Creating Your Own Career

As my first-year seminar “Creativity, Non-Western Music, and the Future of Classical Music” progressed, the students and I eventually came to reframe it as “creating your own music, creating new audiences, and creating your own career.” The students had two-week rotations with other professors on Dalcroze Eurythmics, Writing About Music, The Effect of Technology on Music, and training sessions on music technology (especially notation software) and library skills. It was quite a tour for the students, and so my section and I had only six weeks of fourteen together. Non-Western music, unfortunately, ended up getting short shrift. We learned to play several drum parts of a West African festival piece, “Jansa,” and discussed in a basic way differences between much traditional African music and “classical” music, but focused mostly on improvisation and their final concert project, described in the numerous “Musical Buffet” entries below.

The “creating your own career” aspect of this just-concluded seminar, and some recent presentations I’ve heard, got me wondering about what other music schools are doing in preparing performance majors to create their own careers. Adult classical musicians have known for decades that there are very few full-time performing jobs for classical musicians; the idea that if you just get really good and take enough auditions you’ll land a job was unrealistic 30 years ago and is even more so now. There are so many amazing players and so few job openings that even for the top players it’s more of a lottery than a traditional job search. Young musicians need to know this as well.

While that seems lile bad news, many young musicians taking an entrepreneurial approach, not just to creatively marketing performances of traditional classical music, but to creating new repertoire and new audiences. I’ve always felt that the string quartet Kronos was the best example. There are many more, newer, role models out there (Anonymous Four, Bang on a Can, Eighth Blackbird, etc.).

I started a summer chamber music series two years ago, and so I’ve been thinking more and more about the organizational and business side of music. Since we don’t yet offer a course on career development, concert presentation, marketing, etc., for performers here at DePauw, I find I’m getting quite interested in developing one. (A case of wanting to teach what I need to learn more about!)

So I’ve been looking around at what some of the big conservatories and schools do. In my next post I’ll start posting what I’ve found.

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