Music Career Advising: Implications for University Music Department Administrators (A Follow-up Study)
University music department administrators commonly wrestle with enrollment policies and admission standards as they maintain a delicate balance of quality and quantity in their respective programs. Amid economic troubles that may make some parents question the validity of majoring in music and pursuing a music career, the growing popularization of reality music programs has generated an increase of students auditioning for university music programs. As this trend continues, music administrators are faced with direct questions from parents concerned about their children’s career goals, and tough decisions as to whether to admit students into their programs. In 2010 a study was conducted to identify the extent of available music careers, and the skills and other attributes that may help music students identify their suitability for a career in music. This study revealed several practical questions and issues of philosophical discourse among university music department faculty and administrators regarding admission into a university music program, and music career advising. The current study was conducted as a follow-up to the 2010 music career advising study to address these issues. The current study employed a questionnaire of eight open-ended questions to provide insight into admission and enrollment policies, and common practices in music career advising as reported by university music department administrators (N =17).
Music Career Advising: Implications for University Music Department Administrators (A Follow-up Study)
Currently, there is a serendipitous intersection of circumstances that creates a unique context for university music administrators and advisors. On one hand, the continuing economic struggles across the country may make parents worry about their children pursuing careers in the arts, and students are less inclined to select music as a major. On the other hand, the recent popularization of music reality television shows has generated a nation-wide interest in school music programs, and may also result in an increased number of students claiming a major in music (Olson, 2011). While administrators want to see their programs grow, they also remain keenly aware of the need to maintain high enrollment standards to ensure that quality does not diminish as quantity increases.
There is an additional concern for music department administrators, when considering the current economic situation in the United States and around the world. According to Weinstein (2011), budget cuts in the arts leads to a smaller number of elementary and secondary music programs and a resulting diminished number of qualified applicants for college music programs. Even in schools where music programs are abundant, music continues to receive decreased instructional time and financial support across the country, which may result in diminished quality of potential and incoming university music students (Abril & Gault, 2008). As an added element to this concern, there are currently fewer careers in the arts for which students are being trained, particularly among performing careers, raising the question if university music administrators should be more selective about the students who are admitted into their programs.
As these trends continue, administrators may encounter a growing number of parents asking poignant questions about music careers, and about their students’ potential for success in music. They may also experience an increasing population of students expressing an interest in a music who may or may not possess the required dispositions for a successful career in music. While there is extensive music career research focusing on various aspects of aspiring professional musicians (Aurand & Blackburn, 1973; Doane, 1983; Holloway, 1984; DePugh, 1987; Bernstein, 1986; Talbot, 1993; Teachout, 1997; Gillespie & Hamann, 1999; Hof, 1999; Madsen & Kelly, 2002; Schmidt, Zdzinski, & Ballard, 2006; Russell, 2008; Thorton & Bergee, 2008; Rickles, Councill, Fredrickson, Hairston, & Porter, 2010; Clark, 2013), only a smattering of research was found that analyzed music degrees or music careers from an administrative vantage point (Motycka, 1971; Brand, 1987; Scalfari, 1999; Jones, 2009). Therefore, there is a need for a study to address admissions, advising policies, and other elements that impact administrative decisions of university music department administrators pertaining to student enrollment and music career advising.
In 2010, I conducted a study to identify the extent of music careers available to students who graduate with one of the 12 NASM-accredited music degrees, and the personal attributes that may help students determine their compatibility with their chosen career field (Branscome, 2010). The results of that study revealed issues of philosophical discourse and other practical questions pertaining to music career advising that have a direct impact on university music department enrollment and admission policies, evaluation of prospective students, and other concerns of music department administrators. In the current study, music department deans and administrators were asked to provide insight concerning the issues that were identified in the 2010 music career advising study.
For reasons of space, the seven issues identified in the 2010 study are listed in the results and discussion section of this article, and will not be listed here. These concerns formed the basis for the primary research questions of the current study, and the format of the questionnaire that was used to gather data. Additional research questions for the current study included:
1. What is the degree of consensus among music department administrators regarding the seven concerns identified in the 2010 study?
