All posts by Stan

Musings on the Undergrad Audition Process

MUSINGS ON THE UNDERGRAD AUDITION PROCESS

My name is Maddie Pelkey and I want to teach music. I’ve played oboe for eight years and English Horn for three years, have sung in various choirs since I was in fourth grade, and have studied soprano voice privately for about two years now.

Despite being surrounded by music my whole life, I was adamantly against the idea of following in my parents’ footsteps until about this time last year, when my choir director at school set me up with a paid oboe gig. The gig involved accompanying a chorus from Jacksonville at Florida State-MPA (Music Performance Assessment). Because I was only needed for one song, I was able to sit and listen to all of the other state-level choruses perform. They were phenomenal.  When I left the church sanctuary where the event was held, I knew that music would always be my passion and my language. I finally knew that I was meant to share this love with others.

Of course, this was the spring of my junior year in high school. I had a lot of work ahead of me if I wanted to be ready for college auditions in less than twelve months. Thankfully, I was living with two of the best people to teach me the in’s and out’s of auditions: my mom and dad—my coach and my accompanist, respectively.

You may have read my dad’s blog post earlier this fall, which gave tips on how to get through auditions and become a music major. If you need a quick refresher, he made four major points: get some rudimentary theory training, get piano lessons, be comfortable using your voice, and learn one of the music notation software programs.

All of these points proved to be super important in my audition process. (Thanks, Dad.) Of course the adjudicators are primarily listening for the quality of your performance, but having experience in theory, piano, and singing gives you that much-needed upper edge as admissions decisions are made. This makes an especially important difference when auditioning for higher-ranked schools. Any experience in theory, composition, or music activities outside of your primary instrument will spark conversations with your adjudicators and help convince them not only to admit you to the music school but to give you financial aid, too.

This January and February, after months and months of arduous preparation, I auditioned for a spot in the Music Education Program at four different schools: one in Florida, and three in New York. These four schools ranged from private to public, big to small, and rural to urban, so, of course, my audition experience was different at each school. But there are a few over-arching tips, in addition to what my dad wrote in his previous article, that I would give to a future auditionee:

  1. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself during the interview process. It’s okay. This is one of those crucial times when you just have to advocate for yourself, even if you’re shy or nervous. If you’re worried about coming off as arrogant rather than confident, just be friendly, smile, and remember to listen as well as speak.
  1. Have one or two of your own questions prepared for your adjudicators, even if you’ve read their music school web page so many times you have all of the information memorized. At all four of the schools where I auditioned, there was a small interview-like session after my audition. My adjudicators reviewed my application and asked a few questions (usually why I wanted to come to New York, or why I was choosing to study voice when I had eight years of oboe under my belt). At three of my auditions, the adjudicators asked me if I had any questions once they were done. I would ask things like, “Are there ensembles I can be in as an oboist even though I’m a voice major?” My friend who was auditioning for music industry and sound recording technology, on the other hand, asked questions about the school’s equipment and opportunities to run tech for performances. The questions you prepare should be specific to you. Show your adjudicators that you’re interested in their school, and they’ll be more interested in you.
  1. The only variable you can control on audition day is your own preparedness. Practice, practice, practice. If you’re auditioning on voice, get with an accompanist as many times as you can before your audition. Memorize your music way I forgot some of the words to a song at my first audition, and the adjudicator cut me off instead of letting me finish the piece. I was mortified, but you can bet at my next three auditions I didn’t mess up a single word of my repertoire. Practice until you feel confident.

I ended up making the cut for all four schools, and now comes, arguably, the hardest part: making a decision. But hopefully these tips and my experiences will help those who, like me, only decided to follow the music path junior year. It is possible and you can do it, it just takes a lot of dedication and preparation. Good luck!

Maddie Pelkey

First posted on March 17, 2017

 

Music Entrepreneurship at the FSU College of Music in February 2017

February 23, 2017

Students from my “Introduction to Music Entrepreneurship” class at the College of Music at Florida State University gave a “pop up concert” yesterday (Wednesday, February 22, 2017) in the Strozier Library at the heart of campus. Music included original arrangements of pop songs as well as a handful of classical selections.

Several weeks ago, the students formed small teams that were responsible for planning and performing the music, creating marketing materials, preparing and distributing audience surveys, and producing audio and video recordings to help promote the course’s next pop up concert. Students will give two more pop up concerts this semester, and they will use what they learned from the first to try to improve the second and third concerts.

