Music school should diversify its career training
Carnegie Mellon’s School of Music is an esteemed program; training with its distinguished faculty has led many alumni to notable careers. However, while the school is well intentioned in training its students, it is somewhat misguided, overemphasizing one very specialized aspect of the music industry.
The school places the highest value on the orchestral career track. This is due in part to the close relationship between the school and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This relationship is positive and assures high-caliber training, but orchestral careers have become over-prioritized while other possibilities such as chamber music, music business, and music education seem to go unappreciated. Orchestral careers may have been more viable in previous generations, but with shrinking funds, even reputable orchestras are going bankrupt and jobs are disappearing.
The School of Music is filled with creative and intelligent students. Unfortunately, with their highly specialized orchestral training, their job prospects tend to be bleak and depressing.
Students find themselves approaching graduation with no plans for the future except to win an audition. The tough competition for a position in a professional ensemble becomes even more daunting as students leave the comfort of the academic system. It is not uncommon for over 100 people to audition for a single position. If students begin to look at other career possibilities, they will realize that they aren’t qualified or prepared to do much outside of their classical training.
The Master of Arts Management classes offered through the Heinz College have the potential to arm music students with the skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs. Regrettably, there is little cooperation between the two schools, and it is very difficult for music students to take these classes.
Fortunately, newly appointed interim head of the School of Music Denis Colwell has some very positive ideas about how to evolve the program.
Already in his time as an administrator, he has encouraged the creation of a student government, which gives him a direct link with the opinions and ideas of the student body. An entrepreneurship program specifically for music students is rumored to be in the works as well. Colwell understands the importance of helping students create marketable niches for themselves, and students and administrators alike would benefit from following his lead.
Students should be strongly encouraged by the culture of the institution to be versatile and creative entrepreneurs.
One idea would be to have students present their art within the community, where it can be made relevant and interesting to the audience. The work of music students laboring for hours to get exactly the right tone quality, rhythm, and intonation will all be for naught if they do not understand how to realistically market their abilities. One could even argue that it is the duty of musicians today to assist with the evolution of their art form within society — if it does not evolve, it will go extinct.
Carnegie Mellon does a good job of classically training students. If the program is able to mature into something creative, relevant, and vibrant, its students will be prepared to succeed and it will be able to flourish as one of the great music schools. Carnegie Mellon’s administration should acknowledge the natural evolution of musical art forms and help its students properly prepare to thrive in the job market.