But Can You Balance a Checkbook?

Yesterday I attended an in-depth session on “Higher Education and the Real World of Practice,” two topics near and dear to me. The session, which included both small-group discussions and germane spiels from recognized experts, focused on training university and (especially) conservatory graduates with business acumen, administrative skills, and other “peripheral” skills besides playing technique, theory, and music history. Apparently 85 percent of music majors end up working “in the field,” although fewer than five percent are full-time professional performers. These are some pretty telling figures: Most music students will be doing something in music—teaching, administration, and so forth—but not what they went to college to do.

What I don’t know is how these numbers vary by institution. My time has been spent mostly in large-ish public universities, including two Big Ten schools. I wonder if the percentages I’ve seen are representative of such factories—or, by the same token, of conservatories, liberal arts schools, or Ivy League joints. Anecdotally, at least, they seem reflective of my own experience and my friends’.

I’m speaking conjecturally here, but if the session’s statistics are valid across the board, I have to wonder how the conservatories, which equip their graduates with (maybe) the best specialized training and (maybe) the poorest generalized training, can justify their programs. Practicing eight hours a day is a great way to become a virtuoso, but it’s also a great way to develop an eating disorder, and apparently it makes you only incrementally more likely to sustain a career as a full-time soloist or orchestral player than someone who only put in four hours per day. Conservatory training continues to carry a great deal of prestige among musicians; however, if most conservatory graduates (like most other music graduates) aren’t putting food on the table by playing three hundred nights a year, maybe their curricula should be reevaluated accordingly. In any case, more preparation to handle logistical and managerial duties can only help music students no matter where they’re enrolled.