Each pop up concert is a chance to practice basic marketing strategies, project management skills, and audience development approaches, as well as to draw attention to the College and to share information about the College of Music’s upcoming events as we engage with the audience members.

(Students perform in the first pop up concert of Spring 2017.)

I am enjoying seeing the fruits of my students’ labors as they take to heart and practice the ideas we are discussing in my course. In the link below, you can also read about one of those students, Jose Hernandez, as he attempts to compose, perform, and record a new piece every day in February. Jose also shares what he has gleaned from the course.

http://news.fsu.edu/news/2017/02/17/28-songs-28-days-fsu-music-students-composition-quest/

(Jose introduces his piece for the pop up concert, the 21st he has written in February.)

Stan Pelkey

 

What I’ve Been Watching This Month (February 2017)

It’s a busy time right now, personally and professionally, and I’ve been putting as much of my available “extra” energy and time into the ongoing development of new podcasts for “My Radio.” One result is that I’ve not been preparing as many blogs about my current listening, reading, and watching.

Let me just give a quick update now about shows I am following in the early part of 2017:

In January, I watched all episodes currently available of Star Wars: Rebels. I really like this series for a number of reasons, including the characters, the connections and continuities with established Star Wars canon, and Kevin Kiner’s music, which pays appropriate homage to John Williams’s themes and scores without being stuck to those materials or merely derivative.

I have also been watching Masterpiece Theatre’s “Victoria,” a period drama about the queen of Great Britain. The cast is outstanding (I am especially impressed by Jenna Coleman’s performance as Victoria, and Rufus Sewell’s as Lord Melbourne), and I also think the music is quite strong.

I recommend both series to you.

Christmas Holiday Blog, 2016

Merry Christmas!

I hope you enjoy the images of Christmases long ago scattered within this post. If you keep reading, you’ll learn more about them!
Part I

A friend of mine recently asked me what traditions my family followed for Christmas. I was hard pressed to come up with anything terribly specific or interesting. We don’t consistently eat anything special on Christmas Eve, and since my parents, and then my wife and I, have all been church musicians, most Christmas Eves (and sometimes Christmas Day itself) have been working holidays. I guess I can safely say that music more than anything else connects me to a sense of Christmases past.

I’m not especially troubled that highly complex or richly textured “traditions” have not accumulated around my personal celebration or experience of Christmas. Many of the “traditions” embedded in the general nostalgic patina of this holiday—and enshrined on keep-sake chinaware and holiday cards (which—guilty!—I also like to send) were relatively new, even in the early twentieth century, given the millennia that Christians have been observing this holiday.

Nevertheless, I would say that as a child, my favorite parts of Christmas were setting up the nativity sets in our house and listening to an old LP my father had of a dramatic reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. That story remains an important part of my personal sense of tradition around the Christmas holiday, as does the carol, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” which I first heard on that LP. And I loved traveling to Fulton, New York, on Christmas to spend the day with my cousins, or having them come to Syracuse to visit us. Those Christmases with my cousins are important memories, if not exactly “traditions.” And it meant a lot to me recently when my daughter Madison asked me if this year she was going to hear me practice a piano rondo that I composed on Christmas carols. That piece of mine has apparently become part of her sense of the holiday, even though I only composed it five years ago. Well, I suppose traditions have to start somewhere!

Part II

I have always been fascinated by my family history, as my father was before me. A few weeks ago, I dug into a box of old family cards and letters that my father had saved from my Grandmother Pelkey’s estate. Lyma May (Strong) Pelkey would have been 111 years old this Christmas! Imagine my surprise to find one-hundred-year-old postcards that Lyma had carefully preserved in that box! I also discovered that my grandma was named “Lima” at birth, and not “Lyma”!

(This is the earliest dated postcard in the collection: 1908 according to the postal cancellation stamp.)

As a historian, I was fascinated by the postcards not just because of their age and because they physically linked me to a long-gone age (several cards pre-date the beginning of World War I), but also because they showed me that even in the 1910s, there was a nostalgic quality to the Christmas iconography that my own Grandmother Pelkey (that is, Lima Strong) experienced as a little girl in Willsboro, New York.

(Postcards from 1912 and 1915 according to dates on their backs.)

