Career Models Through Music History: CMS Summit Presentation

Jenny Lind is just one of the performers from history that today's students can learn from.

On June 4, I will be giving a TED-style presentation at the CMS Summit: 21st-Century Music School Design, on the topic, "Career Models Through Music History." There are so many other wonderful presenters and attendees, I am honored to be able to speak for a short time about my two passions: music history and music entrepreneurship. Keep an eye out for resources produced by the summit team, which is directed by David Cutler at the University of South Carolina. After the event, they will be producing a content-packed pdf booklet as well as videos of all the presentations. Here is the summary of my contribution to the summit.

Career Models Through Music History

The music history classroom can be a place where music students learn not only about the history of genres, styles, and composers, but how to design their career philosophies, connecting liberal arts learning to the development of professional skills. One key way to do this is to study music career models and their development through history, especially after the French Revolution of 1789.

Studying music career models in the music history classroom:

  • Allows students to become “unstuck” from the tyranny of the present and apply to their own careers the knowledge, experiences, and reflective insights of professional musicians throughout history.
  • Prepares students for the reality of a career in music by realizing that every significant composer or performer in history was either a great self-promoter (think: Wagner, Liszt, or Stravinsky), or had champions (think: Musorgsky or Jenny Lind).
  • Makes the study of history more relevant to today’s students, and leverages a course that is already on the books, rather than adding new credits.

A look at music history will show that musicians have been successful entrepreneurs in a field that has been historically suspicious or even outright hostile to commercialism. More importantly, it will show our students that they too can succeed in their music careers. This is true not only for composers, but all primary music degree areas, including performers, music educators, and arts administrators.

Here are three ways you can begin emphasizing career models in your music history classroom. Each of the following ways is positioned to lead from analysis of an example to personal reflection.

1.    Foreground the history of performers. Start with a few well-known examples such as Jenny Lind or the Kronos Quartet. Have students project what kind of performance career will be relevant in five, ten, and fifty years.

2.    Convert your preexisting lectures by adding a question: “What is the value proposition of this composer/performer?” Have students reflect by imagining they have to apply the composer’s career model to their own careers.

3.    Study the cultural values commonly used to promote composers and performers. Some common artistic values: innovation, tradition, spirituality, fearless exploration, anti-commercialism. Ask students to describe which values align with their own artistic goals.