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September 23, 2013 | by  | in Arts Music |
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What Really Happens in That Crappy Yellow Building Next to Te Puni Village

Music is taught at Victoria University by the New Zealand School of Music (NZSM). Because of this, a degree in music studies from Victoria (whether Performance, Composition, or Musicology) is technically also a degree from the nationwide NZSM. Furthermore, a large proportion of jazz courses are also taught at Massey University, making Victoria Music students also affiliated with Massey.

I’m not going to argue that the major purpose of tertiary education is inherently and objectively to gain a career. In fact, my own studies in Ethnomusicology are largely founded on an intense curiosity in the subject. But what about those students who do wish to craft a career in the creative arts, and have come to Victoria with the intention of doing so? Job security in this field is, well, not particularly secure. University staff are fully aware of this dilemma, so one would assume that there is a strong emphasis on finding work as a professional artist. Yet Music students still seem to accept their post-tertiary situation to be one of unemployment and near-poverty; the ‘starving artist’, as it were.

Patrick Di Somma is a classical trombone player, with this being the focus of his specialised Performance degree. He justly points out that, “whatever institution you find yourself at… (it) can only take you so far, as studying an instrument is such an individual pursuit.” However, it seems that his decision to study at the Victoria branch of NZSM was calculated, as he also argues that our institution “is by far the best in New Zealand, as most of the tutors and staff work with the NZ Symphony Orchestra also; a world-class orchestra.”

However, jazz saxophonist Michael Allan argues that while “in many ways the NZSM does an excellent job at supporting their jazz students,” there are some biases in the way that funding is allocated across the Music programme. For instance, he has heard that “the classical school secured funding to purchase and import a new Steinway grand piano—similar to the three already owned by the NZSM—at a truly stupendous cost… while at jazz school, nine saxophonists are supposed to share the one school baritone sax between them.”

No matter whether the decision to allocate funding in such a way was justified by the NZSM, any perceived “bias” (as termed by Allan himself) inevitably diminishes students’ confidence in the management team that they are at least partly entrusting with their future careers.

Outside of formal education, though, networking and social media is becoming increasingly recognised as central to a career in any subject. I speak from experience when I remark upon the particularly heart-warming effort made by musicians in forming a community that supports each other’s careers; just go to Puppies on a Saturday night to see this community in action.

However, the differences between classical and jazz musicians are again made clear when considering how specialised performers implement networking. Michael notes that “we [jazz musicians] probably wouldn’t call it networking, but jazz in particular is a very communally focussed art form. You simply won’t go anywhere, or learn anything, if you don’t spend time playing with other people.” Patrick says of his classical performance craft that, “technically, you don’t need to know a single person in order to nail an audition… [but] it’s quite rare that you will actually land your dream job on the first go, so the only way to get gigs is by people knowing your name and knowing how well you can play.”

As suggested by Michael and Patrick’s experiences, social media seems to be secondary when it comes to exposing their particular talents. For instance, for the delicacy of an outstanding classical performance to be imparted through digital media, excellent and expensive recording gear is needed; you can’t simply record your best flute solo on Ableton in your bedroom if you want to perform with the NZSO.

This leads me to believe that the NZSM is lacking in face-to-face networking opportunities for their students. Faculties such as Law and Commerce indulge their students with formal meet-and-greet interactions with potential employers, yet it is often left to the individual Music student to slyly approach an orchestra conductor or jazz-ensemble leader if they want to be noticed. Yes, the ability to confidently approach prospective employers is a lucrative skill that should be developed at a personal level, yet in the world of specialised performance art where literally only one person is needed to play trombone in an entire symphony orchestra, it seems our university should be doing more to aid our Music students to ‘Get Amongst the Best’.

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