And it may be that this is the strongest “tradition” that links together most fully all of us citizens of Christmases past and Christmas present: we are all bathed in the warm light of nostalgia. No matter how far back we push, we never reach the “golden age” of Christmas “long, long ago”.

(A postcard from 1914 — the first Christmas of World War I.)

Part III

But you know what: That’s perfectly OK! There’s nothing inherently wrong with nostalgia, at least in small doses now and then. But what I need to keep reminding myself is that “peace on earth, goodwill to all human kind” will not be found someday, “long, long ago.” The path to peace and goodwill is before us, and it is paved by the large and small decisions that each of us will have to make in 2017, 2018, 2019….

I really do want to live the promise of Christmas, the promise made possible by Emmanuel. So I am readying myself for a new commitment to gift giving—but not just gifts wrapped up in paper and tied with bows. I mean daily gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, each offered to those around me and to myself when I (inevitably) will fail.

Will you join me?

Will you help to hold me accountable?

There have been too many “bah, humbug” moments on the path behind me—perhaps you feel the same way? I really don’t want to go back, nor turn back.

I’m ready for a lot more “God bless us, every one!” going forward.

Come on! Let’s go! Let’s make it happen!

(And if you need a soundtrack to help launch your journey, come back on December 24 for my Christmas Eve music podcast!)

Stan

December 23, 2016

(An undated postcard from the same collection of a little girl ice skating; the image already seems dream-like, nostalgic.) 

This is not a Christmas postcard, but it was among the postcards my Grandmother saved from her childhood. Grandma Pelkey was a snazzy dresser — that’s one of the things I remember most clearly about her. I can only imagine the impression an image like this may have made on her when she was about ten–after all, she saved two such cards, and they are the only duplicates in her collection.     SCP

What I’m Listening To This Month (December): Jerry Leake’s Latest Album

A Review of Jerry Leake’s latest album, Crafty Hands (2016)

Stan Pelkey

December 13, 2016

Boston-based world-rock-fusion percussionist Jerry Leake is a special kind of musician. He deftly moves in and through numerous traditions from around the world – with deep respect and gratitude – yet also comfortably resides in contemporary styles and forms. But more than that, in his latest release, Crafty Hands (2016), Jerry offers listeners new pieces in which he combines and recombines his many musical interests and passions. One could use words such as “eclectic” and “collage” to describe the results, but these do not adequately capture the coherence and musically satisfying nature of Jerry’s accomplishments. The image that comes to my mind is of a colorful kaleidoscope, where an ever-so-slight turn shifts distinct bits into an entirely new and vibrant pattern. One can listen to and for the distinct musical inflections or instruments from West Africa, the Middle East, and India, but it is the coherent new soundscapes—always delightful and often deeply moving—that really matter.

Throughout the 13 tracks of Crafty Hands, Leake sets up wonderful grooves over which he lays out densely textured but changing surfaces. Tracks such as “Crafty Hands,” “Apprentice,” “Do You Think Your Thoughts,” “Dub Clef,” and “Begin by Listening” start with West African rhythmic cells and/or textures that incorporate West African timbres but quickly add more and more component parts until their full musical vistas emerge. In “Crafty Hands,” Jerry’s own singing voice takes center stage by mid-track, surrounded by a halo of bells, shakers, and strings, before the opening textures and grooves reassert themselves. In “Begin by Listening”—one of my favorite tracks—an appropriately authoritative voice assures us “It’s all just sounds” as the West African groove provides the foundation for that voice, a turntable, distorted, sampled chanting, and a jubilant reed to each make contributions. And just when you think this track or others have settled into their final textural forms, still there are more twists and turns as Jerry continues to transform his materials.

My brief comments only scratch the surface of Jerry’s music, and they completely fail to capture the beauty of “Time Tunnel” and “String Theory,” two more of my favorites. Here again, Jerry sets up grooves and amazing, changing surfaces, yet the timbres and combinations are different enough in these two tracks from those in the others that the album remains fresh and unpredictable. And then Jerry drops into your headphones a track such as “Blue Water,” which diverges significantly from the others, and you are once more left in awe of his creativity and ability to synthesize new worlds of sound.

