Back to School. Or Not.

Back to School. Or Not.

Instead of jumping right into a graduate program after finishing my bachelor’s degree, I felt a little world experience might do me well. Oh, trust me, I was going to continue my education. I just needed a break for a year or so to really figure some things out. So, what’s a recent grad with a BM in composition to do? Teach English in Japan, duh. Apparently, all you needed was a bachelor’s degree in anything and twelve years in a school system where English was the primary language. Check. I interviewed, got hired, and had one of the best years of my life. I’ll tell you about it sometime.

After my little stint in Japan where I “found myself,” I went through with the idea I’d had all along: go back to school. Getting my master’s degree was always something I wanted to do and I figured I’d follow that up with a Ph.D. because…that’s what you do. Finish my degrees, get an adjunct position at a small school, then find a more permanent position at a larger school—the road to tenureville. Most of my composerly friends are on this track and I wish them well as their searches for the ultimate cushions continue (of course, a visit to the jobs wiki always reminds me of We need teachers and teachers need students. This model works and it will continue to work as long as we can keep the money rolling in. But after witnessing the economic difficulties of the past few years, I realized that going through the motions to acquire a teaching position was a gamble not deserving of my dice. Instead, I decided to finish up the master’s degree I started and dive right into the solid and stable world of the private sector.

You see, I had a revelation. Some people love music theory; they love talking about it, teaching it, incorporating it into dinner conversation. And I like it, too—to a certain extent. If you’re lucky enough to be hired as a professor of theory/composition out in the boondoggles of New Hampshire, most of your job will consist of teaching music theory (maybe a composition lesson here and there). If that gets you up in the morning, then you go girl. For me, I couldn’t see myself teaching music theory for the next 30 years. So, this past spring, I did some research into what I thought would yield a big bag of nothing, but actually ended up introducing me to a completely different world.

I wanted to move to New York City for the obvious reasons—sex, drugs, and contemporary classical music. A lot of people have been seeing the whole new music scene as too “coast-centric” (including a passionately frustrated woman at the New Music USA town hall in Chicago—see SoundNotion 16: Blasphemer) and, for the most part, it is. This is the way things are, though. While there are burgeoning arts scenes popping up around the country, the ties to San Francisco and New York won’t be undone. It only made sense to look for my future in the places I knew it would be. After about thirty seconds of online sleuthing, I found several sites teeming with arts jobs specific to New York City. I applied for a couple things and, within a week and half, found myself accepting an internship at 21C Media Group, a classical music publicity firm. The “21Cers” are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I imagine I’ll keep in touch with all of them for years to come. This is a far cry from my early, unsubstantiated impressions of the “professional” classical music world. The relationships I’ve forged are priceless and the opportunities for artistic collaboration are abundant. I served wine at a CD release party for Alessio Bax on my first day of work. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of pitching special projects, taking care of digital content, delving into the mind of a classical music writer (ongoing project), and getting to know some highly respectable performers (I love schmoozing.) Living in New York, working with top-notch artists and industry professionals, regularly attending concerts of all kinds; it’s a life I never presumed I’d have. I was university-bound.

So, for the composers and performers out there who think the university path is the only way to securing a job in the field, I’d urge you to entertain a few more options. A career in music marketing, public relations, management, booking, community outreach, educational outreach, journalism, advocacy, development, institutional giving and creative services, digital content and strategy, or artistic planning will keep you busy and still give you time to pursue your own creative ventures. Needless to say, I haven’t looked back—probably because I’m too busy having fun not being in school.

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5 thoughts on “Back to School. Or Not.

  1. Philipp Blume

    Boondoggle, term for a scheme that wastes time and money

    What I think you may have meant was:

    boondocks [ˈbuːnˌdɒks]
    pl n
    the US and Canadian slang
    1. wild, desolate, or uninhabitable country
    2. a remote rural or provincial area. Sometimes shortened to the Boonies

    — unless, of course, you’re trying to make a very snide comment about education in New Hampshire.

  2. Jess Ryan

    As a music undergrad just about to wrap up my first degree, I’ve been struggling with what to do next. I think grad school is often the “safe” option, but it sounds like you’re living the dream, man. Good for you and thanks for this insight.

    1. Noam Reed

      Too busy having fun not being in school? As a young composer, the most fun I can have is learning my infinitely complex and creative craft- something 4 years of hoo-ha undergrad follies can’t possibly have prepared me for. The only way I expect to succeed to my fullest capacity is to utterly immerse myself in composition, and to force that by staying in school pursing a masters. Considering all the opportunities and support a decent program will give a student composer, and seeing as your only responsibility is to make up music, I’d be damned trying to swim in the real world while mastering one of the world’s oldest artistic crafts.

  3. Rachel Matz

    I don’t think this article intends to sway people one way or the other in terms of going back to school – I think the author intends to encourage students to weigh their options. School is expensive, and it should be a deliberate decision. It should not be done out of a feeling of obligation or safety; rather, it should be fueled by a desire to refine one’s craft and career path. However, as the author has seen, there are other ways to refine your career path.
    It seems like many music students are afraid of having wasted “all that time practicing.” I disagree with this notion. Everything you do shapes you as a person and contributes to the things you do. Dedication and discipline to anything will help you be dedicated and disciplined in your career, no matter what it is.


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