Last week a friend of a friend posted on Facebook lamenting the diminishing possibilities for the music school graduate. He’s graduating from one of the best music schools in the country but he doesn’t know what he’s going to do for work. I sympathize completely. My first job after receiving my Master’s in Piano from the vaunted Eastman School was at a grocery store service desk. My response follows:
The music education infrastructure from primary through college has focused too much on performance and not enough on musical understanding.
Those of us who perform and do well in conservatories find ourselves in a culture where very few understand enough to properly value our skills.
The way we teach music goes against the way children learn.
If we taught language the way we teach music, we’d end up with a few Laurence Oliviers, but most wouldn’t learn to talk at all.
Conservatories compound the problem by devoting most resources to performance programs, and generally not taking pedagogy seriously.
This is because performance programs generate more excitement and thus more dollars.
No language is more than one generation from extinction. Music isn’t exactly a language but it propagates similarly. When children aren’t fed a variety of Tonal Patterns in a variety of Tonalities, and Rhythm Patterns in a variety of Meters, music dies.
Parents often can’t feed their children appropriately because they were impoverished listeners when they were young, too. They can’t pass on what they never learned.
Who does that leave to transmit a viable music culture?
Us. We have to go beyond learning our instruments. We have to learn how people learn music, especially young children. And we have to go into the community and sing with them and move.
Lucky for us, the community is starving for this, and there are paying jobs to be had. They’re very different from the successful performing gigs many of us have in mind when we enter conservatories.
But these teaching jobs are very rewarding, and also very difficult work. If we don’t do this, the traditional classical performing gig will go away completely because there will be no one left to appreciate it. This is already happening.
We have an opportunity to subvert and break the cycle of financial and musical poverty that’s become the norm.
But we’re not likely to hear about solutions from within the institutions perpetuating the problems.
Edwin Gordon has done some fascinating research on how students learn musical understanding, or audiation, most effectively.
This branch of research is known collectively as Music Learning Theory. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
I believe MLT contains seeds of solutions to the serious issues Zac is talking about. It’s worth a look. Good luck; have fun!