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.

November 5, 2007 10:26 AM | | Comments (2)



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.


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.


Leave a comment


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by on the record published on November 5, 2007 10:26 AM.

Why Music Matters was the previous entry in this blog.

The Ultimate Musical Experience is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.