Bridging the Divide between Music Degrees and Career Options

August 31, 2004

In the recent article, Music Degrees and Career Options: A Hot Topic (March 2004), Kathleen Lamkin summarized the career presentation and discussions that occurred at the 2003 CMS conference in Miami, Florida. Here are the salient questions that emerged from these talks: Are performing and teaching careers the only options for music majors? Should music faculty, administration and curriculum support a broader view of career options for music graduates? If so, what career services or coursework might be offered to support graduates as they navigate professional interests?

After reading her report, I was inspired to write Dr. Lamkin about the discussions and program innovations that are occurring at Juilliard in response to these very same questions. She invited me to share some of these programs in this Newsletter edition. I can also add that my colleagues at New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Peabody, Eastman, Curtis, and others speak regularly about the career issues facing music graduates. We meet annually each year at a conference specifically for this purpose. As a result, many of these schools have already implemented career-based services that are empowering their students to succeed as musicians, artists, and people.

The Juilliard Schools music division is no stranger to the employment challenges that face students after graduation. Known for its focus on performance practice, Juilliard has continually supplied musicians for most of the worlds leading orchestras. It has also graduated many renowned soloists. But the demand for the best musical training in todays employment climate is vastly different than a century ago. Many leading conservatories and schools of music are asking critical questions about the roles they are preparing their students to serve after graduation. Is it still realistic to apply 20th century educational traditions to 21st century culture and economy? Perhaps an even deeper question is: should music schools prepare highly skilled and specialized laborers, or should they prepare citizens to serve communities in an artistic capacity?

As Juilliard celebrates its centennial in 2005, graduates of the music division are facing fewer performance opportunities, stiffer competition, and an overly saturated market. Anticipating these realities, Juilliard began initiating a number of new programs. The purpose of these programs can loosely be summarized as follows: to prepare young artists as advocates for themselves and for the arts; to understand their role and the role that the arts play in society; and to think about new ways to connect with audiences both on and off the stage.

The most prominent program at Juilliard is the Office of Educational Outreach. Since 1989, the Office of Educational Outreach has provided students with opportunities to perform in a variety of non-traditional venues. These settings include public schools, nursing homes, hospitals, drugrehabilitation centers, and homeless shelters. Depending on the type of performance, students must complete training workshops and/or coursework to qualify for service. The work they complete builds skills outside of performance technique such as developing a lesson plan, building an interactive presentation, communicating effectively with an audience, and thinking critically about their programs relationship to the audience and the community. Emphasis is placed on the inter-relationship between the music, performer and the audience. Currently, 30% of the student population participates in outreach activities.

The second program is the Office of Career Development. In 1999 under a direct initiative from the schools capital campaign, an Office of Career Development was created. The purpose is to provide career support for graduating students in all disciplinesmusic, dance, and drama. Many of the schools graduates pursue careers outside of performing and teaching. Careers in arts presenting, producing, directing, administrating, consulting, writing, managing, and much more are prominent in todays arts industry. While performing and teaching are still popular career choices, many graduates are developing careers that serve the industry in other meaningful ways. The office provides individual counseling sessions; group workshops, a formal public speaking program, a graduate course in career development strategies, volunteer and internship opportunities, and a professional mentoring program. These services are intended to foster a greater awareness of personal interests and career choices within the arts.

Finally, the newest addition is the Faculty Mentoring Program, which was implemented in 2002. This program was initiated to expand students perspectives of themselves, and their role in the arts. During their first and second year, students are cross-paired with a faculty member from a different discipline. Meetings occur throughout the semester and include travels to museums, cultural events, and performances. Faculty mentors encourage students to openly discuss their experiences on and off campus. Mentors also strive to introduce artistic and cultural experiences that are beyond the students normal scope of vision. The purpose is to expose students to as much of the arts culture and industry as possible. Every effort is made to help students begin to think about their role in the arts.

In a cultural climate that continually threatens to marginalize the arts, music graduates must learn to advocate for themselves to a much greater degree than a century ago. They must learn to connect with new audiences without offending the old. They must learn to be both sensitive and flexible in a world of competing ideologies. They must also speak well, think clearly, and write persuasively. Their career options are conjoined to the role that arts play in society. Ironically, the future of the arts is equally dependent on the broader abilities of young artists. Curriculums that are sensitive to these issues will undoubtedly insure that students are successful in their careers, as well as ambassadors for their art.

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