Saturday, June 16, 2018

from The Music Salon blog, on the extremely low odds that you'll be a career soloist musician

I used to do a lot of concerts with a very fine flute-player. He was working hard at orchestral excerpts, preparing himself for an audition for an orchestral position. He mentioned to me that around two hundred flute-players applied for every opening. He did eventually win the principal flute position in the local orchestra and he has been there ever since (about twenty-five years). The best musicians, who also persevere, for years if necessary, do often win orchestral positions, but if you just review the numbers you will see that the vast majority simply will not. There are too many aspiring musicians graduating from music schools and too few orchestras to absorb them. There is, in other words, a permanent disparity between jobs and those who want them.

What keeps this Ferris Wheel turning is the passion that attracts people to music. Music is a transcendental art form that rises above all the trials and tribulations in this world. It is a perennial comfort and inspiration. But it is also a particularly difficult career to pursue and one that for most people, will inevitably end in failure. Young musicians really deserve the respect of being told the odds. If you are a flute-player the odds of your winning any one audition might be 200 to 1. But even if you reconcile yourself to doing 200 auditions, this is still no guarantee that you will win a position.

If your career choice involves being a soloist, then the odds are much worse!
For example, my career choice was basically "international guitar virtuoso" and while I did pretty well--few guitarists get multiple opportunities for nation-wide broadcasts of their performances of major concertos with well-known orchestras--the reality was and is that there are perhaps five guitarists in the world at any given time who have prosperous careers as soloists. All the rest eke out a living by teaching. [emphases added]

And THAT gets at Paul Hindemith's stern rebuke to American musical education from A Composer's World: Horizons and Limitations. Now I know plenty of people don't like Hindemith's music if they even know who he is, and plenty of people who do know who he is don't like him for various other reasons, but in terms of his critique of American musical educational culture it seems that the last half century has borne out at least the possibility that he had a point.  If we have had an educational system that favored music education in terms of creating teachers who make teachers or music education in terms of advocating that the people who study do so in order to become vocationally employed in the realm of study then maybe ... maybe that's a problem.  I don't think Hindemith was wrong to argue that we should educate as many people as possible in music so that amateur music-making can create musical cultures. 

As irascible and cranky as the commentary brigade at the site can be Slipped Disc seems good at highlighting strange things such as ...

If 190 flutists applied for audition, a mere fifty of those played and not a single one of them was hired then shouldn't this be front and center to actual and prospective music students in the higher education systems of the West?

It's the thing, looking back, that literally never came up when I was studying music coursework, there was not a discussion of how these people actually paid their bills. 


CoffeeMatt said...

"It's the thing, looking back, that literally never came up when I was studying music coursework"

Same experience here. Pretty much zilch beyond really vague comments like "making it as a soloist is difficult".

Later, working for the university itself for over ten years, I came to conclude that all these administrators and professors (as wonderful of people as many of them are) are complicit in this deception for the sake of keeping their jobs and lives intact. If enrollment drops, they will quite literally be out on the street. They are deeply incentivized to keep the lie alive. At every layer, people want it to be true so badly.

My eyes were opened when, upon graduating and applying to the master's program, I took the first class on research and writing. We spent a lot of time in the library and I would see stacks of the Chronicle of Higher Education near one of the study tables. On a whim, I decided to look through the last 12 issues of job postings. I realized that within all of the Western world, there were a grand total of three openings for musicologists that year, all being fought over by a slew Ph.D.s with multiple books under their belts. But such as exercise was not part of the curriculum.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

that makes me even more grateful I didn't go down the academic route.