My Pretend Music School

I’m not employed by a university. I perform and compose music. That’s my job. So it’s easier for me to speak out in an unfiltered way about music schools, their curriculum, and why I think it should be different. No one can fire me for speaking my mind, so I’m going to let it fly. Here it goes:

“That’s how we’ve always done it.”
“We can’t lose who we are as an institution.”
“We have expectations that we need to meet.”

These are all answers I’ve heard from real life music school deans and professors when asked why music schools haven’t evolved. They always get a little uncomfortable when I ask questions like, “Why is the curriculum the same today as it was 50 years ago?” “Shouldn’t we evolve with the changing culture around us?” “Why is the orchestral repertoire so highly studied while the popular music genre is completely ignored?” These questions can sometimes push people’s buttons. I once was asked, “Well, if you think things need to change, what would YOUR ideal music school look like?”

I’ve thought a little bit about this, and have come up with some ideas. Here’s what my pretend music school would look like:

  • Every student at my pretend music school is required to take a class in Audio / Visual production: How to operate a camera, sync recorded audio to video, learn about aperture / brightness / editing / splicing / etc. Why a required A/V class? Other than playing live, online videos are currently the biggest platform for reaching new audiences, which is critical to a musician’s survival. If this means I omit a semester of music history from my pretend music school’s curriculum, then so be it. IT’S THAT IMPORTANT. Just look at Evan Monroe Chapman, a perfect example of a musician / videographer / completely awesome and creative person. Evan has created a platform to showcase his music skills because of his video skills. Since we don’t live in the same area, I might not know how sweet Evan is at percussion if it weren’t for his awesome videos. Now, I follow his career and own his record. I’m a fan. At my music school, every student will develop these skills and graduate with a basic online portfolio, including a YouTube channel, SoundCloud page, and a website.
  • Career Counseling: Every student at my school will have frequent meetings with career counselors. This will be more than just a one time meeting to discuss interview skills like “make your weaknesses your strengths…” It will be a comprehensive plan to figure out student goals, and more importantly, actively doing things to reach those goals, while in school. By the time a student graduates, they should have already planted seeds to build their career. This could mean releasing a solo album, commissioning a fellow student composer, starting a band, creating an outreach program at inner-city schools, or taking orchestral auditions while in school. My career counselors will also be active in the field of music. I want my students to get advice from people presently doing things in the field.
  • Less large ensembles, more chamber music. Given the amount of orchestra & concert band jobs currently available, why does a music student have to take so many semesters of large ensembles? While certainly important historical and pedogogical genres of music, the amount of time typically spent in these groups doesn’t equate to the amount of jobs actually available in those fields. Last time I checked, the amount of chamber groups are growing while the number of orchestras are decreasing. Shouldn’t a school’s curriculum adjust to meet these changes? My pretend school will have large ensembles, but will have a focus on chamber music; string quartets, quintets, rock bands, jazz combos, mixed ensembles, ukulele band, whatever. Maybe my students will be in charge of choosing what their chamber group is like; what genre they play, what music they play, where they play, their instrumentation, etc.
  • Music Theory: Composing & Arranging. Having experience composing & arranging can create supplemental sources of income for musicians, i.e. marching band arrangements, chamber music arrangements of larger works, and even writing your own music, which gives you your own voice as a performer. Just remember, when someone asks you to arrange Sia’s Chandelier for piano and cello for their wedding, you should be able to do it. I mean, why not have that skill and make some extra income? Maybe this means we axe that last semester of atonal theory in favor of some more practical theoretical skills that we can immediately utilize in our post college lives.
  • My pretend music school will have pour over coffee and ice cream readily available at all times. These things make people happy. Ice cream.
  • Classical music will be a focus at my school, but so will other genres of music. For example, students should know how to play and improvise in many different styles. Don’t turn down gigs because you “don’t play rock”. You do want to make money, so you should have the skills to do so in many different musical contexts.
  • Which is why students will all improvise! Yep, that liberal arts class you hardly ever go to will not exist at my pretend music school. Instead, you’ll go to a class focusing on improvisation and creativity. (Not that liberal arts classes are a bad thing! It’s good to be well rounded, but if your liberal arts class has absolutely nothing to do with what you want to be doing, you probably shouldn’t be paying for it.)