2. Is there any correlation between university size and views expressed by music department administrators?
3. What trends are revealed by administrators’ responses to the survey questions?
Participants were 17 music administrators in NASM-accredited university music departments. Purposeful sampling was employed to generate a broad cross-section of universities of varying size, location, and degree offerings. Universities were categorized as public (n = 10) or private (n = 7), in suburban (n = 6), urban (n = 5), or rural (n = 2) locations, and of small (n = 3), medium (n = 6), or large (n = 6) size, as reported by participating administrators. Six universities offered undergraduate degrees only, eight offered master’s degrees in music, and two offered doctoral degrees in music. Four administrators did not report location, two did not report size, and one did not report degree offerings.
Participating administrators included deans (n = 2), associate deans (n = 3), chairpersons (n = 6), directors (n = 5), and one assistant dean. Fifteen administrators held terminal degrees, and two held master’s degrees. There were 12 males, four females, and one non-response regarding gender, and the average age was 54.5 years (SD = 7.6). Fifteen participants were Caucasian and two did not respond to the question pertaining to ethnicity. The average number of years in current positions was 10.4 (SD = 5.0) with an average of 29 total years of experience (SD = 7.6).
Between May of 2011 and March of 2012, 56 inquiries were sent via e-mail to university administrators whose names and contact information were retrieved from university webpages. The inquiry contained a general description of the study and requested participation in the study. Nineteen administrators never responded to the initial inquiry (33.9%), and 12 declined to participate in the study (21.4%). Twenty-five administrators responded that they would be willing to participate in the study (45%). A second e-mail that contained eight open-ended questions, excerpts from the original music career study to provide specific context for each question, and an informed consent form was sent to these administrators. After multiple attempts, eight administrators never returned their completed responses (14.3%) yielding a total return of 17 completed responses (30.4%).
Results and Discussion
Participants were asked to read a paragraph of background information from the 2010 study to give specific context to each question in the current study. This section includes the paragraphs provided to participants and the seven questions included on the questionnaire (in italics), followed by a synthesis of responses pertaining to each question. Question eight was an open-ended question asking for any additional remarks. Since all responses to this question related to one of the prior seven questions, the data have been grouped accordingly.
Question 1: Performance Standards
In the 2010 study, participants in the pedagogy and music education subgroups stated that students with less innate ability often become better teachers than those who perform at a very high level. The justification for this statement was that by working through their own musical struggles, musicians with less natural talent may be better equipped to help students improve in their own performance. What are the positive and negative implications for considering the admission of students with limited performance ability into university music programs?
Responses to this question were coded by themes and then grouped into three categories: (1) Neutral Implications, (2) Positive Implications, and, (3) Negative Implications. Three themes were neutral, two themes focused on positive implications, and two focused on negative implications.
Neutral implications. One respondent stated that the premise of this research question was anecdotal and that there was not enough substantial evidence to support the idea that poorer performers make better teachers. This respondent also stated that there are too many other factors involved when considering student’s potential for success.
The second neutral theme centered around student enrollment and the responsibility that administrators feel to sustain critical mass in their departments. While responses in this theme did not directly relate to the question, it did provide some evidence as to why lesser talented musicians may be admitted as music majors. In response to this question, participants stated that audition standards may fluctuate, albeit unofficially and off the record, for students who play rarer instruments (e.g., bassoon, viola, etc.), who fill a particular department need (male vocalists), or who show a particular musical or academic potential for improvement. Participants also suggested that standards may fluctuate when there is a smaller applicant pool in a given semester or for a particular performance medium. However, participants also suggested that accepting lower-level students just to fill spots does the student a serious injustice, may instill false hope in the student, and may do a considerable disservice to the quality of the program and its ensembles.
The final theme in this category was that the issue of lesser talented performers making better teachers may be more of a philosophical or theoretical stance, but has lasting implications for the way in which music departments audition and admit students into their programs. According to one participant, “performance ability in an admissions procedure is a snapshot in a time continuum and does not take into consideration many factors which will impact a student’s abilities up to that point.” A second participant stated that good musicians have honed their skills by applying numerous strategies. These students are therefore better equipped to detect errors and recommend a variety of solutions. Although lower level performers may have more patience and empathy for beginning musicians, they may not be aware of best practices.
Positive implications. There were two themes that were categorized as positive implications. First, participants suggested that some students who possess a lesser degree of innate musical talent counter their lack of talent with a heightened work ethic that enables them to succeed where others may not. These students may make better teachers because they know what it means to struggle and may set fine examples for their peers and for their future students to emulate. It was also suggested that sometimes a passion for music may generate a strong work ethic and eventually trump a perceived lack of talent.
