Navigating Music Careers

Shepherd Careers Forum
October 12-14, 2007
Houston, Texas
Careers Forum Outcomes
Shepherd Careers Forum 2007
Distinguished Guests
Forum Participants
Forum Coordinators


Shepherd Careers Forum ’07
Convening Student Perspectives and Creating New Models for the 21st Century

The Shepherd Careers Forum was a student-centered conference comprised of performances, workshops and discussion groups. Responding to new research on the powerful influence of social interaction among peers on young musicians’ career choices, the forum was designed to focus on the students’ reactions to the weekend’s activities. Working with the idea of youth inspiring youth, two young ensembles, the Chiara String Quartet and eighth blackbird each gave showcase performances. Each performance was followed by an interactive workshop bringing out key elements which have contributed to these ensembles’ success in creative programming and audience engagement.

Faculty and staff from the sixteen participating schools were charged with observing the students’ responses by addressing these questions:

  • What are the key skills we are seeing students exercise and how can we imagine ways to develop these skills within the broader population of musicians?
  • What resources might we tap within training programs, with partnership with other organizations, and societal opportunities to expand these capacities?
  • Look beyond conservatory scheduling limitations to consider imaginative and ambitious ways to change the status quo --making it widely part of the artist's world.

The following document, A Life in Music, was created by the faculty/staff participants at the end of the conference with the understanding that each institution has a unique culture, and any implementation of these recommendations will need to be appropriate to that culture.

A Life in Music Document
Dr. Dobrow discusses the forum and its connection with her ongoing academic research, Longitudinal Study of Musical Involvement

Initial inspiration for my academic research
Through being a musician myself and spending time around both amateur and professional musicians at wide range of life stages, I became intrigued by the ways in which these musicians experience their careers. In particular, I was very curious about why, given the tremendous riskiness of pursuing a professional career in the arts, so many young people would forge ahead in pursuit of their dreams. In other words, how can we explain the starving-artist mentality? How can people be so passionate about a career and yet receive so few rewards in terms of objective outcomes like salary and job security? I have hypothesized that many musicians may experience a sense of calling that compels them to pursue this type of challenging career path, and understanding this sense of calling is the core of my research..

Brief description of my study
I have been conducting a longitudinal survey study—tracking the same people over time—of close to 600 young musicians since 2001. At the beginning of the study, the participants were very talented high school musicians, and in 2007, most have graduated from college and are working or are in graduate school—many in music, many in other areas. In fact, several participants from the study were at the Careers Forum. Longitudinal research is rare, but advantageous and necessary, for understanding careers, which unfold over time, by definition. The aim of this research is to elucidate the psychology behind how musicians experience music—namely, the extent to which they experience a sense of calling toward music--and how this influences their careers over the short- and long-term.

Power of peer group/social influence
My research has found that social influences, from both peers and from parents, can have a powerful effect on musicians’ sense of calling and on their career decisions. For example, participants who didn’t enjoy socializing with fellow musicians experienced a decline in their calling for music over time compared to those who enjoyed socializing with their peers more. And if participants’ parents were not supportive of their calling for music, they were less likely to intend to pursue music professionally. These findings are intriguing to me because we tend to think of calling as being something very personal and very internal—not something subject to social influence, as my research is showing.

Forum Outcomes pertaining to her research
The Careers Forum was revolutionary in many respects. It brought together people—students, faculty, and administrators--from top music schools from all across the country to engage in a topic that has not received enough attention in music training: how can young musicians truly exercise their creativity in shaping both their own musical performances and their own careers? In contrast to “traditional” music career education, which focuses primarily on developing young musicians into the most skilled performers who could win orchestra auditions or obtain solo engagements, etc., the Careers Forum makes a public statement that musicians and music educators need to—and are able to—reconceptualize what a career in music can be like.

The next round of data collection in the longitudinal study will be launched within the next few months. The Careers Forum provided an ideal opportunity to get feedback from musicians about what would be most intriguing for them to learn about the lives of the 22-24 year olds in the study. Among the numerous helpful suggestions were ideas about how to think about the relationship between musical ability and calling, what factors might shape calling as the participants enter adulthood, and further encouragement to explore the multi-faceted nature of career success.


Forum Coordinators: Rachel Young, Janet Rarick and David Gerstein

Forum feedback New!

What the students hoped the forum would be

J. Freivogel
Shepherd School of Music

Hopefully this forum will inspire new ways to approach these aspects as well as completely new avenues we have not explored.

Rachel Henderson
Shepherd School of Music

I am excited to talk with people from other schools about music careers. I think it's important to share experiences and learn more about the challenges of creating a career in music.

What the forum meant to them

Christina Sjoquist
Shepherd School of Music

The conference gave me a glimpse of where the future of classical music is heading. The opportunity to meet with students from around the nation who are as passionate as I am about these new directions was inspiring and encouraging.

Teddy Abrams
Curtis Institute of Music

One thing that I felt very strongly during the Workshop was that we should always strive to live a creative life as an artist. I know this sounds simple, but if we are aware of our own creativity and nurture this throughout our careers, we will have a much more fulfilling and meaningful musical life. Being creative means having the imagination to find ways to go beyond the box in which I often find myself. It also means finding new ways to bridge gaps and divides between people and connect people to the essence of what we express as artists. I was so happy to have been in a place where these seemingly lonely philosophical ideals were shared by all, and we all felt the energy and drive that mutual creativity provides. 

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