  • Of course, there are private lessons with really great faculty members at my school. You have to be really good at your instrument! Scales, arpeggios, technical exercises, standard repertoire for your instrument, etc. My band member Patrick Laird, who is one of the most accomplished rock cellists I know of, says he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without the strict classical training he received from his private teacher at Eastman. So yes, you still have to practice and be really good!
  • Eurhythmics: Eurhythmics is required. If you can’t walk, clap, and sing in time, you don’t deserve a degree from my pretend music school.
  • Required Music Business classes. Do I even have to explain this one?
  • Standing Room Only Concert Halls: Yes, my school will have standing room only concert & recital halls, with a bar readily available. Cheering will be encouraged. Have a good time. Music.
  • On that note, my school will have a bi-weekly open mic night to encourage student performances. None of this one-recital-a-year business. If you’re at a music school, you should be performing all of the time, on a regular basis. That’s how you get better at performing.
  • My music school will be located somewhere where the weather is perfect. Perfect weather!
  • The DMA: I’ve thought long and hard about whether my school would offer a DMA degree. OK, maybe I didn’t think super hard about it, but I did think about it! I started thinking about the amount of DMA graduates currently in the world vs. how many jobs are actually available. It is scary to think about. Do I really want to send even more DMA graduates out into the world and encourage even more national student loan debt? Put them in a position where they potentially start their lives with what amounts to a mortgage in a job market that is mainly producing adjunct jobs with no benefits? Sorry for being dark, but it seems the education system in this country has developed a “must have” DMA protocol for acquiring any sort of college teaching job, even at the community college level… That’s CRAZY to me. Maybe not to you. But it is to me. It’s also especially startling when I think about the fact that none of my former college percussion teachers have DMA degrees. None of them. And they are all wildly successful, master teachers and performers, and essentially shaped the landscape of classical percussion music. But times change, and since colleges are in the business of selling degrees, they want you to have one. I guess that makes sense. I guess…perhaps a blog post for another days…For grins, let’s pretend my pretend school has a DMA program. Here are three things it would focus on:
  • Performance: If you graduate with a DMA from my school, you damn well better be a beast at your instrument. If you’re not, how will you compete with your beastly peers from other schools? My pretend school’s DMA’s will be beastly performers.
  • Teaching: If the purpose of acquiring a DMA is to teach at a college, shouldn’t your degree be less about the academics outside of your field and more about the stuff in your field? (I’m not sure a DMA candidate should spend months on end studying for a test that is mostly irrelevant to their end-goal.) Shouldn’t it be about bettering yourself as a teacher? Building a sustainable studio & program? Focusing on your field of study; repertoire, teaching pedagogy, lesson plans, etc.? My pretend school will focus on the actual stuff you need for your job, which ultimately leads to becoming a great teacher, which should be the definitive end goal of a DMA program. My pretend DMA’s will be beastly teachers and educators.
  • Recruiting / Outreach is the third thing my DMA program focuses on, and probably every degree at my school. What does that even mean? Well, why would a college hire you if you can’t fundamentally rally people behind your cause? Once you get a job, you still have to get students to want to study with you, to want to come to Such and Such college to learn from you. If you can’t keep the numbers up, your job could very well diminish or get cut altogether. If you don’t have the personal skills to get out there, meet people, community build, and inspire people to want to study with you, then it will be hard to land a job, or worse, keep a job. So maybe some of those irrelevant tests and courses are replaced with seminars and classes in interpersonal skills and community building. My pretend DMA’s will be beastly interviewees and community leaders.
  • Ice cream and coffee. I know I said that already.
Of course, there are schools out there starting to break the mold, which is great! I for one extremely value my education from Eastman School of Music, as it’s always been a school aware of the pulse of our industry and one that encourages creativity. (Bands like Break of Reality, Alarm Will Sound, Jack Quartet, and Sound Exchange all started at Eastman, so that says something to me. And yes, I called them bands.) Mannes School of Music has updated it’s curriculum significantly, which is awesome! So it’s happening, but I would love to see it happen at a much faster rate across the country.