The second theme in this category alluded to other considerations that should be made for admission into music programs, regardless of a student’s intended major. As an example, participants noted that some incoming students may be at a lower performance level because of economic disadvantages that prohibited them from taking private lessons while in high school. These students may be just as talented, or more so, than their wealthier peers who may have had more opportunities for training. Similarly, other students may have come from high school programs that simply did not encourage private study on an instrument, or may have attended a high school that did not offer music. Given the nature of pre-college music programs and other activities that compete with students’ opportunities to study music during formative years, many students may discover and develop their musical talent later in life than in previous generations.
Negative Implications. Finally, there were two themes for this question that were categorized as negative implications for admitting lesser-skilled musicians into college music programs. First, participants stated that there are direct links between a student’s performance ability and other areas of music. For instance, students who are weak as performers are also commonly week in theory, ear-training, and other fundamentals that may limit their potential for success in any music career. As future music teachers, lesser-skilled musicians may not comprehend, or be able to describe or demonstrate concepts and skills to their students; thus their own lack of musicality may transfer directly to their students.
The second theme in this category centered around the overall impact on the department when lesser-skilled students are admitted into music programs. The primary concern voiced by participants was that lesser talented students decrease the level of quality of an ensemble and of an organization, and easily frustrate ensemble directors. One participant stated, “If real musical understanding, not just technical ability, is what is lacking, there may be real problems that compromise any ensemble into which these students are placed.”
Question 2: Performance Ability
Assuming that lesser-skilled performers are admitted into university music programs, it may be common practice to advise these students to pursue careers in music education or other music career areas that are less contingent upon performance. There may also be a number of students with limited performance ability that are admitted into performance programs. According to findings from the original music career advising study, all music career fields may require at least some degree of performance ability. Does this impact your answer to the previous question? If so, how? If not, why not?
In response to this question, a majority of participants (71%) stated that this view did not change their opinions. Overall, administrators support high admission standards, regardless of students’ career goals or degree plans. Specific responses to this question were grouped into three themes: 1) degree dependence; 2) music making; and, 3) additional considerations.
Degree dependence. In response to this question, participants suggested a different way of considering admission requirements. Currently, it may be common to set an unofficial bench-mark for performance standards, and then lower that mark for certain degrees. Instead, participants suggested that the bar of acceptance should be placed at the same level for all non-performance degrees, and then raised for performers, thus making performance degrees the exception rather than making others the lesser courses of study. While this may only be a philosophical paradigm, it may result in an approach to admissions that does not compromise the standards for non-performance degrees, but does enhance those for entry-level performance programs.
Music making. Participants who stated that the evidence provided above did not change their answer to the prior question stated that making music is the central activity for any musician, regardless of intended career. Through performance, ideas, theories, rules, and instincts are field tested and developed. One participant stated, “Performance is the basic, principal language of the discipline through which all constituents should be able to communicate on a fundamental level.”
Other considerations for admission. In response to this question, participants consistently noted that admitting lesser-skilled performers should be carefully considered in light of other qualifications. Further, participants stated that there should be careful consideration given to devising methods that capture reliable data about these other qualifications and their potential to predict suitability for a career in music. Specifically, the application and audition process should allow students to demonstrate some potential for success, and limited performers should be considered if there is an indication of potential to succeed given the proper training (provisional enrollment). Regarding the practice of advising lesser-skilled performers to music education, one participant stated that only those who demonstrate interest in and aptitude for teaching should be counseled into music education, whether they are capable or incapable of performing at a high level.
Question 3: Semantics
The terms musicianship and performance were used interchangeably by many participants in the original music career study. Similarly, many participants suggested that performance was the most common method for evaluating one’s musicianship. However, musicians in theory, composition, and musicology may demonstrate musicianship through means other than performance. How do you define the difference between “musicianship” (or “musicality”) and “performance ability”? What do you feel is the most appropriate means for evaluating musicianship, particularly among potential students?
Response. Of the administrators interviewed for this study, 88% (n = 15) supported the importance of assessment, indicating a strong sense that musicianship and/or performance can and should be assessed, particularly among incoming and prospective students. However, results also suggested there is considerable discourse concerning the definition of musicianship and whether all aspects of musicianship can be assessed through performance. Overall, participants stated that excellent musicians may not always be the best performers, just as excellent performers (technicians) may not always be the best musicians. Specifically for performance as a means of evaluating musicianship, participants noted that a performance can be impacted by other factors that do not allow the complete musician to come through.
