“With a narrow view of success, musicians unconsciously limited their careers, their satisfaction, and their professional fulfillment.” (Beeching, page 6)
I always wanted to be a college professor of music.
Not just because that’s the expected path of many college students majoring in music performance. It’s hard to escape the perception that music degrees are factories to take you from a B.Mus, to a M.Mus, to a DMA, to become college faculty to teach students in a B.Mus and continue the cycle.
But I always intently wanted to teach music at a high level. From the day of my first undergraduate audition, after my memory collapsed in my Bach Prelude and Fugue, till the day I received my doctoral hood, I wanted to dig into the intricacies of performance. I’ve always been fascinated by concert repertoire, and performance styles. At the same time, I was mystified about how to break down these pianistic and musical concepts that I knew so well to help a beginning piano student learn them. It would seem only natural to teach at a University.
My career has gone a different direction since finishing my DMA, and I will expand on the interim 2 years in a series beginning later this month. But others opportunities have come my way. It turns out I love teaching young children, even beginners, when I’m working through the Suzuki method. I have chances to collaborate and teach at BGSU, my alma mater. And now I’m able to focus on so many areas that I might not have if I was in a full time academic position: dreaming up new recital programs and projects, developing book ideas, learning about social media, marketing and entrepreneurship, and of course, blogging.
After taking a break from pursuing the academic career, slightly over a year ago now, my conceptualization of my career has changed dramatically, and though I may attempt to return to higher ed full time, I’m beyond excited and determined to create my own infrastructure to build a career in classical music.
These two books have helped me adjust my expectations and point me in the direction of the building my own career. They are very similar, and neither is better than the other. I could not recommend reading one or the other, I urge you to read both. The more we read different interpretations of similar ideas, the more we will be able to apply those ideas to our own lives.
Both books urge you to think beyond the basic talent you need for success. (Of course, based on my previous blog post, I use the word ‘talent’ very loosely!) Both books assume you have that talent, and urge you to consider that your talent alone does not define you. There are so many talented people trying to do the same thing you are. You have to find, not just what makes you special, but how you can thrive in the environment you live in, along with the people you know.
Both deal with the tricky financial side of the equation. Of course we need to make a living. There are so many factors to consider that finances for musicians could be a book series in and of itself. But these books lead us to start asking the right questions, to seek the answers we need.
Both teach you ways to develop projects, promote yourself, build an identity, and how to network and help others. Both emphasize that ‘getting ahead’ can never be a matter of pushing others down; we benefit most from helping others get ahead. This is the most exciting factor for me. Rather than looking for my next big break, why not looking for the value I can add to other people’s lives and careers, and appreciate what value others give to me.
While I’ve focused on books in this blog series, I would be remiss not to mention two other resources:The Marketed Musician, a podcast and online course platform; and The Entrepreneurial Musician podcast. Both are constant inspirations to me, and have helped sort out and correct all of the ideas I’m working through these days!
“But to become excellent, all the reading, studying, and theorizing in the world is simply not enough. The key? Just do it. Jump in, get your hands wet, be willing to make some mistakes along the way, and stick with it. Many musicians become so obsessed with the idea of excellence, they refuse to even try anything that doesn’t guarantee 100% success. As a result, ironically, their growth is stunted.” (Cutler, pg. 28)
It’s easy to be pessimistic about the state of classical music today. We could talk about declining CD sales, greying audiences, growing numbers of competitors for a shrinking number of positions.
But what else has changed? Technology has advanced so much that any individual can record their work with just a little financial investment. Media barriers have disappeared so that we can send our work out into the world with ease.
We don’t need to look for affirmation from any institution, be it government, academia or concert promoters. Towards the end of my DMA, I came to a greater peace with the idea that I might not be a professor. In fact, I might not make my living in music at all. But I would always be a musician. Once you’ve trained and developed an artistic voice, you’ll never lose it.
In order to reestablish classical music in the culture, we don’t just need people to reinforce the traditions of classical music which have witnessed the decline of its impact. We don’t have to throw out those institutions and traditions either, but we can expand their reach, we can influence non-musicians with our expertise in our day-to-day lives, and find new ways to expand our sphere of influence.
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