pretty basic and the ones that weren’t were not very well balanced, mostly because the teachers that taught those particular courses weren’t musicians and didn’t relate well to musician students.”  However, the same alumnus went on to say that they remember a lecture given by a union negotiator that provided a very useful preview of what our lives would be like.

I’ll save you some of the graphic responses I received regarding the statement that Juilliard “provide[s] career-building skills for our students in the hopes that they will emerge as caring persons, aware of the world around them and committed to improve it.”  Suffice to say they didn’t agree with this statement. I also contacted one of the faculty instructors to ask if they conduct ongoing conversations in and out of their student’s lessons about these issues.  They politely laughed and said all they were responsible for was to teach their students how to play [their instrument]. 

Next we’ll look at a series of classes Eastman offers their students.  I exchanged several email messages with Ramon Ricker Director, Institute for Music Leadership and professor of saxophone. Mr. Ricker went on to describe the Arts Leadership Program, which offers several courses that focus on:

” preparing our students to be advocates for the music they love, to embrace technology, to be better performers and to develop skills that will enable them to get traction quicker when they join the professional music world.  They are extremely popular elective courses.  In the 2002-03 school year (last year) 44% of all seniors and 35% of all graduate students took at least one of our ALP courses.  In addition, students can apply to the program to be ALP fellows and to earn an ALP certificate.”

There was one course offered in their ALP program that seemed to focus precisely on the issues of preparing students for the realities of life as an orchestra musician entitled (quite appropriately) “Realities of Orchestral Life”, which Mr. Ricker instructs.  The course relies heavily on articles from “Harmony” (a publication I frequently focus on here) and guest speakers.  The speakers are a wide range of industry professionals including musicians, managers, board members, music critics, and AFM representatives.  One of the course goals, “To explore changing attitudes and the ways musicians can become more pro-active in shaping their workplace” is right on target for preparing students for their futures. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any Eastman alumni who had completed the course so they could share their opinions.  But at least it looks good on paper and given the level of guest speakers and reading material, it should serve as a good template for other institutions to follow.  The only problem I found with the course is that it isn’t required for all instrumental majors; it’s only an elective – although a popular one.

I would like to hear from music conservatory alumnus throughout the country.  Did your institution prepare you for the non artistic aspects of orchestral performing, or did you have to learn the hard way?  Send in an email and let me know.


About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

Related Posts