I have been vindicated by a recent article that tracked down certain graduates from a certain conservatory-type institution. The article explained that the music profession is a horribly competitive one, and that many people make it, while many don’t. I’ll proceed now in a direction that the article does not and ask, “Why is this?”
And, of course, the answer is complicated. But the article does identify the fact that you have to create your niche today, not just seek to fill an existing one. The next question is, “How?” And the answer, of course, is complicated. But it has something to do with providing something that people want and need. And in some ways, it’s about telling people that they want or need this or that. Therefore, it’s complicated.
Many organ teaching posts have opened up in recent months, and the flurry of activity is fascinating to watch from my quiet perch. When I was growing up, the excellent schools of music had artist-teachers, not professors. The doctored professor was the exception, and the title “Dr.” generated a level of respect that not everyone knew quite how to muster. In only ten years or so, all that changed, and the Drs. started pouring out of schools, looking for jobs they now needed a doctorate to get. I was one such person. The tenure track, rather than excellence in the artistry, became the goal. And ASSESSMENT is now the buzzword of the century. Now, another twenty or so years later, I’m seeing the doctored/non-doctored trend reverse again. Non-doctored artists are picking up some positions again. When you consider that all this has happened in only about 30 years, it’s REALLY fast.
It’s time to come clean in job hunting. It’s time to stop parroting the platitudes that have made the world squeak around for years, talking about how wonderful you are and how committed you are to good teaching. Here’s what I’d say now, if I were job hunting:
I haven't studied in Europe. I haven't performed in all the huge venues. I haven't attended the big conservatories and famous schools. I haven't memorized the complete works of anyone. I haven't performed in all 50 states. I'm not under management. I am past the age and weight of winning beauty contests. I don't have full-page ads for my accomplishments and announcements. And I have never won an organ competition.
I HAVE worked my you-know-what off, received good training, and am passing that training along. I HAVE paid attention to real life and have that experience to offer. I DO play well. I DO dress properly. I DO know how to address audiences. I DO know how to behave when things go wrong. I DO know how to manage practice time. I DO NOT require two to three days on a recital instrument before I perform, then charge thousands of dollars for it. I DO respond to every question, every email, every person, every request. I DO NOT miss deadlines. I AM available and accessible. I AM collegial. I AM collaborative. I CAN perform minor organ repairs and save a lot of money. I WILL oversee organ maintenance, and I will not tolerate sloppiness or the blame game. I WILL improve students’ techniques. I WILL be a student's greatest ally and mentor. I WILL teach students far beyond the studio room, by example. And I WON'T accept your big job and then leave soon thereafter for greener pastures -- unless there's something you’re not telling me.
And I HAVE won the audience prize.