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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Colleges: Juillard Music grads


vagansmom

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Today's New York Times has an article about Julliard music students from the class of 1994. It consists of interviews with graduates and tells where many of them are now. I couldn't help but compare them to ballet school graduates. Many of the stories are identical, complaints identical, present employment similar. I think it's a worthwhile read for aspiring dance students and their parents.

 

Overall, it can be read a sad commentary on arts support in the USA today.

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I'm glad you posted about this. Here is a link to the article by Daniel J. Wakin on line The Julliard Effect: 10 Years Later:

Fourteen years ago, Chad A. Alexander took his bassoon and headed east from a small California town, assumed a coveted place at the Juilliard School and began training for a job in one of the country's great orchestras.

 

"Everything seemed possible," he said recently. "Going to Juilliard makes you feel very special and privileged and in awe of the history of the school." He graduated and quickly won a three-year position in the New World Symphony, a training orchestra based in Miami. But his career fizzled with a succession of fruitless auditions, dwindling freelance gigs and mounting debt.

 

He needed a day job. But a Juilliard degree had not prepared him for much besides playing. "When you go to a conservatory, something as specialized as that, you're basically from a different planet," he said...

 

It's worth reading in full to get the full effect, and I think it will be interesting to keep an eye on the letters to the editor in response. For me it was really the first time I've read an article about the different and difficult trajectories of students who, akin to ballet students seeking a similar, but much shorter, professional career, have to deal with in the very competitive and specialized world of music.

Edited by BW
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FOURTEEN years ago, Chad A. Alexander took his bassoon and headed east..., assumed a coveted place at the Juilliard School and began training for a job in one of the country's great orchestras."Everything seemed possible," he said recently. "Going to Juilliard makes you feel very special and privileged and in awe of the history of the school."... But his career fizzled with a succession of fruitless auditions, dwindling freelance gigs and mounting debt.He needed a day job. But a Juilliard degree had not prepared him for much besides playing. "When you go to a conservatory, something as specialized as that, you're basically from a different planet," he said. ...So in what he called a heartbreaking moment, he sold his bassoon for $5,300 to pay credit card bills. "It was time," he said....

 

So your saying that my DD made only a lateral move by giving up the bassoon for ballet. I am laughing so hard I might............. :innocent::flowers::wub::) Still have the bassoon. Not that desperate yet.

In the end, maybe going to a conservatory is like being a compulsive gambler: It is one big bet, but the drive to study music is so blinding, and doing anything else so inconceivable, that young players are oblivious to the risk. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether they are driven by single-mindedness or they live in self-denial.

THis is a good article. For those of us here, not necessarily new info, really. I think that Ballet Talk will help keep us from being oblivious. It sure has helped to take off the blinders for me. Thanks everyone.

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Okay...I attended a major conservatory as an oboe major...discovered that the phrase "starving musician" wasn't just a fiction. You really aren't prepared for any career other than classical musician in a typical conservatory training...so I went back to school, and now teach special education. That works.

 

As dd heads forward, staring at her dance posters on her wall -- "mom -- my dreams are on my walls!" -- my dear husband and I look at her and say, "And your fallback would be...?" If she's a dancer (ask her, and the enthusiastic answer is YES) we're all for it. If things change, that's okay, too. In the meantime, we will continue to be sure she's getting the best dance training possible, as well as the highest academic standards.

 

I am glad that my parents took that gamble on me, allowed me to attend the conservatory...and were also able to accept the change in dream that occurred in my 20s. May we do as well and gracefully by dd, whatever path she takes!

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Guest prokofiev

Ditto to msd!

 

I went to New England Conservatory in the early 90s, and the idea that not every graduate would launch a major performing career was not one that the administration wanted to promote. (Self-denial was big there.) But that's the reality, and lots of us starved. From my class there are many stellar musicians who went on to major orchestras and continue to thrive in the rarified atmosphere, but there are many more who "sold their bassoons" after a few years of dissillusionment, scanty gigs and endless cans of tuna fish and went on to become CPAs, academics, nurses, non-profit adminitrators, etc...

 

The same story is true for music's SIs (we call them festivals) - like Aspen, Tanglewood, Eastern Music Festival, et al... some go on to conservatories, others to universities, others straight into performing careers.

 

No one path is a guarantee for success, nor is any path a key to failure (unless you actually SELL the bassoon...) I value my conservatory education highly, and was fortunate to have caring mentors and advisors who prepared me to adapt to many different situations. Somewhere during those years you start to figure out what you can realistically do, and if you have people to guide your dreams and help shape your talents, you emerge a strong professional in every sense of the word - whether the rent payment is going to come from gigs in the arts, or not.

 

In those happy, heady NEC days as a violist ten years ago, I never dreamed I'd go on to be an academic, work office jobs, and then end up earning a decent living as a pianist... but it's been a blast every step of the way. As one of my teachers pointed out, "The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line."

 

Kudos to those parents gutsy enough to see their children through their dreams. I'll never be rich, but I love what I do, learn new things every day, and am deeply grateful for two patient and understanding parents during my journey.