The bottom line? Crafty Hands is an album of gorgeous music that will reward repeated listening. But it is also an album with a powerful — if implicit — political message. While there are relatively few words, and those that exist are not overtly political, Jerry’s soundscapes both celebrate and embody cultural diversity and the new possibilities that can emerge as we draw upon the best of all of us. Whether intended or not, that is a profoundly important political, social, and cultural statement. As the final track urges us, “Begin by listening.”

I highly recommend Crafty Hands to you.

http://www.rhombuspublishing.com/crafty_hands.html

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jerryleake1

What I’ve Been Watching (November)

The recent Thanksgiving Break provided some time for much need rest and relaxation, but it also allowed me to catch up on some film viewing. Here are some brief reflections on current and recent films.

The family and I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J. K. Rowling’s latest film set within the Harry Potter universe, though without the “boy who lived.” This was an outstanding film, well-conceived, well-acted, and well-designed and implemented. Not only was I thrilled to have the chance to revisit Rowling’s magical universe, but there was so much new material (and just enough knowing glances toward the Harry Potter series) that I did not miss Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest at all. Go see this film and experience it on the big screen. Even if you are not a huge Potter fan, seeing the ensemble–mostly adults in this case–playing their parts so well (and clearly enjoying them) is a treat.

I also finally had the chance to watch The Nice Guys. Like Fantastic Beasts, which is set in the 1920s, Nice Guys looks back in time, in this case to the 1970s. That decade does not get the kind of attention that the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s do. Perhaps it has been “too recent” for current generations of film makers to revisit. But the familiarity and unfamiliarity of the 1970s makes for compelling storytelling, if done well. This film did it well. Not for the faint of heart (the themes are adult and there is a substantial amount of violence), The Nice Guys nevertheless offers witty dialogue, great pacing of plot, interesting characters, and another outstanding ensemble of actors. While not as visually spectacular as Fantastic Beasts, it is still very colorful — more so than action films from the 1970s!

Lastly, Kubo and the Two Strings is a magnificent, family-friendly film that celebrates family affection but also powerfully endorses creativity, storytelling, and music making. Indeed, music repeatedly plays critical roles within the plot itself, and the final resolution of conflict — true resolution, not violent suppression of one side or the other — is achieved through music itself. Kubo is a gorgeous production; one can appreciation it without knowing much about its artistic or cultural contexts or inspirations, though if you’ve seen some Japanese or Japanese-inspired animation, you will probably catch many subtle visual and situational references. My family was struck at times by subtle linkages to the Last Airbender animated television series, as well as classic Hayao Miyasaki films.

I also wrapped up watching Season 2 of The Leftovers in November, but my reflection on that series will have to wait for another post. Like so many of you, I cannot wait for the arrival of Rogue One in theaters. I will blog about that movie in December.

Happy holidays!

Stan

What I’ve Been Reading (November)

Cameron Pyke, Benjamin Britten and Russia (Boydell Press, 2016).

This exceptionally well-written and well-researched study by Cameron Pyke (Dulwich College and University of London) explores many of the ways Benjamin Britten engaged with Russian composers, musicians, and literature against the backdrop of Anglo-Soviet cultural and political relationships, particularly from the 1930s through the early 1970s.

Pyke organizes the book thematically, but there is a broad chronological shape to the whole. The first four chapters are devoted to Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, the Russian composers whose music most appealed to Britten. Pyke’s nuanced discussion of Britten’s changing and problematic relationship with Stravinsky is welcome and provides an additional context for understanding why Shostakovich became so important to Britten. The fifth chapter focuses on Britten’s visits to the Soviet Union in the 1960s and early 1970s. Chapter six considers Pushkin’s influence on Britten and the composer’s engagement with Russian performance styles. The final chapter returns to Britten and Shostakovich, focusing on their friendship in later life and their concerns regarding war and death.

To build his case, Pyke draws thoroughly from journals, letters by Benjamin Britten and others, new interviews with people who knew both Britten and Shostakovich or were involved with Britten’s trips to the Soviet Union, reviews of performances, and Britten’s library of scores. Pyke’s use of these sources is convincing; taken together, they support  his contextual and interpretive points. Furthermore, Pyke’s insightful analysis of Britten’s compositions, complete with many notated examples, highlights the composer’s preoccupations in light of the quartet of featured Russian figures he stresses in the first four chapters of the book. Indeed, Pyke’s discussions of the music of both Britten and Shostakovich throughout the study are high points in this exceptional book.