What if your school isn’t evolving? That doesn’t mean you can’t. Host your own open mic night, write some music even if you don’t know what you’re doing, start a band, hire a public speaking coach to work on your interpersonal skills, or start a YouTube channel.

Got anymore ideas for an ideal music school? Speak out and share them. Maybe if we create enough noise, we can at least turn some heads and create more self-evaluation from the schools we invest our time, energy, money, and futures in. That’s what I’m hoping for.

  • Ivan Trevino, Sept. 20, 2014

106 thoughts on “My Pretend Music School

  1. (This tool could also help in securing/putting together future gigs… *GASP, jobs coming out of an actual musical establishment??)

  2. Bravo, Ivan! The irony is that actually there are schools like yours and mine pretend music schools, in Eastern Europe, I was VERY fortunate to study at. Professional music school K-12. The ONLY model that works for professional musicians. Best to you, and thank you for writing the facts out:)!

  3. Yes indeed! I think this starts in middle school with relevant and accessible music of modern world styles to balance and augment historical-based repertoires! But we need teachers to be open minded and want to grow a little and embrace new tactics. 🙂 Ice Cream for everyone is a must.

  4. Check out info on the 21st Century Musician curriculum at DePauw University School of Music (Greencastle IN). I’m currently a First Year student there, and though “21CM” hasn’t quite fully taken off yet, the mindset of a lot you laid out in this article is definitely present.

  5. My favorite part: “Maybe this means we axe that last semester of atonal theory in favor of some more practical theoretical skills that we can immediately utilize in our post college lives.” Gotcha! Who wants that ugly snooty brainy atonal stuff. Let’s just ignore 100+ years existed.

  6. Try graduating with $50K in loans and no clear understanding of working in (fitting in with) today’s world. I get the higher-ed learning, some is very important to expand one’s and and exposure, but the point I’m supporting here is to “re-balance” our educational system (starting in middle school for me), not dumb it down. Education does has to be relevant in the final analysis. Right? There are way too many violinists, trombonists, and cellists looking for a life after college to ignore the fact that change is needed. How is tbd. Let’s keep talking.

  7. I especially agree with (what I think is) your sentiment that the current system of musical education is alienating musicians from the core of what music is about – reaching people. Experimenting with improv, studying popular genres of music, and learning the basics of how to share what you do with an audience would give more musicians the skills they need to do that.
    Unfortunately I disagree that you can just drag and drop new course work into the existing institutional framework. Your school would most certainly not have a BM program, let alone a DMA, without those pesky liberal arts requirements. Accreditation is absolutely necessary for students to have access to financial aid. The non-music courses that are required at most US conservatories just meet the bare minimum needed for accreditation. And as a working musician, performing in multiple genres, I can’t really stand behind any vision of a musical education that doesn’t require rigorous study of both music history and theory.
    I too have my own perfect pretend music school, and many of the things you mention would probably be a part of it, but the main issue in any institutional reform is always money. Until we find an alternative way to pay for the perfect education, all we have is a wishlist. And the same old conservatories telling us that an orchestral career is the only one worth having.

  8. Any thought to tuition costs? I know the article is sorta cheeky, but in serious news the debt problem is the biggest problem for working class college kids. As some other commented have remarked, masters and phd programs are silly from people unless they are in affluent families. Even with scholarship…

  9. The Liberty University School of Music, where I teach, is embracing many of the changes you suggest, including having every student learn improvisation, practical application of music theory to real world contexts, more emphasis on music business, and more chamber ensembles including woodwind quintets, string quartets, jazz combos, and pop bands.