Regarding participants’ definition of musicianship, the following statements were provided:
- Musicianship is an intrinsic aptitude that may be applied to multiple areas or venues. It is an ability that can be developed and honed.
- Musicianship is a scope of knowledge and talent, and can be demonstrated apart from the primary performance medium.
- Musicianship is synonymous with musical potential and encompasses all aspects of technique, skill, understanding, and interpretation.
In this interpretation, participants suggested that the most appropriate means of assessing musicianship includes theory diagnostic exams, sight-reading evaluation, formal assessment of theory and aural skills, and published evaluation tools (e.g. music achievement tests, and music aptitude tests).
In contrast, participants provided the following descriptors for performance and performers:
- Performance is an extrinsic display of skill.
- It is a demonstration of technique and musical understanding.
- Performance ability is an intellectual and emotional intelligence that enables musicians to elevate craftsmanship into artistry.
- Performance is a skill and ability that evolves into flair of execution and understanding.
Regarding assessment, participants suggested that performance and potential for growth as a performer should be evaluated through many traditional and non-traditional means. First and foremost, performance ability should be evaluated through traditional auditions and by formal rubrics. Participants suggested that auditions could also include components to evaluate basic-level skills including scales and sight-reading. Regarding the evaluation of a student’s potential for success, participants proposed formal interviews in addition to formal auditions to allow each student to provide insight as to his or her current abilities and future potential. Participants also suggested the use of resumés, curriculum vitae, or portfolios to provide a history of the student’s prior musical activities, and provide context for the student’s level of performance.
Question 4: People Skills
Participants in the original music career advising study consistently cited the importance of people skills in all music careers. Although music departments may require theory and ear-training assessments and performance auditions for admittance into university music programs, the evaluation of people skills may be less common. In your opinion; is it possible to assess people skills? If yes, how? If not, why not? What are the positive and negative implications for attempting to use people skills as a criterion for admission into a university music program?
Response. From Question 3 above, five participants (29%) suggested musicianship can and should be evaluated through a comprehensive series of events including interviews and reviews of prior experiences in addition to formal performance auditions. These same five participants suggested that the assessment of people skills is essential but that it may not be practical or reliable in a one-shot scenario. This suggests a like-mindedness among certain administrators that evaluating candidates solely through performance may be a limited approach to assessing potential for success.
Participants who supported the importance of evaluating students’ people skills proposed that people skills may be evaluated through interviews during an audition process but cautioned that the odd environment of this type of interview may not yield accurate results. Participants also suggested that while people skills can and should be evaluated, an 18 year old student auditioning for college is vastly different than a 23 year old, implying that people grow, change, and mature over time. Regardless, participants stated that people skills are essential in many music careers, specifically in music education and therapy. Eight participants, 61% of the participants who favored the evaluation of people skills, and 47% of all participants suggested people skills can and should be evaluated for music education majors through formal interviews. Finally, one participant proposed the use of published personality assessments in lieu of, or in addition to formal interviews.
Participants who opposed the evaluation of people skills stated that students auditioning for college are too young to be considered fully developed, and that many people skills can be learned over time. Another participant stated that people skills are not quantifiable, are difficult to codify, and should thereby be excluded as a means of evaluating potential students. Regarding the use of interviews to evaluate people skills, participants stated that some people are inherently shy in new situations and do better with more experience in the environment. This stance was supported by a second participant who stated that candidates are already overly stressed from the formal performance audition, without the added worry of a people skills evaluation. More so, their stress in the situation would mask their true potential in the area of people skills.
Question 5: Business Skills
In the original music career study, participants in many music career fields, particularly performance-related careers cited the importance of business skills. Does your university offer or require business classes for performance majors? What are the positive and negative implications for the inclusion of business courses in a performance curriculum?
Response. Of the schools where participants were employed at the time of the current study, three (17.6%) required music business courses. Of these, one school only required music business courses for jazz majors. Two schools offered music business courses as electives (11.8%), and twelve schools did not offer or require music business courses (70.1%). One participant clarified the difference between business and entrepreneurial skills. This participant stated that many courses for performers cover content related to entrepreneurialism (self-promotion and marketing), but that there are not courses related directly to music business.
