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(De-) graded musical performance. Part 2: Career path

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As I mentioned in my last post, apart from motivation and expression, there is not only one but also other issues that grades cannot assess properly, but which are equally important in determining if a music student will ever become a musician. No, I am not talking about getting the official degree! That paper will not tell you if you will become an active professional musician, it will only tell you that you were a good student who passed a few particular exams. Think about it for a second. Yes, we all know people who have graduated with a music degree, but have gone off to do something completely different in life than play music at a professional level. That is not necessarily bad. If you remember the case of the dancer from my last post, he decided to go to making tattoos instead, and perhaps he dances happily for his own amusement or during some parties...

But let us focus on the topic of today’s post: The career path of a musician. I believe we cannot rely on grades if we want to asses whether music students are ready for a career or not. And this time, instead of quoting some scientific studies, I am going to tell you a story. At the Sibelius Academy’s Early Music Department, where I am finishing my Master’s in the Baroque cello, grades have been removed from the evaluation system (yay!) Nevertheless, we still get a pass/fail evaluation since we are in an official education institution that provides us with official degrees, but at least we do not get those funny numbers from 0 to 5, a reason for shame and pride for many individuals in this country. What a relief. Imagine, people can listen to someone’s playing in a concert without remembering that years ago he/she got a number 4 in the exam, which for some is a good enough reason to forbid the person from playing anything anymore…

To the contrary, in my department, we play old music but we are modern people (or at least reformists). Grading has been eliminated and it feels like being in a free market: you sell what you can. However, many were worried about being placed in the same “bag” (meaning under the sticker “pass”): people who have talent and people who do not (I do not believe in such thing as “talent” –I will talk about this in another post, I promise– but I am using the word “talent” because we all know what I talk about). In other words, people were afraid of the same degree being given to those who “play well” and to those who do not; to those who work hard and to those who do not, regardless of their results. However, in my experience, to some extent it does not really matter how one plays or how much harder one practices. Every trained music student will face the real world outside the school. That is when your capabilities are truly put to the test.

I remind you once more that grades are primarily a measure of how good students are at getting good grades (standardized performance), not a measure of how much they are learning (and what is the quality of what they learn), how they deal with the musician profession, how creative they are, or how expressive or motivated they feel. I have seen (and surely you have, too) wonderful musicians who have graduated with honors but still have had very little work because they have lacked in social or marketing skills. But I’ve also seen the opposite happen often, too: People who are masters (without a degree) arranging activities without having a clue of what they are doing (performing) or what they offer to their audiences (of course, here I could start talking about how to twist the wishes of our audiences so that this happens, but that goes for another post, if I ever get the courage some day…).

My dear readers, the school of life has nothing to do with the grades you get from the music education system. Grades after our instrumental or vocal exams during our official studies –apart from giving us pressure and cutting down our motivation– will never ensure us a place in the society’s cultural wises. Make friends in the music world, be happy, or as they say “You made your bed, now go lie in it”... But since I am not good at resting on my laurels, I will continue with another topic in a few weeks, in order to finish this set of posts about grades, because surprise!, there is even more. If you have any comments or questions, I kindly  remind you that I am just a mouse click away from you. So long…