  10. A school’s large ensembles help them build their reputation which in turn, makes your degree more valuable. And also, playing in a large ensemble happens to be a valuable skill whose benefits can be easily transferred to the small ensemble. Your pretend music school would focus on audio/visual production, career counseling, business classes and Eurythmics while the student spreads him/herself thin by learning about many kinds of music and specializing in none. If you don’t want general education courses, don’t go to a state school for your undergrad. This is not cute, it’s silly and was obviously written by somebody who needs to spend more time practicing and studying how to write for marching band (even though they are against large ensembles) on their own time.

    1. I graduated from Eastman – not one person in the real world has ever asked “What large ensembles did you play with at Eastman?” before hiring me for a gig. I also played in the David Baker jazz band at Indiana University. There are definitely good reasons to play in a large ensemble at a conservatory/music school as there ARE valuable music skills to be gained; prestige, however, is not one of them. No one cares what school I attended when it comes time to play – only can I play well? For the record, I’m quite sure Eastman did not have a marching band arranging class – after all, there was no marching band (though in my opinion there SHOULD have been a marching band arranging class for education majors; I was not an education major, however, so it was not really a concern of mine – but it was something I did take note of as I had friends who took marching band arranging at their state school music programs). I DO believe it is important to play/sing in large ensembles – and typically it’s quite fun. 🙂 Having to develop the skills necessary to perform large ensemble music – such as challenging technical passages, large scale group intonation, following a conductor, and general ensemble cohesiveness – these are still very important and relevant skills. Playing through the fake book in a jazz combo will not deliver many of these skills to the same degree where small group performers have more freedom in selecting the literature to be performed, the tempo to perform it at, and the freedom to be less “strict” in approach in contrast to an experienced musical director who sets a musical bar that all players in a large ensemble MUST meet. Do you REALLY want to be the trumpet guy who misses a note or two in Stravinksy’s Petrouchka exposed trumpet part? NO! When the director says we’re doing Petrouchka, you WILL practice it! There are also important skills to be gained in small ensembles – and improvisation is certainly one of them if the small ensemble is set up to support it. When I was at Eastman, the small jazz combo program was really quite poor – $1500 per improv class to play along with Bill Dobbin’s Jazz Improv CD’s under the weekly tutelage of a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Pfffffft.

      That being said, Ivan expresses some very important points – points that are nothing new among both current and long-time graduates I might add.

      The real issue, I believe, is the monetary/time commitment you make to a music program. You have to ask is it a good return on investment (financially and/or time wise – because not everyone is under the same financial or time pressures)? If I were to do my education over, I think I might go to North Texas which is an excellent state school music program but significantly cheaper – it is hard to get started as a performer in NYC (or anywhere) if you graduate from school with $50K+ in student loan debt. Student loans are not something to be trifled with – I saw a visual artist get behind on his student loans from Rutgers and the US government added $30K in late fees and penalties – NO JOKE. Student loans do NOT go away through bankruptcy declaration or foreclosure – they are the ONLY kind of debt that is FOR LIFE!!! STUDENT LOANS ARE SERIOUS, SERIOUS, SERIOUS – I believe 18 year old kids are too F#@KING young to understand 1) how they really work and 2) the long term consequences of them – especially if the 18 year old kids come from a family background with little or no experience in money or money management in which no parent can offer any insight into such affairs (neither of my parents graduated from college, for example, and indeed I was the first to do so in my family).

