The State of Music Education

Jon Silpayamanant encouraging a couple of young Ahiska Turk girls to play the Daf and Darbuka.
Jon Silpayamanant encouraging a couple of young Ahiska Turk girls to play the Daf and Darbuka.

Clarinetist, Michael Lowenstern, has this to say on The State of Music Eductaion!

But the culture of learning within the walls of the institution must include EVERYONE, not just the students. The FACULTY must continue to hone their skills (not to point fingers, but does your teacher know how to improvise? Or compose? Or play Balkan wedding music? Or release a recording on the Internet? Or create and manage their social media presence? Or play with electronics? Or manage a concert series? Or market their quintet? No?)

I posted it to my facebook wall a few days ago but happened to come across an interesting piece about Trumpet Jobs versus Graduates via a post in the Trumpetherald forum that linked to my Timeline of “Orchestra Crisis.”  It’s been some time since the topic of too many music school graduates has come up, and there’s Brandon VanWaeyenberghe’s study, Musical Chairs: A Study of the Supply and Demand of Orchestra Musicians in the United States (which I’ve posted about elsewhere).


David Cutler of the Savvy Musician posted some of the statistics in VanWaeyenberghe’s study here (posted below for convenience):

  • There are just 18 American orchestras with a 52-week schedule.  Around 60 work 40+ weeks per year.
  • Between these 60 groups, there are circa 250 full-time openings per year total, all instruments.  The most openings were in 1986 (328), and the least in 2006 (192).  The number of advertised jobs is trending downward*.
  • Not all spots are awarded to newcomers—many are offered to those with previous appointments.
  • Some orchestras now favor subs over full-time members, to cut costs.
  • Openings typically have 150-300+ applicants, depending on the instrument.  The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra recently received over 500 audition tapes for a single flute post.
  • Some instruments, such as tuba and harp, typically have 1 or 0 openings in a given year.
  • Each year, music schools graduate 11,000 undergraduate music majors, 4,000 with master’s degrees, and 800 with doctoral degrees.  Around 5,600 are performance majors.  There is no concrete data on the percentage of these students actively pursuing full-time orchestral work.

Maybe the real crisis is one of academics/academic musicians churning out too many music school graduates, which resonates with what David Lowery said “It’s always interesting to see an academic (and/or business consultant) telling artists what is best for them.

Lisa Hirsh of the Iron Tongue stated it more bluntly in a comment on my previous post: “Honestly, Sandow has no incentive for doing the work himself, because he makes money from talking about crises and new models.” Which is pretty much Lowery’s take on the tech industry and academics being the ones to push the new digital technologies which are giving such a low return to the artists (if any).

Since education is also just as prone to the Cost Disease (which is a favorite trope of the “Classical Music is Dying” group), I wonder how much pressure is being put on music schools to stay relevant and how much of that is starting to drive all the new entrepreneurial programs (and others) we’re seeing crop up in music conservatories.

I’m just still waiting for the backlash from non-classical musicians, who are already seeing a steady decline in their revenue, once the number of “out of work” classical musicians start flooding the local and popular music markets.

This doesn’t even address the issue of whose music to teach!

4 thoughts on “The State of Music Education

  1. In regard to the current state of music education from the perspectives of music teacher educators focusing on higher education and implications for K-12 music teaching and learning you might be interested in looking at the research and topics that will be discussed at the upcoming Symposium on Music Teacher Education. The theme for this year is “Navigating Crossroads” :


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