Music Ed: A Call for Change

The time is now. This call to action is a collective move toward change for the modern age in Music Education. Here are several critical changes that must take place for the betterment of the students and our industry:

Top music schools in the United States have been hiring ‘famous’ singers for many years, primarily in the hopes of enticing students to enroll in their school.  Hiring said ‘famous singers’ is well and good, yet some, certainly not all, of these hires have very little or no previous teaching experience.

How is it that a student would want to study with a teacher who has little to no previous teaching experience?  Without a solid technique and understanding of how their voice works at an optimal level, a voice student’s prospects for being successful in their business drops dramatically. 

Even in the sports arena there are coaches who have reached the highest levels as players in their sport but do not have the skills needed to coach effectively and yet are expected to do so. The opposite is also true; there are also famous coaches who are incredible teachers and mentors and have won major championships.  There must be a balance between performance and teaching ability if one is going to wear the hat of professor/teacher. 

At the very least, educational institutions should hire those ‘famous singers’ who do have clear and measurable teaching experience and who recognize great teaching and music scholarship as equal partners to that of performance. Wouldn’t this be the ultimate benefit to our students?  Wouldn’t schools make more money because they are producing the best students?

I have spoken with enough voice professors over the past year to know that many schools are immersed in what is described as a “toxic atmosphere”.    

For example:  

  1. Teachers are “stealing’ other teachers” students.  
  2. Instructors are playing political games in order to see their own students obtain the major roles in academic productions or solos in concerts and of course to see their students become competition winners. 
  3. Gossiping and insulting other teachers who may not have the same credentials as they do, is often part of the overall atmosphere.  

We wonder why students sometimes act out in the same or similar way thus fostering a culture which is the antithesis of what music is all about and why our institutions were created.  This culture then carries easily into the professional world.  We learn it in school first. 

Why does it still exist?  One thing I know is that it changes when schools actively adopt “being a good person” as part of their job description as well as encouraging a “working together” atmosphere. 

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Here are my recommendations:

  1. Collective support of all students learning with a general attitude of success for all is imperative, both among students and faculty. The tenure process should include penalties for professors who do not add to the positive culture the Dean, Director, or Department Head wishes to employ.
  2. Voice teachers need to engage in continuing education.  Do we not think we can learn from each other?   Does recruiting students end once one has attained tenure?  One solution might be encouraging everyone to attend CS Music National Conventions, going to as many classes offered as possible. It is staggering to read the extensive list of great classes available to students at the Convention. 
  3. Every music school should help their students find employment. Recently, I learned that a Big Ten school had a 0% placement rate last year for their music school. We must take a hard look at this situation and our involvement in supporting this staggering statistic.  
  4. Every music department and school needs to require all of their music students to take a semester course in music business which includes learning how to create a business plan, understanding branding, marketing, and personal websites.  Whether a person is a music educator or performer, this information is vital.  Frankly put, music students are behind the game when it comes to business success.  
  5. Every music school offering vocal degrees needs to require acting and movement classes as part of their required curriculum.  Vocal performing is not independent of these.  Add dance to this equation and well-equipped artists become the ever popular “triple threat” thus becoming far more desirable in the professional world.
  6. Every music school that offers degrees in music education must teach their future teachers how to teach all voice types and must offer their students experience in the technical needs and aspects of producing a Musical.  
  7. Music Education majors should be teaching lessons in front of and for their primary teachers.  We need to teach Classical Music Appreciation for the Young in colleges. Thus, music education majors could then teach a “Classical Music for Youth” class in high schools and perhaps even younger.  
  8. We need to encourage and support Team Teaching or at least encourage teachers to collaborate to develop all students.  No student should be “yours” and yours alone.  What a concept it is to have everyone in the school take credit for students’ successes.
  9. Teachers need to be encouraged to ask for their colleague’s help when they need it, when they are perplexed by their student(s) and/or are trying to help students grasp concepts they may not be grasping through their primary teacher.  This can include repertoire suggestions, acting, musical, and/or technical aspects.  Joint masterclasses might also be encouraged periodically.  

It is inspiring to hear what happens when team teaching, acting coaching, and the presence of music business classes are being taught at some music schools.  It is inspiring to hear about the academic cultures evolving more positively and hiring practices following suit.  It is necessary to make this a practice world-wide.

Let’s all make education about ‘the student’ rather than ‘the teacher’.  Let’s stop taking students money without giving them the tools to succeed in today’s work force.  We need to change.

Robert Mirshak

Robert Mirshak is President and Founder of Mirshak Artists Management, the classical artist management agency based in New York City whose mission is to make a positive difference in artists careers through work ethic, integrity and passion for the musical arts. He is an advocate for ethics in the music business, and represents international artists on a roster comprised mainly of singers but also of stage directors and conductors. 1173 Second Avenue #313, New York, NY 10065