      I gained good musical skills at Eastman and Indiana University. I could have gained similar musical skills at a less “prestigious” school, and been better positioned financially to embark on a performance career. My student loan debt definitely limited my career choices as a performer. It’s difficult to know what choices were the “right” choices when looking back; however I do think the WRONG choice is taking on a bunch of student loans if you’re looking to embark on a career in which there is generally a poor monetary return on financial commitment – UNLESS you can afford it because you come from a wealthy family (in which case the financial return is irrelevant). In my opinion, “prestige” is simply a marketing term used by schools to sell their “designer brand” education. You don’t need a Porsche or BMW to drive to and from the grocery store – a used Toyota Camry will do just fine (I know because until this summer used Camry’s were the only 2 cars I ever owned – now I’ve moved onto a used Kia). If on the other hand you can effortlessly afford a new Porsche or BMW to drive to and from the grocery store – go for it if you want! I have wealthy friends who do!

      I want to be clear – I do not regret in any way my decision to study music and pursue music as a career. Ironically, though I was not an education major, I make my primary living teaching elementary music at a public school – but I also play professionally, and am quite happy with my professional performance opportunities. However, I do not think I would go to Eastman or IU again, as I feel these “designer brand” schools were out of my price range. A state school undergraduate degree, and then moving to NYC and studying privately with someone I really admire is the way I would do it today with the knowledge I have now. In fact, I actually did do this – but let me make it clear how I was able to overcome the obstacle of my student loans: I won a lottery to the tune of $45K+. Yes, that’s right – PURE LUCK. My advice is don’t bank on the lottery, and don’t bank on student loans for a designer music degree. Nothing wrong with studying music, but like Ivan points out: you need to be very thoughtful in how you go about it.

      For the record, I have not won the lottery since, though I have played a few times ^^.

      Also, I would definitely take some computer classes or other classes that will help you get a “day” job. You can do this after you get a music degree. But there’s nothing wrong with having a day job, but if you’re going to work a day job, like George Garzone told me: “You’re doing it right, Jack, you’re working at a job with benefits – health insurance and a retirement plan – most of these cats are putting the same hours in at a day job at Subway or some other sandwich shop with no benefits and no retirement.”

      Happy playing 🙂

  11. Okay, I’ve been following the comments here and have to weigh in for the second time. A fundamental issue most here seem to be ignoring (but which is at the core of Ivan’s original post) is this: there is VERY little appreciation today for the kinds of music that is taught and performed in *most* music schools. Andrew, you mentioned large ensembles building schools’ reputation. Really? I disagree. Large ensembles do nothing for a schools’ reputation—even if the ensemble tours. They provide a pleasant diversion for old folks and the odd music geek.

    The simple reality is that America worships popular, commercial music—period. Major symphony orchestras are NOT thriving–they’re struggling to survive. And even the myriad small ensembles that are (more or less) making a living today recording and touring (Eighth Blackbird, Bang On a Can, etc.) have tiny, niche audiences almost exclusively in major metropolitan areas and Europe. They don’t even come close to the widespread appeal and success of today’s top pop groups.

    Even Miles Davis said jazz was dead way back in 1975. Like orchestral music, it clings to survival within tiny niche audiences. People who believe music today is a rich, thriving ecosystem of styles, genres, and ensembles are likely deluded from too much time spent in big cities. Music today is 95% commercial pop, rock, and country music (largely created by self-taught musicians), with the rest of that “ecosystem” existing in the marginal 5% that’s leftover.

    Don’t get me wrong—I devoted years of my life to classical music and love it, along with concert band music, modern music, whatever. I also fully support a music school education (I’ve never regretted my Juilliard degree for a minute). I love it all. But this thread only reinforces what I’ve known for years: that most music schools exist in a bubble—a kind of fantasy world with grossly inflated notions of the importance of what happens there.

    The day that a group like Eighth Blackbird becomes as rich and famous as Lady Gaga by performing 20th-century classics and commissions by new composers is the day that bubble might have burst.

    Until then, Ivan’s post is solidly grounded in the reality that is professional music today.

  12. Ivan, It’s called “The School of Rock” and it exists everywhere. These kids are coming out way more prepared that music school grads. Watch this video. Here are the School Of Rock Charlotte kids opening for 38 Special at Speed Street.

