Senior Year Field Experience

I am so happy that my blog post My Pretend Music School has created dialogue about music school curriculum! It’s had over 40,000 readers (!!!!) and has been used as a talking point for higher ed administration, committees, and faculty meetings around the country. As a working musician, I am not in the position to make decisions about these topics, so creating dialogue is the most I can do. So, THANK YOU for reading, agreeing, disagreeing, and talking about the issues!

One general response to my blog post was especially thought provoking:

“I like your ideas but I’m not sure how they would apply in a traditional college curriculum…”

For me, this is one of my major issues with music school curriculum: “If your ideas don’t fit into our system, then we can’t use them.” How about this, music schools? Rather than changing these “new age” concepts to fit into your traditional framework, perhaps a better solution would be to change your system to allow these new concepts to be introduced and experienced by our students.

Since I have self-appointed myself pretend dean of my pretend music school, (I know, that sounds ridiculous), and since I have some newly enrolled students (readers!), here’s one idea for our pretend school:

Forget everything you know about your senior year of music school. You’re going to do this instead.


I would love to see students receive actual field experience before graduating. LOTS of it. Get real world experience before actually entering the real world. I think a music student’s senior year could consist of lessons with their primary teacher (yes, being a good musician is still priority #1), plus a number of different field experience projects. Having already taken their required course work during their first three years of school, seniors could focus on putting their education into action. For lack of a better name, let’s’ call it Senior Year Field Experience. Here’s how it could work:

During your senior year, you do not take classes. That’s right. No classes. Instead, you take lessons with your primary teacher while spending the year as an actual “working” musician. Specifically, you’d be required to:

– Book, self-present, market, promote, and perform X number of concerts in your community. These self-presented concerts won’t take place at your music school i.e. no concert office, stage crew, and music stands to help students out. It’s important students face these “real” gigs as they will in the real world. Perhaps this means a student barters with a local church or public school to gain a performance space… The music a student performs, who they perform with, and how these concerts are presented will ultimately be up to the student, just as it would be in the real world.

– Seniors will give X number of educational outreach presentations at public schools. Cultivating a young audience for classical music is probably the single most important thing we can do in terms of keeping classical music alive. Creating meaningful presentations for young people, analyzing those presentations, fixing them and making them better, is a really important skill to have.

– Through a collaboration with local public schools, each senior is required to maintain a small teaching studio throughout the year (maybe 5 students or more). They will offer weekly lessons to underserved students of various ages and ability. Lessons will periodically be monitored by a teaching mentor, who will offer suggestions and criticisms, ultimately helping these music majors become better educators. The experience of teaching on a regular basis is extremely beneficial i.e. scheduling, lesson planning, adapting to different learning styles, crashing and burning, etc.

– Create a website that features a press kit, X number of photos, X number of videos, a biography, audio, etc. In other words, a functioning real life website (!)

This “field experience year” could be overseen by career mentors, who would offer advice and guidance. Ultimately though, it’s up to the student to make everything happen. Schedule rehearsals, plan video shoots, call venues, practice (!), make posters, create social media events, create a lesson schedule, write press releases, etc… And if you don’t get everything done, you don’t get the job (or in this case, the degree.)

As a student, I would much prefer this “field experience year” as opposed to another year of classes, as it gives me a little more creative freedom, a lot more responsibility, and a genuine real world experience that I can learn from. It demands that our students become go-getters, be active instead of passive musicians. In the real world, we ultimately learn by doing, and with this “field experience year”, we are essentially giving our students an entire year to experience the real world in a supportive, educational environment, before they actually dive in.

Some might be asking, “Can’t you just do that stuff when you graduate? Why do you have to do it in school?

Student loans, paying bills, and simply putting food on the table can be stressful for young musicians. It’s the nature of our job; it’s a very difficult career path, and will always be. In his address to the Eastman School of Music graduating class of 2010, University of Rochester President Joel Seligman summed it up best. “You are brave” for doing what you do. I remember sitting around my fellow classmates thinking “What is he talking about?” Now, I know.

I would much prefer students have a practice run at being a working musician before diving in. When a student is in school, they can afford to take creative risks, and ultimately, make mistakes and learn from them. Once you’re in the real world, that luxury dissipates pretty quickly.

I realize some students just want to do one thing; just play in an orchestra, just be a soloist, etc…Given our job market, that is no longer a feasible approach for 98% of our graduates. Sure, it might work for specialty schools like Juilliard or Curtis, but as my friend Robert Freeman says, “Every school can’t be Juilliard or Curtis, and shouldn’t try to be.” That’s a short, but pretty profound statement. (By the way, a few of my current band members are Juilliard and Curtis grads, and they are doing way more than just one thing to make a living too!)

I can’t take credit for the concept of “field study”, as it’s been happening for decades in the music school world. Most music education majors around the country are required to student teach. Some schools and educators have adopted independent studies that might focus on a particular topic of interest, while others are applying field studies on a broader scale, through creating ensembles and community residencies, an idea that my friend Michael Drapkin encourages students to do. I am simply taking the concept of field study and applying it to an entire year of a student’s degree program, so that students can realize first hand what it’s like to be a current day working musician.

