AJ Logo an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

« Why Music Matters | Main | The Ultimate Musical Experience »

November 5, 2007

Preparing Young Musicians for their Professional Lives

I teach a course at Roosevelt University's music school, in Chicago, called Orchestral Studies. The course came about because around five years ago I was having lunch with the superb dean of that school, Jim Gandré, and I mentioned my frustration about the fact that our music schools teach young musicians how to play their instruments, even how to audition, but for the most part teach them very little about how an orchestra actually works as an organization...

This in spite of the fact that the majority of those who are studying orchestral instruments may well end up employed by orchestras - large, mid-sized, or small - for much of their lives. These youngsters often get into an orchestra with little idea of how the organization works, what the funding basis is, what community engagement and education programs are like and how they might involve the musicians, or anything else other than how to perform on stage. They might know one thing, depending on the belief of their teachers - they might know that "management is the enemy!"

So in the grand tradition of "be careful what you wish for, because you might get it," Dean Gandré said something like "you're absolutely right, we should have such a course, and you should teach it." Having put myself out there, I felt it was inappropriate to refuse, and so I teach a two-semester course for students majoring in performance on orchestral instruments, in the workings of the orchestra.

I bring in many guest lecturers, not only from the management of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but from many smaller orchestras as well. And we also invite musicians, union leaders, orchestra committee chairs, and a range of other guests. I engage the students in a variety of role plays - my favorite being to replicate a mid-sized orchestra's music director search committee, with all of the issues facing such committees, because it is likely that these young people will some day either find themselves on such a committee, or at the very least having to understand the workings of orchestral colleagues who are on such a committee.

We have classes devoted to orchestra finances, to developing a life in chamber music (perhaps forming their own groups); musicians' roles in fund-raising efforts; the relationship between musicians and their audiences and their donors; the changing roles of musicians in governance issues and possibly serving on boards; the history of the union as it relates to symphonic musicians (and ICSOM and ROPA); the role of different parts of the management; and the role of the board of directors. More than once in this course I have found young musicians who were very surprised to learn that board members not only are not paid, but that they actually pay - through their financial contributions - for the privilege of donating time to the orchestra.

I have been gratified that one or two of the young musicians who took the class have actually expressed interest in, and started to explore, orchestra administration as a career. Lord knows, we need good administrators who understand the music. But most of all, as I've been through this now for about four years, it has been gratifying in the extreme to see the recognition on the part of these musicians that there are aspects to their relationships with the orchestras where they may be employed that go far beyond how well they play their instruments. I still fail to understand why more music schools do not have such courses - I know of a handful, and not a big handful, that do - to fully prepare young musicians for their professional lives.

Posted by hfogel at November 5, 2007 10:26 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


It's terrific that a course in Orchestral Life (and not just Orchestral Playing) is being taught! I know that Nathan Kahn (a negotiator for the AFM) has long advocated such education in a formal setting before someone wins that first audition.

Speaking only for myself, I had not been instructed that "management was the enemy" while in school. Of course, management and musicians don't have to be adversarial!

However, my "School of Hard Knocks" education took me away from the ideal of an honest and trusting partnership between Management and Musicians. Today I play in an orchestra where good Labor Relations are a priority for both Players and Managers, but I feel compelled to make the point that formal education might want to teach a balanced reality - a life lesson, if you will.

Ideally Management is your partner in the generic business model we are using in class. But in the real world, you will have a Union to protect your interests because, as in any industry, the interests of the various groups don't always align.

THAT was the lesson I had to learn the hard way and it deserves equal attention to the lessons about the more ideal partnerships of mutual understanding.

A balanced realistic education in Orchestra Life will serve everyone's interests. It is not unlikely that some of the students will become Managers.

Bravo to the concept of pre-employment education for everyone in our world! Both ideals and realities will comprise the best education.

I agree with Tom's point about balance - and in my course at Roosevelt I have consistently brought in officials from the musicians' union and ICSOM, as well as orchestra committee representatives, to be certain that the balance is provided. We try to have open dialogue in that course exploring all aspects of the labor-management relationship, both historical and contemporary and both positive and negative.


Posted by: tom reel at November 15, 2007 11:19 AM

This is a great idea for a course, and I'm happy to see other music schools (like Eastman and Juilliard) incorporating it into their curriculums. In your course, do you talk about the role of the performance librarian in the orchestra?

Yes, Thom, in fact I've had the Principal Librarian of the Chicago Symphony as a guest lecturer in my class.


Posted by: Thom at November 24, 2007 1:21 PM