Ships that have sailed

sailing shipThere are more people than ever with DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degrees now. The degree was designed for teaching as a professor in a post-secondary institution. However, there are fewer full-time jobs in academia these days, as many schools are getting by with part-time teachers. Many people with advanced degrees are taking these part-time, adjunct positions, trying to piece together voice teaching gigs to make a living, most with the hope of eventually landing a tenure-track job. Meanwhile the tenure-track arts professorship is disappearing.

Other formulas for building a career in classical music are also harder than they used to be. Getting a performance degree or three, completing a young artist program, going to Germany for an opera audition tour, or winning competitions to impress management, are still constantly talked about in online forums as if they are viable. For most people, they are not. However, the internet has allowed a lot more people to pretend to be in the game, working these old systems, even while those opportunities are dying away or becoming ever more competitive.

Most of the smart young people know these things. The people who are not so young, but have already invested years of labor, dollars, and lost income in order to go through the education and training mills, may or may not allow themselves to see that the old goals may be irrelevant now. Having moved on from the academic model to a private enterprise/ entrepreneurial/ hybrid model for making a professional life, I watch the pain and wonder how to help. That means I keep my mouth shut most of the time; speak when spoken to; answer when they are ready to ask. And then my answer is some form of “I don’t know” anyway.

A life in music is a wonderful, beautiful, satisfying thing. But trying to make something impossible happen is obviously not a great plan. How can we help our musical friends to open to other possibilities? There is talent and money going to waste when people chase dead dreams. How do we teach or retrain people to look for and create opportunities and careers?

4 Replies to “Ships that have sailed”

  1. Thank you Brian!

    Yes, we really don’t have to just compete for the same opportunities, we just have to create our own new opportunities. There are 7.6 BILLION PEOPLE in the world and growing. There could never be enough of us to actually entertain or serve them all as long as we stay open to creating new possibilities, new forms of education or “life-long learning,” new forms of entertainment, and more.

    Too many of us are still stuck in the mindset where we expect life to work like it did in the last century. We were told to just simply go to school, get good grades, and expect to get the job we want. Thanks to this mental conditioning, even though the jobs no longer exist in the same numbers, too many of us travail away by applying mindlessly to every open position. Let alone getting hired, even getting a personalized email back thanking you for your application can be akin to winning the lottery. Of course, if you call out the BS for what it is, people in privileged positions will simply say, “You just need to be more curious,” or “Your Curriculum Vitae just needs to tell more of a true story.” Just imagine the material George Carlin could create out of such non-sequiturs if he were alive today.

    The higher education industry may be one hell of a house of cards, but that’s ok! Let it be. While many maintain their aspirational focus on getting to the tippy top of that pyramid (AKA get a tenure track or high-up admin job) in order to simply teach what’s already being taught, there is massive opportunity to be had in simply teaching more of what’s not being taught that we still need to learn. We don’t have to “make it” in higher education; we just have to be open to making new forms of “higher learning” and “higher artistry.” If you like this kind of thinking better, check out my recent blog post titled, “Did my Doctorate Prepare me for Success Beyond the Academy?”:

    I must say, that for having three degrees in singing and having taken part in many singing programs and much more over the years, NEVER did I learn WHY I sing! But now I’m not only figuring that out, I figured out that helping others figure this out captures some of the true essence that drove me to originally want to just be a voice professor. But now I’m teaching it on a deeper level in ways that are not taught and it’s way more rewarding…and the greatest secret is that anyone else can do likewise!

    One of my teachers used to always say, “One closed door means another door is open…” I always managed to find open doors, but then I discovered that building my own doors can be way faster and way more fulfilling as an artist and human. So if the doors don’t open for you, just imagine what your own ideal door that you actually want to go through looks like and start figuring out how to build it as you see fit!

    Brian Witkowski, DMA

  2. Thank you for this timely article. So many of my peers have indebted themselves into 2040 going for degrees that they cannot pay off with adjunct positions alone. Many independent teachers are expertly qualified in their fields, and still choose not to go the academic employment path for various reasons. The reality, from my 30 years teaching/performing perspective, is that Western Classical Specialization, though still prominent in some areas, has lost a great deal of its vocal pursuance to the popularity of other genres. What used to be considered the “only way”, has now met its competition. Because these other genres are not generally part of “voice programs”, many would-be voice majors are studying with …you got it…independent teachers. Our Voice Major programs could do with a national overhaul. Many colleges are catching on, adding vocal jazz, R&B and even separate Musical Theatre Voice specialization within their voice degrees. Until our collegiate world, as a whole, embraces these different genres as equals, the number of voice majors actually committing to classical voice study will continue to diminish and with them, the tenured Voice Teaching positions. Expand the programs to include more versatile vocal performance focuses, and I am confident there will be more tenured positions available.

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