This is the first in a series of essays which will explore the purpose and methodology of musical training in the United States. While there is general agreement that music training is essential, there is no such agreement on the specific purpose and goals attached to the training. There are many contexts where musical training is relevant – early childhood and K-12 education, private teaching, community music schools, colleges and universities, conservatories, senior centers, etc. But even within each of these contexts, there is little agreement on the “why” and “how” of musical training.
I view this confusion as a threat to the long-term viability of the musical art.
Defining a musician is a surprisingly difficult task, one that produces many more questions than answers. By musician do we mean those who earn a substantial portion of their income from musical activities? Do we include anyone who self-identifies as a musician? Do we stipulate that a musician is someone who produces art? (Of course, art is another difficult thing to define). Charles Ives was example of a musician who (in my opinion) created art, but he did not earn his living substantially as a musician or composer.
The Future of Music Coalition (FMC), a non-profit research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., provides a wealth of data relating to how musicians earn money. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2013 there were a total of 62, 450 musicians, singers, composers and music directors. According to FMC, there are an estimated 42 revenue streams within seven broad categories:
- Performer, Session Musician
- Performer and Recording Artist
- Songwriter and Composer
- Knowledge of Craft: Teaching and Producing
- Fan, Corporate and Foundation Funding
- Other: Arts Administrator
There are many organizations that represent various segments of the field, not one of them remotely comprehensive. Moreover, in most cases membership does not correspond to the data from the BLS. For example, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) claims 540,000 members. Membership criteria have a low threshold i.e. having at least on musical work available to the public by any means, including live performances and You Tube postings.
Therefore, there are many hundreds of thousands of people who view themselves as musicians, but don’t necessary earn any money as a result. For many, music is an avocation which enables artists, dabblers and everything in between. There are many more people who engage with music at live events and through recordings, and as casual participants in the making of music. With the population of the United States approaching 325,000,000, with most having broad access to music, this is a bloc that deserves our attention. For working musicians, these millions are the source of all earned income.
Music is also more than a commercial enterprise. Significant engagement with music is the norm in American society. In a letter to his wife, John Adams, the second president of the United States wrote, “….I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” Engagement with the arts can easily be viewed as the right of all Americans.
Musicians can serve themselves, serve society, serve the art, or serve all of the above. It is the responsibility of music educators to figure out how best to train them to do all of it.