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More Training, Fewer Jobs?

News from the world of symphony orchestras has not been rosy in recent years. Some orchestras closed their doors (Honolulu, Syracuse, Albuquerque); others have had debilitating strikes (Detroit, Minnesota, Atlanta). In many cases, the number of salaried players is at issue, with downsizing the order of the day.

Yet in what seems to be a paradox, the number of training programs for orchestra players isexpanding. The oldest of these is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Orchestra that will celebrate its centennial in 2019. Also of long standing is the New World Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas (as well as flagship summer programs at places like Tanglewood and Aspen). But there are new programs on the horizon, including a soon-to-be developed orchestra training program in New York under the auspices of Bard College and the Longy School of Music that will launch this year and grant a degree, as well as a new program at the New York Philharmonic. There is also a more targeted program for orchestra string players being launched in Dallas.

The issue with all these efforts, it seems to me, boils down to what these programs offer besides orchestra training per se. If you do the numbers, it is clear that the majority of individuals in these programs will not end up making the majority of their income over the course of their careers playing in orchestras. So it will be the additional music training (chamber music, contemporary music, program design) as well as the extras — like the Citizen Musician fellowship experience for some of the Civic Orchestra players in Chicago designed with the assistance of Yo-Yo Ma, the community engagement work and other ancillary skill development in Miami, and the arts entrepreneurship programs at Juilliard and elsewhere – that will ensure a more comprehensive set of career development opportunities for this generation of musicians.

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