▶ The end of the symphony orchestra.

Must-read piece by Michelle Jones on the biggest problem in music ed. today.

Universities are slow to change. The bureaucrats and academians (yes, I made up this word) are not as open-minded as one would think. They want to protect their jobs more than they care about the students that merely pass through their halls. It’s self-preservation for them. By creating more graduates, they increase their numbers and tenure. Since only a tiny minority of the music school graduates land the coveted symphony jobs, those that don’t usually end up doing a career not in their chosen field, or end up teaching themselves. Universities expand to meet the demands of the higher population of students going to college, and they expand the departments where people want to major. Since most universities only want professors who have masters or doctoral degrees, those who have these credentials get the jobs. Those who usually have these credentials also were a product of the same university system where the goal is to get and keep their job. Many of the university professors that I have encountered throughout the past twenty-plus years have not had to create their own businesses and make a living as freelance musicians. They have had the regular job of teaching as their “fall-back” and have not been forced to make the same decisions that today’s students face.

She also includes a handy list of suggestions that will surely (but not hopefully) fall on deaf ears. Among my obvious favorites on the list:

6. All music students should learn about recording arts. I’m not asking that each musician learn every detail of a mixing board, but rather to understand the specific microphone placement and recording of their chosen instrument(s). Most musicians will have some experience with recording during their lifetime, especially if they are submitting a recorded audition for a symphony orchestra.

7. In addition to learning about recording arts, all music students should learn how to play to a click track/pre-recorded track. This is especially helpful to have some experience with this, as many of the jobs that require a symphony are film and television studios.

8. All music students should learn how to amplify their instruments electronically. They should learn the difference between pickups and microphones, wired and wireless, amps and speakers, direct-input boxes and pre-amps, etc. More and more of today’s jobs include specific amplification of instruments for live settings and large venues.

How long before our generation is allowed into the universities to start making these important changes? Five years? Ten years? Will we have much of a classical music industry by then?

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

5 thoughts on “▶ The end of the symphony orchestra.”

  1. While she makes good points, at the colleges where I teach, music technology is already a focus for music students, so I think the writer is a bit behind the times. I also know professors at other universities which make the use of music technology mandatory for all their undergraduate students.

    1. In an interesting twist of fate, I’d say many of the smaller, leaner colleges are ahead of the curve on the technology issue. The old conservatories may be the ones in trouble.

      Long term, though, the bigger problem is that there is far more demand for jobs teaching performance majors than there are performance jobs. It calls into question the core philosophy behind lots of secondary and post-secondary music schools! In undergrad, much more importance was placed on how I performed than on how or what I could teach.

      (PS thanks for reading!!)

  2. I’m on the other side of the world right now and 15 years previously I was in Jim McCutcheon’s Centerville garage learning drums. It’s a bit surreal to see all of this, especially as a drunk reply. I guess I just want to emphasize that the future always comes faster than we can imagine and if we anticipate that, then we might be able to transfer some substance to the musical expression of today and tomorrow.

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