The paradox of this finding is that while so few programs require or offer business courses for music majors, all participants in the current study supported the importance of business skills for professional musicians. Participants stated that business skills make their students more well-rounded, improve their marketability, and increase the likelihood that they will find and maintain employment as musicians. However, 65% of the participants (n = 11) also stated that their programs do not include courses in business or music business. As a justification for the exclusion of business courses in the music curriculum, participants stated there is not enough room for business courses, that many music faculty are not trained in this area and are therefore not qualified to teach related courses, and that a lot of the music business content is available in summer workshops and clinics.
Question 6: Experience
Participants in the original music career advising study commonly noted that students were drawn to different music career fields through exposure and experience. Some suggested that universities should not allow music students to declare a particular major until the end of the freshman or sophomore year. The justification was that this would allow students to experience a variety of different musical opportunities and would be better equipped to make informed career decisions, allowing them to choose the most appropriate major. What are the positive and negative implications concerning this suggestion?
Response. Two participants stated their schools already implement the practice of delaying the declaration of a major until sophomore or junior year. There was also a philosophical dichotomy of views pertaining to the type of university that may or may not support this practice. A pre-professional model, or conservatory, may focus more on career preparation. A liberal-arts college, however, may focus more on over-all education. Schools with a pre-professional mindset may be more apt to get students focused on a degree plan more quickly and therefore require incoming students to declare a major, whereas a liberal arts college may focus more on overall education and less on career emphasis or degree specification.
Participants who supported the delaying of declaring a major stated that waiting until the sophomore or junior year may increase the students’ awareness of career suitability, individual skills and abilities, and potential for success in the chosen path. Similarly, waiting may take pressure off of a seventeen or eighteen year old student who may not yet know what he or she wants to do with a music degree.
Participants who stated that students should declare a major sooner rather than later stated that delaying the declaration of a major usually leads to more time in college, resulting in an increased financial burden on the student. It was also suggested that students get off-sequence in the curriculum by not taking certain required courses when they are offered, and delaying the declaration of a major may easily result in this circumstance. Finally, participants stated that the growing emphasis on four year graduation rates for undergraduate students compels them to encourage students to declare a major as soon as possible. Also, according to participants, some colleges do not receive credit for non-majors or un-declared students enrolled in music classes. There are therefore benefits to the university in addition to benefits to the student in declaring a major as soon as possible.
Questions 7 A, B, and C Performance Program Requirements
Participants in the original music career advising study consistently cited an overabundance of musicians, particularly in performance-related careers, when compared to the number of jobs available at any given time. Conversely, performance degrees are offered by more university music departments than any other music degree. The abundance of performance programs may erroneously send a message to incoming students that a proportionate number of performance jobs are available. One participant stated that university administrators should consider raising admission standards, particularly for performance programs, even “if it means that you may not reach your recruiting goals.” (A) What are the positive and negative implications of this suggestion raising admission standards, particularly for performance programs? (B) What are the justifications for admitting students to a program in which so few jobs are available? (C) As a music administrator, do you encourage your faculty to advise students concerning the overly-populated nature of the performance job market? Why or why not?
Response. The overall response to the questions pertaining to performance program requirements was that raising performance standards may have an unforeseen and disadvantageous impact on music department enrollment. There was also considerable discourse as to the purpose of a collegiate-level education, and the advice that administrators give to students interested in performance careers.
Raising admission standards. When asked about the feasibility of raising admission standards, participants stated that, while student interests and professional preparation are very highly valued, program sustainability and recruitment goals served as the primary deterrent to raising admission standards. One participant also suggested that performance standards sometimes vary based on availability of space in a given faculty member’s studio, a sentiment that was also noted in the response to question one of the current study. Finally, one participant suggested that limiting the number of performance majors in a music program would most likely limit the size and quality of a program, and might eventually lead to budget or personnel cuts. This participant also proposed that making the standard too high may actually diminish the quality of a program by making admission seem unattainable, thereby deterring students from attempting an audition.
Program offerings and job availability. All participants in the current study agreed that college degrees should not be offered based on job market flexibility and variation. Further, one participant stated, “If we advise students not to be musicians because there aren’t enough jobs, we’re buying into the lack of respect given to the arts in our culture in general.” Another participant suggested that students who meet the requirements get the degree. Beyond graduation, however, while university faculty do care about students’ future success, they cannot be held liable for career decisions that students make once they leave the university.