I highly recommend Pyke’s Benjamin Britten and Russia. It is one of the best studies of music I have read in quite some time.

Stan Pelkey

November 18, 2016

What I’ve Been Reading (September)

Paul S. Boyer’s American History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012).

I have read a number of books from Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” series, including Kathryn Kalinak’s on Film Music, John Polkinghorne’s on Quantum Theory, and several on world religions and ethics. Paul Boyer’s American History did not disappoint. It is the perfect refresher on US history, and I found the chapters on the colonial period, the revolutionary era, the early republic, and the Civil War particularly valuable. It was also interesting to read the final chapter, which traced American history from the early years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency to the present—an era that overlaps completely with my own life. To see (and feel) this period treated as “history”—and to observe my own emotive reaction to this experience—was fascinating, but I also found Boyer’s linkages of events, trends, causes and effects over those four decades convincing and his assessments compelling. One of the final chapter’s subsections, “Historic Election; Uncertain Future,” which covers the presidency of Mr. Obama, also gave more flesh to the idea of the “long shadow of 9/11” and left me contemplating—not for the first time—that the growth, prosperity, and relative peace of the 1990s (years when I attended graduate school, began my career, and celebrated the birth or my children)—rather than the conflict, economic insecurity (real or only perceived), and rancorous partisanship so prevalent since 2000—may be the aberration in post-1970s American society (and history).

Stan Pelkey

October 1, 2016

 

 

 

What I’ve Been Watching (And the Emmy Goes To…)

It’s September, and the Emmy Awards were given out this past weekend.

I am very pleased that three of my favorite current show — Mr. Robot (currently in season two), Game of Thrones, and VEEP did so well. (I am also pleased that The Good Wife received a few awards; it’s another of my favorite shows, and I will miss it.)

Surveying the nominees and winners lists, it is clear that the television that critics and audience most love right now is mostly being produced by and aired on pay channels and other platforms beyond the big three networks. I still watch a few comedies on the BIG THREE, but I’ve almost stopped watching drama on them (The Good Wife was an exception).

All that said, congrats to Rami Malek from Mr. Robot for winning Outstanding Lead Actor / Drama Series . That was well deserved. Malek’s character is complex and compelling, and he plays the part flawlessly. If you have not watched an episode of Mr. Robot, do so just to experience how expressive (and pained) Rami Malek’s eyes can be. Congratulations, too, to Mac Quayle for his well-earned prize for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (e.g., Mr. Robot). I was not sure that a series that had such an amazing twist in season 1 would be able to sustain interest in season 2; but Mr. Robot is not just plot-driven and twist-driven: it has characters that I’ve really come to care about, even though I feel like we have nothing in common with each other. And who doesn’t like a good conspiracy show with a non-linear narrative?

I am also so pleased that VEEP won best comedy and that Julia Louis-Dreyfus won Outstanding Lead Actress / Comedy Series. VEEP is amazing: the writing is perfect, the ensemble cast is stellar, and  Louis-Dreyfus as lead is simply astonishing. She’s developed perfect timing for comic delivery, and when her petite character mouths off with the best of the male politicians on the show, it is stunning. There was a scene this past season when she absolutely crushed a stereotypical, holier-than-thou, midwesterner, and it was priceless! (And I saw that as a holier-than-thou midwesterner!) While I am not yet so cynical as to think there is no good in government, big business, or large organizations generally, the unrelentingly savage depiction of organization incompetence is exquisite if for no other reason than it is a powerful demonstration that we live in a society that protects the right of people to create a series that savages the incompetence of government, big business, and bureaucracy generally and the hubris (and stupidity) of the agents of those entities. It is therefore fitting and right that John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, which also received a number of nominations for awards, follows VEEP on Sundays on HBO, because that show also unrelentingly savages real-life organizational and governmental incompetence.

As much as I love Mr. Robot, I am pleased that Game of Thrones received the award for Outstanding Drama Series. This sixth season was tremendous. GoT received other awards, too, and numerous nominations — not surprisingly, many of those nominations centered on two of the most powerful episodes this season: “The Door” and “Battle of the Bastards.” Game of Thrones is also unrelenting (like VEEP) in refusing to whitewash the worst aspects of human nature, but at least it presents those worst aspects within a richly textured imaginary world that is a joy to see, with morally complex characters acted by a stellar cast, all accompanied by great music. Congrats to all the GoT actors and actresses who received nominations. You are tops in my book!

