Broad-Based Skills are the New Normal for Music, Dance Students
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Broad-Based Skills are the New Normal for Music, Dance Students

Gabrielle Collins at Atlanta BalletMulti-genre dance study. Broad-based music exposure. Expanded skill sets.  The “best practices” of performing arts students are evolving, and we’re hoping to share some of those new best practices today.

You might be a dance student, considering focusing on dance as a career. Or perhaps you take music lessons and participate in ensembles, and have thought about making music your career – or even your major in college. Regardless of your specific situation, students that are considering “taking it to the next level” after high school – and possibly beyond – should consider some of our research about useful steps along the way, and might also heed advice from some of our alums as they share their thoughts later in this blog.

Betsy Cooper, Dean of The Hartt School, says that being prepared for today’s changing world is imperative for students and is part of what Hartt does now: “The challenge we face as educators is to prepare our students for the rapidly shifting landscape of the performing arts, an arena in which major arts organizations are grappling with decreased federal and corporate funding, shifting audience demographics and a world increasingly accustomed to on-demand access to digitally mediated experiences, including arts and entertainment. We are working to prepare our students to take a curatorial and entrepreneurial approach to their careers so they are prepared to create, fund and present their own work, as well as have the performance chops to land a job with a major performing arts organization.”

For students in music and dance, your future focus should include growing your skill sets in things that will help you when the time comes to make a career choice, regardless of what that might be. A broad focus—while still emphasizing your primary field—can be incredibly beneficial. That can include skills in your field of focus, and life skills, as well.

Former Eastman School of Music Director Robert Freeman, in discussing what music students should learn in college, says that skills employers will value are important:

“They need to know not only how to play the instrument well, but how to read,  write, think, and speak in public.” He goes on to say that a broad focus can really be helpful, using the example of an Eastman graduate that he knows:  

“He makes a living singing counter tenor in an Episcopal Church. He's also a composer, has two rock bands, plays keyboards, violin, percussion, he's fully occupied in repertories classical and otherwise. Because he's versatile”.[1]

In addition to expanded skill sets and life-skills, performing arts students know full-well the need for tenacity, preparation, practice, and adjustment. Hartt School Community Division (HCD) alumna Erin Keefe, First Chair violinist for the Minnesota Orchestra, says that flexibility, and respect for peers, are important, as well. In addition to her responsibilities for the Orchestra, she also teaches private lessons, and travels extensively as part of the Chamber Music Society. That respect we mentioned? In her view, it’s an absolute necessity: “The music world is very small, so it is important to sustain good relationships with everyone you can since your high school peers may become your professional colleagues when you get older. A little bit of healthy competition is fine, but it is important to treat all of your colleagues with respect”.

Gabrielle Collins is also an HCD alumna and dances for the Atlanta Ballet under Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin. She advises students to expect the unexpected: “Know that not everything is going to go exactly as you plan it or hope all the time, but that hard work is always rewarded, in some way. There are lots of factors that are outside of your control; worry about the factors that you can control, and don’t worry about those that you can’t.”

For students that are evaluating their choices and considering potential future steps, it is no longer enough to simply focus on the one thing, or even two things, that you do best. Having a passion for those things is important (and a necessity!), but broadening skills in critical thinking, entrepreneurship, writing, public speaking, and more, are all areas that future employers will not just desire, but demand. 

With the median number of years that workers stay with their current employer at 4.2 years[2], your future will inevitably involve change. Our advice: embrace a full range of personal growth, hone your performing arts and life skills, and be open to a rapidly changing landscape. Plus, we almost forgot: don’t forget that hard work part. It’s the glue that binds it all together!

[1] Daneman, Matt. "As Interest Wanes, …." USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network/Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

[2] “Employee Tenure Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22 Sept. 2016, Accessed 4 Mar. 2017.