  13. Great article Ivan! 🙂 I am very, very grateful that I am finally (in my 3rd music school) in a degree (vocal coaching) where every course is immediately relevant to what I want to do in my career.

  14. To Scott – Marginally off-topic, but if classical music is not appreciated by the masses, we need to look at public school education, in which music education K-12 has been systematically de-funded. How can you expect an 18-year-old to sit down and listen to a Brahms symphony when she has never heard anything like it? And of course she was never exposed to it at home because her parents also went to the same schools.

    Though if you throw in the ice cream….

  15. Yes! Agreed. However you should add yoga and other physical exercise to your school. When I was in music school both undergrad and masters there are many people with tendinitis, carpal tunnel and other with just poor physical posture. Including myself with both tendinitis and carpal tunnel. After 15 years of yoga practice I hardly think about those ailments but I could’ve prevented them had I known.

  16. also: sociology of music. the history of women in music. musical innovations of people of color. music and social movements.

  17. Great thread on all this. Here’s the challenge – trying to do everything for everybody. Just can’t work. What can work is identifying individuals strengths, weaknesses, and interests and nurture those. Then if their path is classical or atonal, there’s a world to explore. However, if it’s hip, cool and contemporary music they prefer (my feeling is youth want and need to be predominantly current) then that is another path. Working through the song itself can teach: history, theory, improvisation, rhythm, performing, technique, cultures, exploration of styles, and also how to “entertain” (yes, the arts for the most part DO need to entertain in some fashion – even 12 note atonal compositions). Music schooling (starting at middle school for is the key time to attract, engage, get everyone involved in music. From there, listening and encouragement, along with with fresh new content (that’s relevant to today) can be explored. Last note – there are 200+ careers in music with each one starting with a passion in music in some. Playing/performing is the best hands on experience to further appreciate this passion.

    Merry Holidays and Happy New Year to everyone!! Satnam.

  18. As a music major, I was criticized for my creativity and excitement. I launched my website and YouTube channel in my second year. I was admonished, “please, take your exuberance elsewhere”. Although I was not a composition major, I was writing music every week. My biggest challenge was finding other students who would be willing to perform it for me for a video recording (for pay!). They never had the time, because they were always caught up with the obligatory band practice. Imagine if our pretend school could require performance majors to perform the composition major’s works. I learned so much about composing from the great students who taught me the basics about how to write for their instruments. I never learned that in class.

  19. Those liberal arts classes you so readily want to quash are the ones where you learn how to and are expected to think deeply.

  20. I dig where you’re going with this. I definitely appreciate the sentiment. Just curious if in your made up music school if you feel it would be important for students to be music readers. Technically proficient on their instrument, good in ensembles, good at improvisation, but to truly embrace and reflect popular music culture of the last 50 years or so, music students in this school should be able to succeed even if they can’t read music.

    This is said tongue in cheek, as I believe reading music is a very important skill, but it seems to be of diminishing importance as music continues to evolve.

  21. Bravo!
    Coming to the party a little late, but I’ll add my admittedly cynical take.
    What is more urgently needed: a conversion to these more practical and relevant “pretend” music schools, or a reduction of music school degree programs in general? If the schools continue to churn out narrow and naive audition hopefuls, will the over-saturated field not self-select and reward the few with honed marketable skills? But if a greater percentage of graduates wield their fresh music degrees along with the optimism, spreadsheet fluency, and social networking savvy to create the Next Big Thing in classical music, will not all these projects create another bubble and cancel each other out? Did we not hit Kickstarter fatigue a year ago? As a previous commenter alluded to with eighth blackbird vs. Lady Gaga, the classical music pie is only so big. Smarter musicians are great, but the real payoff will only be felt when today’s graduates are smart enough to figure out how to make their art mainstream. Until then, it will be another “fresh, dynamic, versatile, genre-bending, buttoned-down” ensemble competing for a living wage against more of the same.

