Music majors struggle to find employment post-graduation

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Walking through the maze of hallways in the basement of the Owen Fine Arts Center on a Friday afternoon, one can hear an escalating hum of instruments.  Flutists take to the high notes, while the brass section starts low and slowly climbs up the scale as orchestra students warm up for a practice session.

But many of these students probably will not play in an orchestra beyond graduation.  Instead they will go into more practical fields, like business or education.

Saxophonist Rebecca Bailey is one of them. Her passion is teaching music.

Hoping to teach middle school band someday, the SMU senior is also interested in performing for fun.  But finding work in saxophone performance is even harder than other instruments, she said.  Some symphony orchestras don’t even have saxophonists.

Still, the music division at SMU tries to help students find work in their desired field, Bailey said. The program provides students with small classes, ample scholarships and career placement after graduation.

The music division encourages students to be entrepreneurial and think about music the business in a lot of different ways since everyone is not going to play in a symphony orchestra.

According to Sam Holland, director of the SMU Division of Music, only a small percentage of students actually work full-time in music performance.

The music division does not currently have job placement statistics for alumni who majored in performance or composition, but the division has alumni in orchestras around the world, Alan Wagner, the division’s assistant director for student affairs said.

“Two of our violinists recently won jobs in the Kansas City Orchestra and the San Antonio Symphony.  One of our trumpets won a major position in the Cleveland Orchestra,” Wagner said.  “SMU typically has the largest numbers of members in the New World Symphony of any major music school.” 

All music majors also are required to take a music career orientation class.  The class helps students answer the age-old question of “how are they going to make a living,” Holland said.

“It’s a general overall info session about what you’ll encounter in your life as a musician,” music composition major Sara Corry said.

The class examines the difficulties music majors face and reviews careers in the different areas of music, she said.

Adam Wright studied music composition and piano performance at SMU for three years before leaving the school. 

“If you were planning for a career as a performer [SMU’s Music Division] was perfect, but I wasn’t interested in that,” the self-employed composer and performer said.

Wright entered the music division in 1993 and found the music division to focus mostly on classical music.

“I found that I got frustrated with being told to focus on this specific area of music,” he said.

Wright mainly left SMU b
ecause his involvement with the theater department caused problems with faculty who wanted him to focus completely on classical music.

“Because the class requirements at the time were so music focused, I didn’t have a lot space in my schedule for other classes, except for squeezing in required liberal arts classes,” Wright said.

SMU’s music division is very labor intensive, requiring one-on-one feedback, Holland said.

“It’s the ideal student-to-teacher ratio,” Holland said.

Students have the chance of networking internationally through their professors’ connections. But while the options for music students may seem endless, many students usually end up teaching or attending graduate school.

“I’m accepting the fact that I might be poor for the rest of my life, but I’m doing what I love, which is better than making a lot of money and doing something I hate,” she said.

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