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Kudos to those parents gutsy enough to see their children through their dreams. I'll never be rich, but I love what I do, learn new things every day, and am deeply grateful for two patient and understanding parents during my journey.
\

 

Thanks. I think that is why we do what we do for my dancing daugher. The lateral move from bassoon to ballet was because her passion was ballet. As long as it is, conservatory it will remain.

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Guest justthedriver

Good response, Prokofiev - I read the Times piece the same day I finally got around to seeing "The Company", and a fairly dreary, grounding double feature they were, too. But you're right, and an exemplar of the idea that attitude - towards what constitutes wealth, towards difficult passages, towards life as an adventure - is the only real predictor of how happy a person will be. Adaptability seems to be the key, doesn't it, if you've chosen the arts path? Besides, I've about decided that, for the most part, our dancing children will chose their own paths, and we're just along for the ride (and paying the bills, of course).

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Prokofiev, msd, Nlkflint --

I read that story about Juilliard graduates also and since then I've been thinking about people I knew that went on there and other great conservatories. I too played bassoon, though my major instrument was piano. It only took a semester of music school to confirm for myself that I probably wasn't going to have a successful professional career. I really floundered around for awhile after, and have some regrets about how I did and didn't spend my time, but I don't regret the years of study. I learned enormously.

 

On the other hand, there was one guy at my piano studio, about three or four years older than me, that I had an enormous crush on for several years. (I could hardly take a class from him in the summers when he returned to guest teach for my teacher because I so so paralyzed.) :lol:

 

He is now one of NYCB's main pianists--Cameron Grant. He was very cute then, and though he's got to be in his mid-50s now, I bet he's still very cute. He went to New England Conservatory and it took years of hard work and touring to make a name for himself as a solo pianist. He's been doing very well as an accompaniest for NYCB for many years now. And he records, tours, and plays at NYCB performances when there are pieces choreographed for solo piano. Maybe it wasn't quite the same as being the next Horowitz, but I think it sounds like a great job, with great opportunities--the job of my dreams!

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Okay...I  attended a major conservatory as an oboe major...discovered that the phrase "starving musician" wasn't just a fiction.  You really aren't prepared for any career other than classical musician in a typical conservatory training...so I went back to school, and now teach special education.  That works.

 

Your story sounds similar to mine. I did not attend a conservatory (although I was accepted at Peabody). I did get a piano/vocal performance degree from a small fine arts school. I ended up playing and singing in bars to make ends meet. I too went back to school and got another degree to become a teacher. I now teach elementary school. I teach piano on the side (mostly to ballet students) and occassionally play/sing for weddings, church, etc. Made $40 last week for playing 3 hymns - good thing I now have a day job.

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The follow-up of Julliard students in the Times was, I thought, pretty predictable and surely a story written for dance would be similar. In fact, I think you could take any career area and the story would be much the same. Very few people wind up doing what they wanted (or said they wanted) to do in their young teens. The careers we wind up in are largely determined by luck, happenstance, opportunities, and dozens of other factors in addition to interest and aptitude.

 

Many people think of schooling as no more than preparation for some job or career, something of a pipeline to something specific. Personally, I think that is wrong headed. Few college majors, for example, serve as any kind of pipeline to a career. Engineering, nursing, and teacher education are the only degrees I can think of off the top of my head that logically connect to a career. Everyone knows that a liberal arts education does not serve as a pipeline to any specific job. But neither does a BS in say, chemistry. Most chemists are PhDs.

 

But even majoring in engineering, nursing, or teacher education hardly puts one in a pipeline. A couple of years ago I read a report from the association for teacher education programs that indicated only about 20% of teacher education graduates ever teach.

 

Again, in my opinion, it’s better to think of schooling as an opportunity for education. And education isn’t really about any learning specific content. It is about ideas, solving problems, gaining intellectual experience, thinking, learning, interacting with others, and maturing in special environment. And one can get that at a conservatory, college, or university. A well educated person has value in any career.

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I agree. Mark Edmundson's recent book "Why Read" argues that reading is critical to a happy life. It expanded on an article he wrote several years ago, in which he argued that Liberal Arts were not being taught in a way that was useful to students. I can highly recommend the book.

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Guest prokofiev
Again, in my opinion, it’s better to think of schooling as an opportunity for education. And education isn’t really about any learning specific content. It is about ideas, solving problems, gaining intellectual experience, thinking, learning, interacting with others, and maturing in special environment. And one can get that at a conservatory, college, or university. A well educated person has value in any career.

 

Amen, Garyecht. Students should be helped early on (i.e., long before college comes up!) that learning is not something limited to schools and knowledge is not always about spewing facts for tests. And as contexts shift during life, old information takes on new meaning and depth.

 

Moreover, many people gain more from interactions with mentors and colleagues during higher education than they ever do from time in the stacks (or in the practice room or the rehearsal studio...) I owe a great debt towards some of my professors, who encouraged me not to limit myself to the curriculum, but to delve into seemingly unrelated disciplines and absorb as much as I could from every direction. A disciplined mind that is open to growth and adaptation will find success in nearly any field.

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