Despite the economy’s woes, apparently students are undaunted by the pragmatic (ie, financial) challenges of choosing music as a college undergraduate major. This recent Chicago Tribune article on the soaring number of applicants to college music programs and conservatories not only indicates that there are opportunities in music that never before existed – such as video game design, digital music composition, and other new media involving music – but also suggests that the skills of training as a musician may translate to success in other fields.
Here, a quote from the Dean of Oberlin Conservatory, David Stull:
“They know what it means to chase excellence. Musicans have the discipline to work in focus for hours, they can collaborate, they can attain high performance levels in the 10 minutes that count. If you ask a CEO what are the great life skills you need to succeed, it’s a lot of those.”
And this from the Admissions Director of Indiana University School of Music, Townsend Plant:
“Music students – we’ve seen for a long time – exhibit a remarkable set of transferable skills which can be applied to many careers…..They are good at collaborating and building consensus, they’re great at public speaking, they have drive and focus that comes from a real desire to master something. And that’s a remarkable collection of traits that make you successful in many fields.”
Of course, I’m sensitive to the broad-sweeping generalities that characterize these comments, which were made by people whose very livelihoods may depend on the veracity of these statements. However, can we consider for a moment the truth that may be embedded in these observations? What if the entire process of mastering both the skills of playing an instrument and the skills of bringing that instrument into a collaborative ensemble were actually the very training that would produce more effective leaders in society? Leaders who are more compassionate, who listen more carefully, who focus more intently, who have more perseverance to work through problems, who understand the beauty of collaboration?