Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Ethical Elephant

During my junior year of college, one of the full-time faculty members sat all four(!) music majors down and advised us about the future. Of course, we were all nervous about our prospects for continuing on, finding a job, making a living (unfortunately finding a job is not synonymous with making a living), etc. His advice certainly did not mitigate this fear. Instead, he warned, "Don't go to grad school unless you absolutely have to. It's just not worth it. It's a lot of money and it's almost impossible to get a professorship these days." I remember that at the time, in my youthful innocence and idealism, I felt slightly resentful of this comment. What did he mean there weren't jobs?! Surely if I worked really hard and wrote good music I would be able to get a job somewhere!

Looking back, I'm impressed that my professor was actually willing to talk about something that so many others in academia tend to avoid. I now realize exactly what motivated my professor to give this speech and I'm much more appreciative of his honesty and integrity. What motivated him was a deep sense of moral obligation--not to his field, but to his students. The academic job market is pretty brutal (especially in this economy) and in many ways his assessment of the situation is accurate. Occasionally you will hear someone refer to the academic job market as a Ponzi scheme. To be fair, this is an exaggeration and an oversimplification. Many graduate students do know what they are getting into (in terms of student loans, job prospects, etc.). Many are happy just to further their education in the hope that they will be able to make it work one way or another, and graduate schools should not be blamed for accepting these students. That said, the number of graduating doctoral students far outstrips the number of available academic teaching jobs. It is a shame to see so many individuals--individuals who may be unaware of all of the details--leaving school potentially with mountains of debt and few financial opportunities.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Keeping the Programming Fresh: NOI's "New Lights"

Last week, I attended the National Orchestral Institute's "New Lights" concert at the University of Maryland. The concert featured works by Bach, CagePärt, and Moravec, as well as improvisational interludes—improvisations that were performed both by the performers and by the audience members. The concert was seamless with each piece fading into the next and ran for a manageable 45-minute stretch. It was, without a doubt, one of the most effective ways of freshening up programming that I've witnessed in a long time.