Last week’s chatter hit a chord with a number of readers about how we teach music to composers. One of the issues that struck me was how some feel that our schools are sorely neglecting students in how they prepare them for life after the classroom. Composers, in particular, come out socially challenged, often unable to effectively promote their music or to even speak about it. Whether it is a pre-concert talk, a classroom, or a cocktail party, I cannot tell you how many times I personally have seen a colleague at a loss, especially when trying to answer the question, “What kind of music do you write?”
So is this endemic to the nature of our work? Or is it the product of how we evolve into our profession? Personally I place much responsibility on our educational institutions. While performers practice how to face auditions, teach pedagogy courses, and learn how to deal with contractors for gigs, many composers come out of schools with chops, but no clue as to how to use them to make some kind of living—from presenting concerts to getting performances to landing a job.
When I was in school, I and others received incredible guidance and support of our quests to “be a composer.” However, we did not learn about interviews, how to write a letter of inquiry, or any of the other detailed tasks associated with being a professional in music at any level. Only through each other did we find out about how or why to join ASCAP or BMI, AMC, MTC, ACF, MTNA, and other organizations. Even now, when I visit music schools, whether it be a conservatory or a university, when I ask students if they know of these organizations, I am lucky if I get a show of 15% of students raising their hands.
So, why is this a glaring omission in our training? Regardless of one’s plans, composers must interact with the world beyond the studio or practice room. Even those who decide to not become professionals need to know about many of these items if they are to ever express their art to a wider audience beyond their living rooms. Being a musician is an intense challenge, both at an artistic and pragmatic level. So shouldn’t we be honest with students and give them the means to be resourceful in how they navigate both notes and life? Why can’t we at least give them a fighting chance?