A second sentiment that was voiced by participants in response to this question was that the purpose of a college education was far more than simply getting a job. Participants who supported this notion suggested that the purpose of college was to provide an education that students could apply to any aspect of their lives, in addition to career readiness. One participant stated:
A degree in music is no more promise of a career in music than an English degree promises a career as an author, editor, or English teacher. Colleges provide students with skills and knowledge, and, yes, certain career-oriented skills, but this type of accountability is unrealistic.
Accordingly, university faculty should be more concerned with developing their students in to competent musicians and capable people, rather than career preparation.
Music career advice. There were also differing views concerning the music career advice that participants promoted in their departments. Thirty-five percent of participants (n = 6) stated that they encouraged faculty to provide honest advice, but that the ultimate decision was still the responsibility of the students. One participant also suggested that the more demanding collegiate musical environments are also the places in which faculty are quicker to not guarantee a job in music after graduation.
There was agreement among participants that, while there are clear indicators of students’ potential for success, there is no irrefutable way to predict who will succeed and who will fail, and closing the door too early may not account for potential growth. In addition, incoming students may open new avenues for music making in the future, in spite of current job trends. Administrators and faculty cannot predict what jobs will develop in the future. Similarly, one participant suggested that if there is only one job, someone will get that job. There has to be a particular critical mass in any industry for “the cream to rise to the top.” Finally, one participant stated, “There is nothing wrong with a world filled with people who love and who make music.”
Before concluding this study, it is important to note that the findings discussed herein represent the views of the administrators who were interviewed, but may not be generalizable due to the small response rate. Though only 17 administrators were interviewed, these administrators did represent music programs of diverse size, location, and degree offerings. One participant did provide some overall insight into the generalizability of this study by stating, “I don’t think that there is an answer that is equally applicable to all types of universities. Each university, based on its own defining characteristics has to make the choices that are best for its students, and its identity as a university.” While programs may differ, this study revealed several unifying themes upon which a majority of administrators may agree, and that may be common among all university music programs. In addition, there was very little correlation between administrators’ views and university size. Most of the contrasting views related more to opinion than to the university’s or department’s demographics.
The first commonality was that critical mass plays a key role in music department admission standards. This finding mirrored the sentiment of a 1984 article by LeBlanc who noted the common yet unfortunate emphasis of quantity over quality regarding music department admission standards (LeBlanc, 1984). Departments that are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) must maintain at least minimum enrollment for each program that is offered by the music department (NASM, 2012). Although unaccredited programs are not subject to NASM requirements, they are susceptible to budget cuts stemming from low enrollment and program quality. Even in accredited institutions, there are some guidelines that are open to interpretation. According to Jones (2009), entrance requirements are not included among “hard” requirement with quantifiable goals, but are instead defined as a “soft policy” (p. 28), or a policy that is malleable or interpretable, based on subjective criteria and short-term departmental needs.
As a result of the overt or covert emphasis on quantity over quality, music department administrators may feel entitled or perhaps compelled at times to admit lesser-qualified students into programs where there may not be a sufficient number of applicants, or to fill departmental needs. Future research could seek to ascertain the impact that accreditation standards for department size may have on the quality of music department programs, and the extent to which administrators may modify admission standards to maintain adequate enrollment.
Next, there was considerable discussion on the most suitable means of admitting students into university music programs. All administrators who were interviewed agreed that a traditional audition was essential but that the performance audition could be supplemented by additional requirements. There was discourse, however, regarding the types of information to assess, and the most suitable means of assessing non-performance aspects of prospective students. In 1971, Motycka noted similar inconsistencies regarding entrance criteria into university music programs based on students’ stated career goals. Nearly 20 years later, Brand stated, “Criteria for admissions to college-level music teacher education [programs] are as varied as the programs themselves” (1987, p. 34).
