An underlying paralysis

An interesting list of things getting real for professional orchestras around the US.

I cannot remember a time when so many US orchestras were simultaneously in such difficulty. Whatever patchwork solutions are achieved in the month ahead, system changes are required across the sector in the long term. These are not isolated instances so much as symptoms of an underlying paralysis.

I had a very smart professor tell a class of percussionists some good advice: “Only insects specialize”.  The dream of making a living only doing classical orchestral music is over for the vast majority of musicians, and as educators we need to lay this truth bare.

▶ 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?