Music Degrees and Career Options: A Hot Topic

February 29, 2004

In 2001, the CMS Board developed the concept of a common topic of interest to the Society that would be discussed at both regional and national levels. For 2003, the topic was What You Can Do with a Degree in Music: Career Options Outside of Teaching and Performance. Following discussions at the regional chapter meetings in the spring, the presidents of the chapters brought these ideas to the 2003 Annual Meeting in Miami in a panel session format. They reported on the issues raised at their spring meetings and continued the dialogue with a rather large group of CMS members in attendance.

The chapter presidents include Great Lakes James Perone; Great Plains William Everett; Mid-Atlantic Jonathan D. Green; Northeast Diane Follet; Pacific Central Mark Alburger; Pacific Northwest Barry Bilderback; Pacific Southern David F. Kopplin; Rocky Mountain - Elizabeth Schauer; South Central Richard Davis; and Southern Keith Koons.

The national discussion aired a wide range of opinions. A few questioned the need to even consider the topic, asking how this would make music schools and departments different from trade schools. Others felt music units should develop the curriculum to include a wider scope of music major options by actively embracing the notion of creative entrepreneurship in mentoring music students toward a wider range of career options.

Another important issue raised was how to effectively mentor music students who may not have the ability to compete professionally in the performance arena but who are quite capable of succeeding in other music careers or careers outside of music. Some CMS members felt that there are simply too many performance and music education degrees awarded and that there needs to be an honest and realistic look at the opportunities available, especially for performance majors. Students should not feel as if they have failed if they do not become professional performers or teachers.

From this dialogue were reiterated those transferable skills that music students learn through the study of their discipline. These include the ability to think abstractly and creatively, to be disciplined, to work collectively, to be self-motivated, and to communicate effectively. To this point it was brought to the attention of the session attendees that Associated Press business writer Dave Carpenter, in his article Seminars Seek to Make Maestros Out of Managers, notes that conductors and orchestras are used as models for businesses to learn leadership and management skills. In his article, a board member of the Arts and Business Council is quoted as saying, The knowledge and the skill that artists have in creativity, teamwork, intercultural communication, collaborative management, dealing with change and envisioning the futureall of those are key areas for businesses. Thus, the business world is looking to musicians as role models.

In terms of mentoring students, the discussion reflected that, as faculty and administrators, we need to change our frame of mind and not consider careers outside of music teaching and performance as alternative careers but to value all careers in music and let our students know this. We need to change ourselves, and our pedagogy needs to change. One attendee commented that we are simply reproducing ourselves.

Suggestions as to how institutions can assist students in finding career opportunities in music included developing career centers, offering workshops on building résumés and self-promotion, establishing internships, and using alumni who are successful in a variety of arts careers for networking with students. Further, faculty and administrators need to consider adding to the curriculum such programs as music business, music technology, sound recording and engineering, music therapy, and arts management. Some institutions are already pioneering these programs and have established prominence in these fields. Others have successfully established career centers or entrepreneurial centers to assist students in thinking about their lives beyond the academy.

Music students today are acquiring life-long skills that will enable them to succeed in many careers. Challenges lie in our ability to mentor these students and provide curricular and other opportunities for their development so that they can be ready to meet the future well prepared and knowledgeable in a variety of career options.

2313 Last modified on January 9, 2017
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