I haven’t read all of Blair Tindall’s book Mozart in the Jungle yet, but I have read parts of it in bookstores (sorry, Blair, I’ve been spending all my money on books on improvisations and cello repairs). Along with sharing stories of her youthful overindulgence in drugs and sex, she explores the crisis in professional classical-music performance. Her site quotes The New Yorker as writing, “TindallÂs central complaintÂthat the classical-music world has created a crisis by training too many musicians and supporting a culture of exorbitant pay for a few fortunate starsÂis difficult to refute.”
Her website has some interesting links, including this one, in which a would-be college violin professor is considering the “Nuclear Option” as he puts it, chucking it all and going to law school.
His poignant article is an example of just the sort of thing every aspiring classical musician should be aware of.
Since 1999 when I left graduate school, I’ve had two one-year posts and two adjunct jobs, but a tenure-track position has eluded me.
The market for string teachers in academe has all but collapsed. This year the number of violin positions has barely exceeded single digits. Eliminate vacancies at small religious colleges or at high-profile conservatories, and the number of positions for which I’m suited falls to near zero.
The market in symphony orchestras hasn’t been much better, and if positions in low-paying or unattainable major orchestras are eliminated, the possibilities shrink like a tuxedo accidentally left in the dryer on high.
I’ve kept playing for years with little to show for it, convinced that the big score was just around the bend. Maybe just one more audition, one more hiring season.
Even if I were to be offered a tenure-track position at a music department, I would face some moral dilemmas about doing the job. I know that I would be under pressure to recruit string students to fill my studio and the school symphony, thus ensuring my own position. But how could I do that knowing the abysmal state of the job market?
There are too many music schools and departments, and too many string players being trained as it is. Could I live with myself by pandering to the dreams of young and blissfully unaware musicians?
But his article is also written from the all-or-nothing perspective that fails to give proper respect to amateur and part-time professional music making–the subject I’ve been writing about recently. I hope this guy goes on to law school, develops a good practice, and discovers that through it all he can continue to make and share music. And realize that he has not failed as a musician just because he doesn’t have a tenured position or a full-time orchestra job.
My former brother-in-law is a lawyer and a fine clarinetist who plays in an excellent community orchestra in the LA orchestra. My former father-in-law is a is unethical. Training musicians while being honest about the job market, and encouraging them to think about dual careers, is both ethical and appropriate.
I read once that 70% of college graduates end up working in a profession different than what they majored in in college. Those of us who teach at liberal arts colleges know that undergraduate education is about general education and personal development; it’s not necessarily about job training.
Make music because you love it. If you don’t end up making a lot of money making music, make some money doing something else. But don’t stop making music!