OK, back to the sofa for more viewing…. Tomorrow night is the season finale for Mr. Robot.

Stan Pelkey

September 20, 2016

 

Saving Money by Cutting a Music Program is Harder than You Think!

Hello, Readers!

This is a slightly edited version of a post that I published in May 2016. I hope you find it useful.

Stan

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was recently talking with several graduate music students about threats of underfunding or complete elimination of a music program or unit at a college or university by senior administrators looking for ways to save money. Such risks are real because music programs do tend to cost more to run than do many other programs: we have specialized equipment and our studio model of individualized lesson instruction is expensive.

I began thinking about these issues about a decade ago when the provost at one of my prior colleges considered eliminating a studio faculty line when a senior music professor retired. In higher education today, provosts routinely pull back faculty lines after retirements—it is one of the ways they can reshape priorities and programs. But for music programs large enough and of high enough quality to have full-time faculty covering most, if not all, studio areas, the loss of the one studio faculty line for a particular instrument (e.g., the one trombone or the one viola faculty position) undermines the quality of the whole organization because each studio feeds into the overarching ensemble superstructure of a serious music program.

I’ve also been involved in campus-wide budget development and campus-wide program review, which included conversations about resource reallocation. The reality is that for many smaller colleges and universities today, budgets remain very tight, and music and arts programs take on the appearance of “low hanging fruit.”

Here’s the catch: I am not going to make the case to save a music program on the merits of the arts generally or of music specifically or of student well-roundedness in the abstract. Arguing from the “inherent value” of the arts or the quality of your specific program is pointless in this situation. If your president or provost believed in the inherent value of the arts (not to mention the value of a well-rounded, liberal arts education), you would be having a different conversation! They would be looking for other cost saving measures or efficiencies, or they would be hitting the pavement to find more donors committed to the arts in higher education.

My argument takes as its starting point the belief that your only chance of winning this debate is with data that demonstrates that eliminating your music program will not generate the hoped-for savings!

Let’s begin with some basic financial numbers. Assume we are teaching at a mid-sized, private liberal arts university of about 4,500 students. We’ll call it Presbyterian College of the West, and with 4,500 total students, it is not unrealistic that it would have 150 music majors. On a cloudy Monday morning, the chair of the music department let’s her faculty know that PCW’s provost is considering closing down the music program. It is too expensive, and resources are needed elsewhere.

So let’s investigate the potential cost-savings by considering the basic financial data: At most small- and mid-sized colleges and universities, the single largest cost in an academic program

is usually its fixed faculty salary commitments. Assume 150 music majors are being instructed by about 20 full-time music faculty. According to recent national data, for faculty in the arts, the average Associate professor salary at masters-level institutions is $63,438.  (https://www.higheredjobs.com/salary/salaryDisplay.cfm?SurveyID=32). Assume a 35% add-on for benefits, and for 20 music faculty, PCW is spending around $1,712,826–a tidy sum of money that could be saved if PCW’s provost carries through with his plan to close down the music program and eliminate the majority of those music faculty lines.

Furthermore, for the sake of the argument, and to be as “generous” as possible in terms of assumed savings, let’s also factor in staff costs. There are probably 6 full-time staff working with 20 music faculty and 150 music majors faculty (assuming a 1:25 ratio between music majors and music staff). If the average staff salary is $48,000 and total compensation with benefits is about $64,800, then PCW is spending $388,800 on staff in the music program. Lastly, we’ll assume that the rest of the music unit budget runs to about $250,000 per year and covers remaining adjunct salaries, equipment repair and purchase, and production costs. The total expenses for the music program would thus run to about $2,351,626 per year.

At the same time, the average annual tuition at four-year, private colleges is currently about $32,405. Average room and board adds about $11,516 to the annual bill (see http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-published-undergraduate-charges-sector-2015-16). If most music majors at PCW are getting about a 50% tuition discount (which is not unrealistic today, especially at private colleges), and if only half of the music majors are living on campus, then PCW would be collecting about $3,294,075 from 150 music majors. Now do the math: for a savings of $2,351,626 in music faculty, staff, and other costs, PCW risks a net loss of tuition and room revenue totaling $942,449.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Why assume all that tuition and room and board revenue will be lost to PCW just because it shuts down its music program?”

