Dr. Freeman has just written the book that I wish I’d read before going to music school—and that I wish my teachers and professors had read as well. In The Crisis of Classical Music in America: Lessons from a Life in the Education of Musicians, Freeman ably points out the problems with classical music education today, which include the training of far more musicians than could possibly be needed to fill available positions in the marketplace, while failing to train music students in the ability to communicate, to think critically, and to think entrepreneurially—all skills that are very much necessary for success in the 21st century.
As someone who attended a university school of music, I either experienced or witnessed all the pitfalls that Dr. Freeman describes, and then some: professors who expect nothing but practice from their students, focusing solely on their narrow area; faculty more concerned with their reputation than the education of their students; teachers who groom some students to be competition winners, while giving short shrift to the rest of their load. As a result, I saw many students give up music after graduating—some with advanced degrees—with no tangible result from years of dedicated practice and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. A few, like myself, found work in related fields. But a large number are employed in totally unrelated fields, most having to return to school to become trained in some other area in order to survive. Had the school I attended operated the way recommended in this book, the outcome might well have been much different for these individuals.
Part memoir and part nuts-and–bolts manual for everyone involved in music education--from students and parents to Presidents and Provosts of institutions of higher learning—Freeman’s book is a mandate to rethink what we’re doing and what we expect from a music school education. While he at times writes stylistically as someone from the ivory tower, this volume is full of down-to-earth ideas for broadening the scope of higher education in music today. The day of the musician who knows nothing other than his instrument is over. Today’s musician must be prepared for today’s world, understanding that the likelihood of making a living as a performer is extremely small. The contemporary musician who makes a living from performing will likely also serve as their own agent, publicist, and business manager. The individual who intends to make a living by performing will have to think creatively, and will have a willingness to get involved in areas of music they might never have planned.
Freeman makes a strong case that music students ought to have double majors: music and pre-med, music and business, etc. Recognizing that most graduates will never make their living as performing musicians, he encourages students to keep their options open. There may not be a position in an orchestra, for example, but there might be an opportunity to work in administration. The Boston Symphony has more people working administratively that it does playing in the orchestra—and this is not an uncommon state of affairs. Many music school graduates go on to careers in arts administration, teaching, or may even go on to professional school to become doctors or lawyers. Freeman encourages students to think about all the possibilities rather than limiting themselves.
If you’re planning on going to music school or if you’re the parent of a child who is thinking of majoring in music, I’d highly suggest reading this book. And if you’re on the faculty or in administration at a music school, I strongly recommend that you read this book. Changes in the way we do things need to be made, and Dr. Freeman’s recommendations would be a great place to start.