Generally, participants in the current study suggested the inclusion of interviews and professional portfolios to evaluate attitude, work ethic, career suitability, and overall potential for success in addition to performance ability. One participant commented that auditions based solely on performance may be akin to measuring all intelligences through a Standardized Achievement Test, or other similar assessment tool. In contrast, prior studies have identified a shift at times, placing more of an emphasis on non-musical elements of an application into university music programs. Previously, universities have evaluated high school transcripts, GPA, writing samples, and conducted personal interviews with prospective students in addition to, or in lieu of performance auditions (LeBlanc, 1984; Brand, 1987). LeBlanc and Brand also suggested that admissions policies should vary, based on degree programs and students’ intended career goals. This is not to imply a hierarchical ranking of degrees or careers as indicated by Polk (2004), but that different careers require different skill sets for suitability, and that the potential for developing these skills should be evaluated differently for each degree program.
In prior research, for instance, teacher training programs have commonly enforced more stringent entrance criteria than standards for other programs in the university (Brand, 1987). Brand also noted that some universities evaluated a variety of teacher dispositions or required prospective music education majors to give a teaching demonstration in addition to a performance audition. Motycka (1971) also suggested that different types of universities or music departments may have as much bearing on admissions standards as the type of degrees offered. A state school, for example, may hold an open-enrollment policy, where as a private school or conservatory may have very stringent performance expectations. Even among different programs within a conservatory setting, all graduates with a conservatory degree carry the name of the conservatory and are expected to perform at a very high level, regardless of intended career goals. Motycka concluded that, “categories of musical settings should administer music admission policies which coincide with institutional philosophies and objectives” (1971, p. 25-26). Future research could identify current admission and audition criteria in a diverse grouping of music programs. Specifically with regard to technology and social media, future research could identify the feasibility, reliability, and commonality of YouTube, Facebook, e-portfolio or other means of incorporating technology into current and future admissions practices. This may determine which methods are more commonly used by different types of university music programs, and may provide models of success for future implementation in other programs. Future research may also determine the reliability of various audition procedures by tracking student success rates, identified by program completion or job placement rates.
Lastly, findings from this study pertaining to the practice of advising lesser-skilled musicians into music education programs are directly in line with prior research (Leblanc, 1984; Polk, 2004; Schmidt, 1998). In a previous study, Leblanc stated, “It is much easier to prevent [musical and pedagogical] problems by … maintaining quality assurance as students progress through our teacher education programs … [and] people with serious deficiencies of musicianship would be discouraged from teaching early in a teacher education program” (1984, p. 36). Similarly, Schmidt (1998) noted that good music teaching is a combination of excellence in musicianship, pedagogy, and desirable teacher attributes. Consequently, admissions criteria for music teacher training programs should reflect a more broad-based career expectation than simply being able to perform well. While there may not be a definitive resolution to this issue, I propose that the root of the issue is the erroneous interchange of the terms musician and performer (Branscome, 2010). There are many capable musicians who demonstrate their skills through conducting, composing, teaching, and many other means, rather than performing. Similarly, Polk (2004) proposed a two-part definition of “musician” to include a teacher who performs, and a performer who teaches. Regardless, the issue remains is that until the true skills of weaker performers are revealed, music department administrators wrestle with the most suitable career advice for these students. Future research could seek to identify any evidence to support or refute the notion that poorer performers make better teachers. More appropriately, future research could seek to identify any common paradigm in this regard that may exist among professional musicians across all music career fields. With particular concern to music education, Future research could seek to identify the advantages and challenges that weaker musicians may face when they elect careers in music education, and the extent to which musicians of varying talents evaluate their suitability for careers as music educators.
Current trends in education promote a standardized curriculum for all students, regardless of economic status, demographic, career goals, or other descriptors. Although controversial for public education, this mindset may be the underlying basis for the need that some may feel to similarly standardize requirements for music and other departments in post-secondary institutions of higher learning. Those who oppose the standardization of education, or in the case of the current study, the standardization of policies for music degree programs, may do so on the basis that diversity strengthens education and society, and provides impetus for individualization among university music programs. Results from this study may not have provided conclusive answers to the proposed questions. However, it is hoped that the discourse among university music administrators may have provided additional ways of thinking about policies that impact music students. Likewise, economy technology, and the changing role of music in society may have lasting impact on music careers that directly affect university music degree programs. Therefore it is hope that contrasting views in this study may provide input for policy makers as they consider music degree programs and music careers of the 21st century.
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Eric Branscome, PhD, is Music Department Head and Professor of Music at Texas A&M University at Commerce. He has over 20 years of experience in elementary music education. He is the author of several published books and research articles in elementary music curriculum, advocacy and policy, and music career advising.