Disclaimer: this article was originally written for the debut episode of MuseCast, a new talk-show styled program at the Cleveland Institute of Music that debut in November 2016. I have since edited some of the content. This post is based solely on my personal experiences.
At the Cleveland Institute of Music, students are provided with plenty of wonderful opportunities to grow as musicians. Of course, we grumble about the coursework, the lack of practice rooms, and the cost of the education. But are we looking at the big picture?
I was at a liberal arts college for my undergraduate studies, and then at CIM for my masters. In between, and right now, I was out in the “real world”, so to speak, making a living as a musician! In a world where the arts are constantly facing defunding, students have to take advantage of all that a conservatory has to offer, beyond education, to stay viable in the “real world”.
Let’s take a look at what CIM provides - world class performers whom we study with; free tickets to a world class orchestra concerts; access to a wealth of musicological expertise at CWRU; and, limitless performance opportunities. As a student, it doesn’t get any better than that. While many students know well (and choose to come to a CIM because of) the high standards of the faculty, few utilize all these advantages. From hearing comments from peers over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that some do not even realize their loss. With the following remarks, I hope to debunk some beliefs, explain why each of the above is useful, and help encourage all students to form some long lasting habits that will be helpful post graduation. This, hopefully, goes beyond just Cleveland and can apply to many conservatory students.
Today, lessons with our teachers should go beyond the instrumental instruction. We should consider our teachers to be mentors, both in performance and in our musical careers, and there is so much more we can learn from them - how to present ourselves, how to market ourselves, and, more so, how to acquire jobs in today’s increasingly crowded music world! They must be doing something right if they have a job…
The Cleveland Orchestra is consistently ranked among the best in the world. In my time at CIM I have gone to countless concerts and expanded my knowledge of orchestral repertoire! Many times I’ve been stunned by colleagues who miss concerts because they need to practice. What better way to learn than to attend a concert? If musicians-in-training do not attend concerts, how can we invite others to watch us perform in the future? These concerts are beyond entertainment; after listening to, for example, the Bach B minor Mass, my knowledge of that piece goes beyond what I can learn from program notes and history books. I can describe the mass of sounds that come my way in Severance Hall, and the looks on the faces of the audience at the end of two hours of music. I become someone who has experienced music outside of a tiny practice room. I have experience that I can talk about with recruiters, conductors, and employers. This goes beyond Cleveland, as well! There are numerous top tiered orchestras within walking distance of a conservatory or college campus.
For every student who enjoys the history class, there is at least one who absolutely detests it. However, I challenge this. History may not change, but musicologists are still making discoveries about music and musicians that may shape interpretations. Musicologists are on the forefront of new music, together with composers, discovering the exciting new soundscapes that are created each day. They are the ambassadors of the musicians. Beyond history, they impart their knowledge of writing. When students, as musicians in training, can write about music, we can also better critique ourselves. We can then justify our tastes in music. And, if all else fails, we can become music reviewers!
Finally, I get to performing. Beyond the studio classes, degree recitals, and masterclasses, many conservatories offers numerous outreach opportunities. At CIM, there is an office that dedicates itself to placing students and faculty in these community performance venues (which was until recently helmed by one passionate staff member!) yet many times concerts were cancelled due to lack of musicians performing. Could it be that students are not taking advantage of these performance opportunities? Be they paid or not, performance opportunities like these are low-risk training grounds, preparing us for possible Carnegie Hall debuts. It frequently gets us up close with the audience and lets us talk with them. It shows us what might or might not work in a concert. It brings music to those who may not be able to go to concerts too! If we are working towards a performance degree, should we not be performing as much as we can?
A conservatory might be an expensive investment, and we do not see the immediate benefits of it, especially when we get our degrees but not a job. But, as students, have we taken advantage of all that is offered, especially at CIM, which can help in our future careers? Stop practicing, get out of your practice room, and do something useful!