Considered Grad School! Panicked! Then… Didn’t Apply After All!

The whole self-imposed 8 hour work days lasted a bit longer this week,
I actually made it to Wednesday before it fell apart. So I guess I’m
making progress,… of a sort. Friday was a complete write-off though
as a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while was visiting from Montreal
where he’s working towards a master’s degree in jazz performance.

I was recently wrestling with the idea of applying to grad schools myself
but, not really wanting to go back to school I kind of put the issue on
the back burners. So far back, in fact, that I didn’t even bother to check
the application deadlines, which I’ve just figured out have pretty much
all passed. But then my friend points out that if I act fast I can apply
for the school he’s attending, so… I panic, arrange to have my tran-
scripts sent, and begin working on my application. All the while, I’m
thinking Why am I doing this!? and…Why do people get a
graduate degree in jazz performance anyways!?

The undergraduate degree I can understand, sure, most professionals
would agree that you’d get more out of spending your tuition money on
lessons with your favourite player in New York City for a few years but
the fact is you’re still just a teenager at that point. You’re not even sure
who you are yet never mind whether or not a career in music is
what you should do. All you know at that age is that you’d really like to
do it and going to university seems like a great way to keep learning
and at the same time legitimize your chosen profession.

The graduate degree though, that’s something else entirely. I’m sure
some musicians who go back to school after playing professionally for a
while are doing it solely for their musical experience and growth.
But for most musicians who have faced the difficult realities of making
a “living” in this business, getting that degree is seen as one of the few
ways to get some financial stability in their lives by using it to land a
steady teaching gig.

And believe me, at this point I wouldn’t fault anyone for trying to get
a little more financial security, I just question two things:

1.) If, like me, you have no desire to teach professionally, is security
worth sacrificing your time on something you’re not passionate about?
2.) How stable is the average music school’s business model when
graduates have to return to school so that they can teach others to go
out and do what there wasn’t enough demand for for them to do in the
first place?

My answers? : 1.) no 2.) not very

If you’re fortunate to feel real passion for anything in life it shouldn’t be
squandered for anything, … except possibly another passion or dream.

As far as teaching music is concerned, there’s already an abundance of
degree laden jazz musicians out there competing for all the same gigs.
Once again, supply and demand. I think the end of the IAJE may be a
pretty clear indicator that the business of jazz education has peaked
now with more “qualified” teachers than actual positions, or interested
students for that matter. In the words of Kenny Werner “It’s a good
thing jazz isn’t popular, or else there’d be no one left to teach it!”

Now I’m sure at this point you’ve noticed I haven’t offered any
alternative ways for musicians to make a decent living and still be
musicians. I don’t have the answer because I think the answer will
be different for everyone. But how about this for starters? Let’s get
one more teacher in all those music schools whose sole job it is to work
with 3rd or 4th year students on what it means to be a professional,
defining what direction you want to take with music and coming up
with a five year plan to help them realize those dreams.
I don’t know, just a thought.

Basically, this post is just me rationalizing to myself why once again I
am choosing the path of least stability. I guess I’m still an optimist
who thinks he can have his cake and eat it too.

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