For musicians, job market hits sour note

At the Undergraduate Career Services building Monday night, about 25 students gathered as they would for most other career panels, grabbing bags of chips on their way in, some with notebooks and pens in hand.

The few students donning suits were dressed to impress — not in typical Brooks Brothers ensembles — but formal a cappella-style tailcoats.

The panelists, after all, were not investment bankers or consultants but rather a motley musical quartet: an organist, a flautist, a singer and one musical jack-of-all trades — all alumni speaking at UCS’s “Careers in Music” panel.

Yale’s UCS is well known on campus for its advising resources in professional fields such as law, medicine and, most notably, finance. But what about students who prefer eighth notes to bank notes or orchestration to litigation?

For undergraduate music majors, career choices are diverse but by no means easy grabs. Whether it is performing, composing or conducting, classical musicians at Yale hoping to pursue careers in music said UCS and the Department of Music could do more to help students get jobs out of college. While the music industry, with its emphasis on academia, does not always lend itself to career counseling, students agreed that opportunities for networking and internships — beyond a Yale degree on which to fall back — are key for musical success.

carnegie hall, not wall street

Even though student demand for careers in music is smaller than for other careers, Assistant Dean of Yale College and UCS Director Philip Jones said in an e-mail it is “extremely important” for UCS to provide music-related services, such as Monday’s panel, at which the four alumni discussed how they had arrived at their careers and offered students advice on finding similar success in music. UCS offers summer internships in music, for example, and has an adviser specifically for careers in the arts, he said.

Nonetheless, in an unpredictable industry and amid a struggling national economy, students said they could use more help from UCS as well as the Music Department as they consider life after college.

Music major Wen Yu Ho ’10, a conductor for the Jonathan Edwards Chamber Players, acknowledged UCS’ efforts to advise music majors, saying Jones had met with Ho and other music majors earlier this year.

Still, he said UCS could expand its options for music internships, particularly for conductors. Ho said he hopes UCS will increase its summer offerings by adding such options as internships with community orchestras or music education programs for kids.

Ryan Harper ’10 — a pianist, guitar player and music major who composes both classical and indie-rock music — said he is “definitely getting support from Yale,” especially from the Music Department, which he said offers help with portfolio and audition preparation. Although Harper participated in a music internship through UCS’s Bulldogs by the Bay program in San Francisco, he said career counseling for music-based professions after college could be improved.

“I would see the one gap being UCS, in terms of jobs that you can get straight out of undergraduate without going into masters,” Harper said.

UCS could also invite representatives from music schools or orchestras just as it brings corporate representatives for students interested in consulting or investment banking, suggested violinist Kensho Watanabe ’09, who is a music and biology double major.

But the Music Department too could enhance its career advising, acknowledged professor Craig Wright, who teaches the popular lecture “Listening to Music.” Wright said he thinks the Department of Music, while successful in helping to prepare students for graduate programs in music, could do a better job of trying to help senior music majors who want to find jobs right after graduation.

“The Music Department should probably use its contacts out in the music profession to develop contacts for these young people coming on the job market,” he said.

STARVING ARTISTS?

Perhaps the nature of musical professions simply does not lend itself to typical career advising, said composer, pianist and music major Stephen Feigenbaum ’11, who said he plans “100 percent” on a career in music.

For one thing, Feigenbaum said, a graduate degree in music is all but required for a serious music career. Indeed, three of the four panelists Monday night had master’s degrees in music. Many music majors, then, plan to stay in academia after graduation, rather than immediately jumping into the workforce.

But even after graduate school, getting a job in some fields of music is not so much based on paper resumes but on the merits of playing, practice and networking, Feigenbaum explained.

Watanabe put it succinctly: “You have to do it yourself.”

Panel members on Monday night echoed this idea, stressing persistence, networking, marketing and diversifying employment options.

Students stressed the importance of having a back-up career plan since professional musical gigs are often short-term and difficult to nab.

For one, Jones said in an e-mail, careers in music need not be limited to performance, composition and conducting. He offered, as examples, production and recording, concert promotion, organizing tours and festivals, marketing and advertising, and music journalism. Helping students to see beyond the most obvious options, he said, is central to the role UCS plays for music students.

Mulling over career prospects — and the prospect of a career itself — music major Dan Schlosberg ’10 said six-hour listening lists for music classes are a joy for the pianist, composer and conductor. But securing a career doing what he loves is more difficult to do. Especially with a stumbling economy, Schlosberg said, performance, composition and conducting are nearly impossible as exclusive careers.

“For composers, it’s almost a given that you’re going to have to teach at some point,” he said, adding, “The age is past where you can just be a performer.”

This alternate career path is sometimes an entirely different discipline. Many music students at Yale choose to double major, said Department of Music professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Kathryn Alexander in an e-mail.

“I have a classic musician’s dilemma,” said Ho, a double major in music and international studies, regarding the choice between getting a high-paying job or pursuing his passion at the risk of becoming a “starving musician.”

This interdisciplinary approach to music and education in general is the precise reason several music majors said they had chosen to come to Yale, rather than a music conservatory.

“Having a liberal arts degree definitely doesn’t hurt,” Schlosberg said. “If something were to happen and my hands were to be chopped off …” The pianist trailed off, laughing.

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