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The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: December 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Musical Risk Taking: a Commentary on a Musician's Life

Last week, I was sitting in a coffee shop pondering the topic of musical intention. In a recent interview I read, flutist Molly Barth stated that she strives to play every note with intention.

I posed the question of intention and musical risk taking on twitter, and a great conversation ensued with Michael Gilliland (@mcgilliland) and Shoshana Fanizza (@musicshosh). We talked about how many musicians simply have no clue of what the "real world" actually entails, and how we often lose our competitive drive when we leave school.

With the advent of the internet, classical music has been thrown into a transition period. Music schools are still providing its students the education that better fits what was relevant prior to the internet revolution. Although schools have began offering additional programs such as music business, arts administration, and music therapy that have expanded career options with more secure positions, students that pursue degrees in performance are getting the short end of the stick. It's becoming increasingly difficult to obtain employment whether it be building a private teaching studio, freelancing (with more work drying up everyday), or winning an orchestral job.

So what can schools begin doing to address this time of transition and help increase their students' chances of success?

A few things come to mind as a result of this conversation:

1) Offer more seminars that cover a wide range of subjects addressing the musician as a whole, including what to expect after school. Although it's difficult to translate into a tangible topic, a seminar on life issues after school that affect a musician's perspective would be very useful to students. A degree in music involves taking many 1 and 2 credit courses, which are designed for the sake of teaching music majors time mangement skills and that musicians often have to work very hard to obtain and keep their work. Without a framework of life experience, the lessons older musicians have learned would be hard to impart to their younger counterparts; however, addressing these topics would give students perspective in an environment that is often very sheltered with very little "bubble bursting." Seminar guests could include professional musicians from the community that have built successful careers for themselves. These seminars could also be used to explore day job options beyond the typical choices of working in retail or the restaurant business. Encouraging students to learn a separate vocational skill (i.e. vet tech, paralegal, etc.) would give them additional skills that would make them more attractive to employers.

Most music students today take no time off between degrees. Many spend their 20s in school, and have no real world work experience to speak of. If a few more would work a day job to make ends meet while making it as a musician, their perspective would be radically changed. I speak from personal experience having worked the past three years in a full time corporate management position. Having a consistent connection to the real world via faculty members would help students even more.

2) On the topic of inviting community professionals into music schools, music faculties are often comprised largely of professors that have had no real world experience. This is a university wide problem that affects all departments, but changing the landscape of music school faculties to include musicians that have lived and worked outside the protection of schools would allow students to gain additional perspective on how to keep their competitive drive and not "settle." There has always been a schism between society and academia, but this is such an institutionalized problem that it will never be resolved.

Instead of fixing an institutionalized issue, curriculum must be examined regularly to ensure that students have essential tools for success. Social media courses, marketing courses, and business courses would provide a practical foundation that musicians could build on rather than starting from scratch.

3) Mandatory volunteer activities with a non-profit arts organization. This new base of volunteers would provide non-profits with fresh young blood who are educated and passionate, and allow students to begin networking. Whether students stay in the area where they attend school, those network contacts often extend well beyond the local area. Students gain the benefit and perspective of learning how to share their love of the arts with a non-profit's audience, while also learning how to interact with agencies that may provide financial support later on.

Everyone will take a different route. For some, the heartache and instability will be too much and they will use their energy to pursue a less stressful path. For others, they will continue to face failure and seemingly insurmountable chances to pursue their passion. It's a passion we often can't express in words, but that kind of fire and creative instinct can't be extinguished. Aided by knowledge and education, that fire can be better utilized to bring the arts to a broadening audience. Please comment - I would love to continue this conversation.

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