  22. Doughnuts. Pizza. Coke.

    When I was in school I spent all my free waking hours at the campus Lutheran center, where the coffeehouse (coffee, ice cream, etc.) was located. So did a bunch of other kids, both highly musical and less so. We played/sang solo, formed and re-formed small groups like ever-changing amoebas, wrote our own music, performed each other’s music, improvised, practiced, and every Friday night had an official performance night for which we charged a whopping $1 entrance fee. (That would be like about $5 now. We had to fund the doughnuts, after all. But after a certain sum for the house, the remainder was divided among the performers.) It was wonderful experience, I learned TONS about my own instrument, theory, arranging, etc., and it counted not a bit toward any degree, but it was time well spent. Also there were peer counselors and a pastoral staff available at need without being intrusive. I highly recommend that you include several such institutions on your Pretend Music School campus.

    Doughnuts. Pizza. Coke.

    Any good school nowadays should have (separate from music or any other major) admissions, counseling, and placement offices to advise and assist students with many of the issues you mention in regard to careers and finances. Encourage your students to use them.

    Eurhythmics should be a REMEDIAL class–it ought to have begun in kindergarten with a class rhythm band. (I especially loved the sandpaper blocks and always hurried to choose them before some other child got them.) If grade and high schools were on their toes about this, study halls could be serenaded with the music of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and other giants of music for the price of a few pieces of equipment and a couple dozen CDs. It’s not a real music program, but it would at least expose students to the world of classical music. Which would make classical music familiar, and therefore more likely to be at least occasionally chosen by young audience members, which would gradually increase the job openings for classically-trained musicians.

    Re-read Emma’s comments regarding federal funding–they are, alas, right on the mark–and you will see why your school as proposed is destined to remain a Pretend school. It would be nice to add some of the courses you suggest, but you have to keep in mind that programs are limited to a certain number of credit-hours that can be required. Since students pay tuition by the credit hour, you’d have to really show some great benefit–almost always a monetary one–for the students to justify their paying more and studying longer to add the extra classes. And no, you can’t just lop off a credit here and there from other courses; there are formulas for how many hours of lecture and how many hours of lab/practicum equal an hour of credit. The accrediting agency is at the bottom of that. If you aren’t accredited, then your students would not be able to transfer to another school if life circumstances forced them to move elsewhere (we know they would never WANT to leave Pretend School of Music!) making your program less valuable.

    I did mention doughnuts, pizza, and Coke, didn’t I?

    In my own Pretend School of Music, every student is required to study (private lessons) voice and two instruments, and to choose one of those as a major focus of study. Also to belong to at least one ensemble for each of those three. At least one must be a large ensemble, and one must be a small chamber ensemble (two to eight members) and all must perform publicly at least once per semester. Every student would be required to compose at least one short piece of music (1-3 min.) every semester, and to arrange an existing work from its original form for one of the groups of which he is a member. Use of computer software for composition/arranging would be a freshman-year required course. I like your AV-media course, and would include it as an elective, but not a requirement, since–as you mention–it seems that most young performers are already using it self-taught, and therefore they would not need to sit through a class on it.

    Yes, there’d be a coffeehouse, with coffee, ice-cream, doughnuts, pizza, and Coke.

  23. Reblogged this on Anna Luther, Flute and commented:
    This post has been around for many months now, but I ran across it again today and thought it was worth sharing. Ivan makes excellent points about music school curriculum being stuck but even better, talks about ways that we can work with new media to further our reach as performers and educators.

    I can think of several other musicians who are using principles Ivan talks about with great success. Look at the work of Nina Perlove, Meghan Inhen, or Zoe Keating. They’re spectacular examples of how to embrace new media. There’s a lot to learn out there!

