Are Universities Doing Enough to Train Performers to be Teaching Artists?

Posted by Dan Trahey, Mar 12, 2014 2 comments

Dan Trahey Dan Trahey

My colleague, educator, lecturer, and etymologist, Eric Booth, defines a teaching artist as “a practicing professional artist with the complementary skills, curiosities, and sensibilities of an educator, who can effectively engage a wide range of people in learning experiences in, through, and about the arts.”

At the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program we define our staff as Teaching Artists and look for three qualities:

1. Effective Pedagogy

2. High Level Artistry

3. Ability to ADVOCATE for the musical art form.

My mission in the following paragraphs is to create a series of arguments that may lead to other questions growing out of the query - “Are universities doing enough to train performers to be Teaching Artists?”

1. The real question should be:  “How can we develop teaching artists starting in early elementary school.” At OrchKids, it is our belief that the student who knows 3 notes can teach the student who knows 0 notes. Although skilled and passionate teaching should always be present, it takes early immersion in teaching artistry for an individual to really own the profession.  Another key component is teaching the children that they are “beating the drum” for support of music and music education every time they step into the classroom or on the stage.

2. The teachers I like most to hire are those that are artistically AND educationally driven. It is rare to find these folks. At the Peabody Conservatory faculty members such as Wind Ensemble and Music Education Director Harlan Parker demand both but many of the studio teachers look down upon music education candidates. The most interesting thing to me is that the teacher who is teaching them is a teacher. You would think they would want to prepare their students formally for the valuable life of a performer AND teacher.

3. Most music education programs are solely geared towards preparing students for public school teaching. It is time for these programs (there are some!) to wake up and start expanding their ideas of what music education is.  We need people in our field that are trained how to teach private lessons, teach in community music schools, have the ability to initiate music education programs, and that can expand preexisting non profit music education offerings in orchestras.

4. The orchestral model needs to change. In order for the orchestral art form to exist in all but the elite and populous cities in this world, we must demand more from our musicians. This is already the case of music directors in the United States.

They are auditioned on their artistry, ability to communicate the symphonic tradition to varied audiences, and be the spokesperson for music in their community. (We happen to have the ideal one in Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director, Marin Alsop)  The musicians and orchestras must take more responsibility for the education, promotion, and diversification and expansion of the audience base. This can only happen if our orchestral musicians are given the skills of a teaching artist.

So, back to the original question – Are universities doing enough to train performers to be teaching artists?   Although there are exceptions, my sense is nobody in the system is doing enough. Not the individual teachers, the professional organizations, the elementary schools, community music schools, nor the universities and conservatories   There should be a concern not only for the artistry of the university student, but also for that student’s ability to earn a living.   Learning how to be a teaching artist improves the odds for being a successful, active musician/teacher, helps to sustain the artform for the future, and contributes significantly to the health and well-being of the community.

2 responses for Are Universities Doing Enough to Train Performers to be Teaching Artists?


March 26, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Thanks for this article, Dan. I think it raises lots of excellent points. I'll share with you a little of my experiences of the last 9 months, if I may, with a view to show how I fall quite neatly into the scenario you describe.

I graduated with a DMA last May, and now find myself fortunate to be employed as a fulltime music director for a large national non-profit, helping run local after-school music programs (targeted at a particular socio-economic demographic), regional music events, and with lots of performing opportunities built into the position.
I had pursued a DMA with sincere aspirations of teaching college-level students, and found myself quite unprepared for the task that faced me on arrival at this, essentially K-12 position. While I had experience teaching younger students privately, the challenges of coordinating my own "program" were initially quite intimidating. Handling classroom discipline, motivating beginners, finding enough instruments to match the interest, recruiting staff/volunteers, were just some of the tasks that I had never had to think about in the safety of my collegiate studio teaching assistantship. On paper I was more than qualified for the job description - teach, recruit, manage; in practice, the differences of coordinating community-music compared to what I had studied/practiced in academic music fields, were significant.

The rewards, however, are equally immense. Working with students that may have no other access to music instruction is a privilege as a well as a great responsibility. My desire to educate has never had a more necessary audience. With our programs, we seek to inspire individual growth and community change. That is a huge and significant goal, and one that I am glad to put my performance expertise towards.

So what might have better prepared ME for a role like this? A Music Education degree might have given me more time in front of the right age-group, more book smarts about childhood education, more access to relevant resources, but I would have probably ended up in the public-school system. Required/voluntary outreach would certainly have opened my eyes to the non-school opportunities to teach. More open discussions regarding non-private lesson teaching. More exposure to entrepreneurship schemes, grant-writing advice, leadership training. All of these would be beneficial to the performer.
Overall, my experience supports Dan's argument, and has also been that colleges train musicians to be either performers, or public-school educators, but not sufficiently to be an artist with feet on both sides of the line - performing exceptionally, but teaching, and creating, with just as fierce determination and expertise.

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September 23, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Great article and wonderful points! This is exactly why I've pursued both performance (BM and MM) degrees as well as a Music Education degree (PhD). Essentially universities/conservatories should have a pedagogy option for teaching artists where they get to focus on both sets of skills, yet this program is rare/non-existent. I suppose one day I will just have to find a university who wants to fill a void in education/performance and I'll create a program that marries both fields. Until that day folks will need to choose the path that best fits them and forge on to set an example to other teaching artists.

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