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.
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