Before you say I’m crazy, (which many people already do), here are the experiences a Senior Year Field Experience could provide:

– organizing and self presenting concerts
– creating outreach initiatives
– day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month planning
– real life teaching experience
– creating an online portfolio

This sort of curriculum change, I believe, could also have a broad social impact, creating more musically immersed and affluent communities. Can you imagine if multiple colleges and universities from around the country adopted a field experience music curriculum? In those particular cities, there would be more concerts, more lessons for underserved music students, and more outreach presentations for young people, which could lead to more appreciation for music on a broader scale. Pretty utopian and idealistic, I know.

Back to my main point. The most important thing a Senior Year Field Experience could offer a student:

An entire year of being a real musician; gaining a real life understanding of what it takes to piece it all together. That’s what the job title “musician” has become, whether we like it or not.


This is just one idea that reimagines what a music degree could look like. Maybe this isn’t for every school out there, or for every student out there. But wouldn’t it be nice to at least have the option?

Ben Fang, a wonderful musician, member of the band Grey Light, and current Eastman student, once said to me regarding entrepreneurship in the music school curriculum: “I want to be a working musician, which means I might not make a lot of money. I’m ok with that. Ultimately, I want these classes to teach me how to be a little less poor doing what I love to do.” I don’t think Ben is asking for too much.

I understand there’s an argument that a college education should not be gauged in the light of economics, that college is about enlightenment and knowledge, not about making a career in the end. I agree that college is about gaining knowledge, being enlightened, and ultimately becoming an independent thinker. All I’m asking is that music schools give their students the tools necessary to pay for their enlightment. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for either.

You might be asking, “Is a Senior Year Field Experience even doable at a real college? Would it meet all of the requirements for a real life college degree?” Honestly, I’m not sure, but it certainly meets the requirements for being a real life musician.

– Ivan Trevino, 11/9/14

Memento is 10

My marimba solo Memento is now 10 years old (2004). CRAZY. I’M OFFICIALLY OLD. To commemorate the anniversary, I have a released a new edition of the piece via my website. More on that below.

Memento is a very special piece for me! It was the first “classical” piece I ever composed and is dedicated to my former teacher at Eastman, John Beck.

While writing Memento in 2004, I remember being very hesitant in approaching Mr. Beck about my writing. I was worried he would be upset that I was spending too much time writing music and not enough time doing the stuff I was supposed to be doing. After all, I was a performance major and not a composition major…

I’ll never forget talking with Mr. Beck in a lesson one day, and confessing to him that I was spending a ton of time writing music. And I’ll never forget the sense of relief I felt when he said, “GREAT! Let me hear what you’re working on. Maybe I can help.”

So I played through fragments of what would turn into Memento, and he gave me comments. Great comments. About my score, about flow, about dynamics. It was awesome. So the rest of that year, me and Mr. Beck worked on my writing. It was the happiest I had ever felt at Eastman, and I was so excited for each lesson, so excited to be doing what I loved the most.

Memento is an idiomatic marimba solo with a pop sensibility and set the groundwork for my compositional style moving forward. The piece has gone on to win a PAS composition contest and today is recommended repertoire for collegiate auditions and competitions.

Now that I publish Memento, I’ve decided to release a 10th anniversary edition with a couple of updated musical decisions. I’ve also created a condensed 4.3 octave version for those who may not have a 5.0 readily available. The new editions are now available via my sheet music store.

Here is a recording of me playing Memento from my senior recital at Eastman, many moons ago. Thanks again, JB!

– Ivan, Oct. 2014

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

New Piece: Legerdemain for multi-percussion solo

UPDATE 9/4/14: Full performance video below!

Legerdemain may very well be the most challenging piece I’ve ever written. It is HARD, but man it’s fun too! The term legerdemain means ‘slight of hand’ and the piece requires just that. It’s scored for a percussion soloist who plays both drum set and vibraphone simultaneously, sounding like two people playing at once. Check out Phillip O’Banion, the consortium organizer, perform the piece:

Sheet music for Legerdemain is now available! The piece is part of a larger suite for multi-percussion solo entitled Crossed Wires. Be on the look out for the other movements soon.

Video: Strive to be Happy

I just recorded this video of Strive to be Happy, my newest piece for solo marimba. It’s written for 4.3 octave marimba. It’s a great piece for intermediate level players or for advanced players looking to add something simple to a recital. Thanks to Ellen for the GoPro camera and Aaron Staebell for the inspiration and friendship.

If you’re interested in purchasing the music, click here. Thank you all!


Physical Sheet Music Now Available

I am excited to announce that Lone Star Percussion and Steve Weiss Music will now carry physical copies of my sheet music! I will continue to sell PDFs via my website, but I’m happy to make “hard copies” available via Lone Star and Steve Weiss.

If you’d like to see my music in your school’s music library, please share this information with them.

I’m very happy to be working with these two great percussion companies!