  24. Ok what advice do you guys have for someone who his a freshman music ed major whos still considering performance after college whose college offers very few of these things. I’m in college to learn as much as I can and be the best musician, teacher, composer, song writter, music director?director for my children’s theatre back home and open as many door as possible for me after college. What can I do to help myself get the experence and performance gigs I need to become the best performer I can. How do I make the best of the school I have, i’m even open to taking some classes and/or summer courses elsewhere in addition to what I take here

  25. I applaud all of Ivan’s proposals. I would also add a required segment in the music business course of the need for and function of the American Federation of Musicians. Further, I would hope for a serious re-calculation of theory study to bring it into line with what a person needs to become a better musician through the study of theory.


    Come visit sometime.

    We have the coffee but not the ice cream. Or the open bar. [Thank the lawyers for that last one.] But pretty much everything else you mention is here, except that we didn’t want to limit ourselves to one school of music and physical motion integration a la eurythmics . . .

    And, the one thing you don’t talk about is the business model for the school itself, and that is a tough one. . . .almost certainly the hardest issue.

    Marc Lowenstein

  27. I agree wholehartedly with your article. I’m a piano teacher (for two years), a writer, a newspaper copy editor, and I taught English/pubic speaking/yearbook for 8 years in public schools (note the past tense). I have been listening to classical music and hanging with some opera singers lately — which leads me to ask — why are they so stuck on classical? TONS of things have happened in music since the Baroque/Renaissance period and music is evolving! I love some of ALL types of music. How did some of us get stuck in classical? Does that make everything that happened since then not matter? Elmo, Bach, Barbra, Bette, James Taylor, Mamas and Pappas, Simon and Garfunkel, Darius, Cher, Journey, Carrie Underwood, Prince, DEVO, Adele, Liberace, Barenaked Ladies, John Denver, Neil Diamond — love it ALL! Don’t be closed minded — they all have something to offer. Music is global, international and the language of the world. Let’s not judge or be snobs about genres.

  28. Interesting piece. However, the author seems to be advancing the case, broadly, that music schools should be less like universities and more like trade schools. And I disagree.

    Trade schools, of course, are the technical institutes that are focused on job skills– the ones you see advertised on daytime television between episodes of Judge Mathis. The goal of these schools is not intellectual growth, but rather certification and skills that facilitate getting jobs and working immediately. The student ostensibly learns specialized skills related to only a specific vocational field, be it auto repair tech, hairdressing, medical technical assistance, etc.

    A conservatory or liberal arts university education, on the other hand, is designed to grow the mind and expose students to ways of thinking that they might not encounter in their day to day lives or social circles. A university education is designed to open the mind; to increase exposure to new or even uncomfortable concepts. This is where its value lies. A university degree is not, and not intended to be, a certificate of job-worthiness. Instead, a university degree is a signifier of a proven ability to think critically, to tackle new concepts.

    The beauty is that with THOSE skills, the student is prepared not just for the world that immediately confronts her upon graduation, but rather for the necessity of adapting to the continually CHANGING world and demands that will confront her 10, 20, 30 years after graduation. And I feel that’s much more important.

    1. I think it’s possible to find a middle ground, to create an environment where students become enlightened via their education and gain enough skills to pay for that education. I don’t think it has to be one or the other.

      For example, I think every student should be fully immersed in the language of music. Musicians should be able to do more than just read their language. They should be able to speak it and write it, just like any other language. Improvising and writing music would give music students a broader perspective on the traditional repertoire they study, while at the same time giving them an opportunity to gain new skills.

  29. Over the weekend, my life partner and I caught a concert put on by the Sarah Mac Band. The show was quite a bit of fun, and the music – an Americana sound with storyteller style lyrics – was very similar to a lot of my broader collection of tunes. Overall, it was a fun show, the band was in good spirits and celebrating headlining at a venue where they played as an opener earlier in their career, and I had a good time. I could use this space to review the concert itself, the experience in the space, or the night my life partner and I had before, during, and after the show while discussing music and our impressions of the show. Instead, however, I want to focus on a particular song that caught my attention as I drove back to Tampa the following

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