What Do You Call A Conservatory Grad Who Couldn’t Win An Orchestra Job?

Q: What do you call a conservatory grad who couldn’t win an orchestra job?
A: An Orchestra Manager.

Adaptistration People 121Granted, that’s a really old joke but it seems timely given a recent topic bouncing around related to the notion of degrees and career paths. It started off with a post from Alex Tabarrok on 2/4/2016 at MarginalRevolution and was picked up by Joe Patti via a pair of posts from 2/9/16 and 2/10/16.

Long story short, it seems that the economic downturn didn’t do much to dissuade Millennials from pursuing degrees in visual and performing arts; in fact, they were more popular than computer science, math and chemical engineering degrees combined.

The topic has generated a few hundred comments via Tabarrok’s post but Patti’s articles break out of narrowly defined discussions typical with discussions on this topic.

The problem with Tabbarok’s view, which is generally shared, is that it assumes a computer science major gets plugged into a computer science job hole and a psychology major gets plugged into a psychology job hole and if there are no corresponding jobs needing to be plugged into, then those majors are useless.

This ignores the fact that the value of computer programs, chemicals, medicine, etc., don’t become self-evident upon creation. Like it or not, marketing, advertising and design communicate something that draws attention and causes people to value those items. Whether that thing deserves to be valued is another conversation altogether.

Although there’s plenty to be said for the benefits of hyper specialization in degree programs, that doesn’t mean it is free from negative byproducts. There’s no denying that hyper specialized degrees help push boundaries and raise standards, but we cross into the dangerous territory of limited portability syndrome when we forget just how much can be accomplished though career cross pollination.

One new connection I want to attach to this larger discussion is how all of this has worked its way into how we hire arts managers.

Vu Le summed much of this up in a 4/27/2015 Nonprofit With Balls post where he called out fundamental problems in nonprofit hiring practices.

In the post, Le describes them as “medieval, short-term-focused, and inequitable” (emphasis added):

We have an over-reliance on formal education…We have myriad gate-keeping factors…We focus too much on the short-term…We look down on people from our own field…We leave out voices from communities that are most affected…We reinforce dominant, often ineffective perspectives…We drive talented people out of the community or profession.

Those are just the headers for Le’s longer descriptions, so be sure to give the full article a read.

In the meantime, I’m curious to know what you think.

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.

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2 thoughts on “What Do You Call A Conservatory Grad Who Couldn’t Win An Orchestra Job?”

  1. The tools one picks up in the music school environment can be used in much more than musical groups or the performing arts. There is a certain pressure to go through with it and actually do that for a living – to the point that not doing it seems like failure. It is possible to have a very fulfilling career, to be passionate about what one does, and to put food on the table, without it being that exact thing.

  2. Le’s critique of non-profit hiring practices has merit, though keep in mind that the same critique is valid in most for-profit business segments and organizations as well.

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