The answer is simple, though it may be hard for some senior administrators to accept: Music majors—at least in my experience at four different higher education institutions—choose to become music majors and THEN select and apply to target colleges with the studio faculty, ensembles, and music degree programs that they wish to pursue. Most do not choose a college or university and then enroll there, regardless of whether or not there is a (quality) music program.

In other words, music is not a “landing” program; music is not a major that students stumble into once they arrive on a campus with which they have fallen in love. This certainly does not happen on campuses with serious music programs that require auditions of its prospective students.

Music is a “destination” program.

So if PCW closes down its music program, its potential music majors won’t suddenly decide to come to PCW anyway but become nursing majors or psychology majors instead. No, those young musicians will decide to go to one of PCW’s regional competitors.

Furthermore, many of the current music major are going to expect that PCW “teach out” the music major until most—if not all— currently matriculated music majors are finished. (PCW’s state may even require such a “teach out” period.) Depending on PCW’s president’s tolerance for lawsuits, threatened or actual, the teach out might take four or five years. That length of time minimizes whatever savings might come from closing down the music program and delays when those savings actually hit the university’s financial bottom line.

Five years is a long time – long enough to move through a national or global business cycle, with all of its impact on demands for certain types of majors, and long enough for a college presidency to run its course.

OK, so if the reality of the financial data does not scrap the plan to close PCW’s music program, how about football?

“Football?”

Yes, football.

If PCW’s president is trying to reallocate money from music and the arts or “low performing programs” to fund other programs that could “raise the profile of the university,” then athletics is certainly on her mind.

But if the music program is eliminated, there will be no marching band. And if a marching band already exists to support an existing football program, what will the booster organization think (and do) when the marching band program begins to erode and the football experience is diminished?

You cannot sustain a substantive marching program without a core of strong players from the music major.

So far in our scenario, cutting the music faculty and program has resulted in a net tuition loss because music majors (potential and current) will begin to go elsewhere. And the boosters are upset by the loss of their beloved marching band program. But here’s the next major problem: What will PCW’s administration do with that empty music building?

PCW’s provost is not going to just start having biology or chemistry labs in an un-renovated music building that—let’s be honest—is likely to be old and outdated if the music program has been struggling! Science laboratory buildings today require modern and sophisticated ventilation systems and ample electrical systems to power expensive equipment, things that will probably be missing from PCW’s music building built in ca. 1965.

And your music building classrooms are not going to suddenly host an overflow of humanities classes that do not need a lot of specialized equipment. If music is struggling on PCW’s campus, chances are the humanities are in much worse shape in terms of numbers of majors in those programs.

And PCW’s music building is most certainly not going to become a dormitory. Colleges and universities do not win today’s “amenities cold war” with renovated dormitory spaces! No freshman will want to live in a refurbished music practice room on an interior hallway with no windows!

So not only will the music building require massive amounts of investment to make it useful for something other than music, PCW’s president and provost will have…. tons of unused pianos to unload! In other words, there will be even more assets that have now become useless.

Cutting the music program ultimately saves very little because tuition revenue will typically outpace faculty and other instructional costs until the ratio of full-time music faculty to music majors (at a private college or university) reaches about 1:5. The exact ratio depends, of course, on a particular institution’s tuition rate and its “discount rate,” that is, the amount “returned” to students in the form of scholarships. PCW’s music major enrollment would have to drop to about 107 students before tuition revenue and unit costs (including faculty and staff salaries) balanced out.

It would be far better for PCW to make a renewed financial commitment to its music program in an effort to attract more tuition-paying students to use the facilities and equipment in which the institution has already invested. Granted, to get ahead financially, the music department would have to hold the line as best as possible on additional instructional costs. But as a moderately sized college, PCW’s budget would benefit from even as few as five or six more music majors.

In closing, here are a few more questions that music department chairs or concerned faculty members should be able to answer at a moment’s notice if and when talk begins about cutting into or eliminating the music program:

How many students matriculate into the music major, then drop the major but stay at the college?

How many students audition, are not accepted into the major, but still come to the college to participate in music ensembles?

What is the exact percentage of students overall who participate in music ensembles each year?

The answers to these questions may provide further evidence of how the quality of the musical life at your institution draws students to and keeps them coming to your college or university.

Stan Pelkey

May 2016