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Music Schools in Transition, Part II

Below I’ve copied my post from last week, as then I was not connected to Facebook and Linkedin, but now am.

There are short-term approaches to present challenges to music schools, and long-term, more radical ones.  For now I will concentrate on short-term ones, then later on the others.  Also to note: I will not address the question of supply and demand, as I lean toward a free market philosophy.  And in any case, if oversupply is the issue, what agency or body of individuals could decide which schools deserved to live or die?

I believe that each school of music has specific qualities and characteristics that it must identify and then magnify.  In general this is not what is presently happening, as schools try, often desperately, to be like another one.  I can’t count the number of times that faculty from a wide variety of schools have told me they want to be like, or compete directly with Juilliard or Curtis.  These 2 schools have their distinct missions, and as such serve a specific segment of the music industry.  Perhaps the easiest way to extinction is for schools to go down this path of mimicry.

In this post I will begin to address two of what I believe can be unique qualities in a music school.  I will address additional ones in future posts.

Repertoire:  Is there a repertoire focus?

Contemporary?  American?  Living composers?  19th century?  Early music? And so on…book

I believe that a repertoire focus enhances a school’s program and image.  Of course this focus should not be too narrow, but nonetheless, clearly identifiable.  “If I go to the XYZ School, I will mostly perform the music of contemporary American composers.”  While I don’t’ feel comfortable naming certain schools, I can think of several in the U.S. that have been successfully operating with a clear repertoire focus since their inception.  BTW, they have no enrollment challenges.

Ensemble Configuration:

Orchestra?  Band?  Wind Ensemble?  Choruses? Opera? Chamber Music? Eclectic Ensembles?  Ethnic Music Ensembles?

Is there a clear focus, or are the ensembles a scatter shot pattern without clarity?

While I have strong personal beliefs about what ensembles are needed to meet graduates’ needs in today’s music world, for here I simply want to make the point that ensemble configuration can be, and is a major selling point for students considering a school for study.  With ever-increasing demands on school leaders to create and support more and more ensembles, choices need to be made, or chaos reigns.  And these choices can enhance a school’s profile, not diminish it, as may be presently believed.

Here is my post from last week – for those who missed it

Over the past several months I have received a number of calls – for assistance from higher ed music school leaders, to help them with their admissions issues and challenges.  The repeating theme centers around declining undergraduate admissions numbers, and among applicants, declining preparedness (or quality, as it is referred to inside).

There are a number of factors at play: a demographic dip among graduating high school seniors (and juniors, etc. to come), declining numbers of students who choose to seriously study an instrument or voice, changing curricula in K-12 music programs, fewer K-12 music programs.  We know of these developments, and the challenges they present.  So with fewer number of qualified applicants for ‘classical’ music programs, competition to enroll students has clearly become fierce.

And, it’s that time of year when admissions directors and deans must answer the question from parents, “what will my son or daughter do with h/her bachelor of music degree in (fill in the instrument or voice) after I have paid $200,000 for it?”

The answer to this question is where the real work starts.  And forgive me for being crude (for arts talk), but schools need to have clear, realistic, believable and deliverable “sell points.”  I think, I know my recent work in entrepreneurship has affected my views, in that developing a clear value proposition is what customers are seeking.  Apple has proven that customers are willing to pay a lot more if the value (real and imagined) is clear and delivered.




  1. […] Music Schools in Transition, Part II AJBlog: State of the ArtPublished 2015-02-08 […]

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