by C. Hsu, Belmont
Since musicians are often viewed as the embodiment of poverty, students and parents wonder if universities should help music majors specialize in more practical jobs or completely eradicate a traditional music major course, allowing for more career path flexibility. However, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Future of Music Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocating for music education, the majority of successful music majors today make their living off of live performance, teaching, and composing, which are skills derived from the curriculum of a traditional music major. Pure music majors should be kept at universities because the classes and work will provide a solid foundation for students interested in music, no matter whether they are interested in the performing arts, composition, or something else entirely.
Today, a musician’s main source of revenue comes from live performance and teaching, which are fundamental skills learned through a traditional music major course. These courses often help students focus their studies on theory, composition, or instrumental performance, which ensures music majors acquire the fundamentals of musicianship before graduating. When the Future of Music Coalition study interviewed 4,453 musicians, 74 percent of whom had 16 years or more working experience, live performance was the income allocation for 27 percent; it was also noted that an orchestral musician could have salaries ranging from 28,000 to 143,000 dollars. If more applied music majors such as music therapy commenced to replace a pure music major, these musicians would no longer receive the critical skills to be a successful performer or earn a top spot in an ensemble; applied music majors deeply explore a specific concept, often leaving out more of the playing aspect of music. On top of live performance, teaching has also proved to be a stable and secure job today, as there are people of all ages aspiring to pick up a musical instrument. According to a study by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 62 percent of school children have or have had instrumental lessons, while it’s estimated that 74 percent of adults have played an instrument; referring back to the Future of Music Coalition study, 22 percent of the musicians relied on teaching for income, which is relatively high, since the highest income allocation is live performance, standing at 27 percent. As music majors undergo their studies with top music professors, they pick up different teaching styles and techniques, some of which they can apply to their own teaching. Music universities also set up students with teaching internships, helping them gain significant experience and providing them with the proper credentials. If these music majors truly decide to pursue a teaching career, they will have some insight on what it is like to be a student, since they were just learning the principles of music, albeit at a profound and abstract level.
As music majors continue to develop a solid foundation from their university, these music skills will become applicable to a diverse number of fields. This brings up the point that universities should just specialize in a specific music oriented field, but one problem arises: if students realize they want to pursue something else later on. Luckily, there are a vast number of careers a music major background can correlate to; high paying musical jobs, such as music therapy, require a deep understanding of music in order to assess the physical and cognitive health of a patient through musical responses. Other jobs, such as jingle creators, require a solid foundation on theory and harmonization in order to compose a catchy jingle. Pusha T, the creator of the McDonald `I’m loving it” jingle, got paid 500,000 dollars to create it, while in 1985, Microsoft paid Brian Eno 35,000 dollars to compose the iconic Windows startup tune. The basic foundational education music majors currently receive allows for some margin of flexibility, as it provides them with practical skills to dive deeper into any specific field. A big misconception about a traditional music major is that it only diverts attention toward the primary music principles such as playing, theory, and composition, but this is false, as today, music programs like Stanford’s expect students to learn applicable skills through the study of music. The overview of Stanford’s program states, “The Department of Music at Stanford brings together music-making and scholarly research in. . . ethnomusicology, music theory, cognitive science, intermedia, and computer-based technologies.” As seen in this overview, skills outside of music such as technology and cognition are being incorporated into the course work, which ensures these music majors can thrive outside the music world. Other practical assignments include musical essays, which boosts a student’s writing proficiency because of how difficult of a task it is; music has no tangible form, making it hard to express in words. This shows that in a music major, students don’t only receive a basic musical foundation, but also essential skills that would be found in other courses.
At Harvard, there are controversial changes to the music major course, specifically altering the traditional musical history and theory sequences. Alexander Rehding, a music theorist professor at Harvard, claimed history and theory “took up a fair amount of the required courses, leaving very little courses for electives where the students could follow their specific interests. That curriculum worked really well for some students and not so well for other students, and that was one of the points we’re trying to address. We wanted to create more flexibility to allow for a wider range of interests.” While limiting the curriculum to more traditional concepts such as theory and history is time consuming, it will later benefit students so they can pursue an even wider range of interests. Harvard’s plan to still include these courses for students wanting a stronger musical background while implementing more freedom is a great idea, as a more traditional music class will help complement courses with more specific interests. This further demonstrates that even Harvard professors see the benefits a traditional music major presents, as they have seen this course material work for past students. A traditional music major course may also benefit those coming to universities with a less comprehensive music background, as although Harvard expects students to come with a strong foundation, which most fortunately do, others may not, depending on their childhood. Anne Shreffler, a historical musicology professor at Harvard, addressed this topic, stating “It’s not about eliminating the idea that you need notation. . . It’s the idea that you can come in with varying degrees of knowledge of technical aspects of music and improve those aspects, according to what your artistic aspirations are.” In summary, this means that there is always room for improvement in terms of studying traditional music concepts, which will later assist students in a more specific music career path.
Musicians are associated with lower income, which is undoubtedly true, as seen in studies such as the Future of Music Coalition Study, since “Average direct income from music for ‘all other genres’ artists in the 18 to 29-years-old-range was $18,400, while the average non-music income was $11,800. So, most musicians don’t rely on a salary to get by.” Although it is statistically evident that musicians may have less financial stability, a point arises from this study, which is that even after completing a music major, the wide set of skills attained from it could be utilized towards another field, further manifesting the flexibility of a music major. Even if music itself doesn’t provide an ample amount of income, finishing a music major fills students with traits such as perseverance, motivation, and patience that will allow them to find success in other careers; plus, music is something to cherish through life, so it can always be a part-time pursuit, considering all the gigs and small performance opportunities.