Applying to Teach Music
"I finished my DMA in piano from a top program a couple of years ago and have two MM degrees from one of the best conservatories in the world.... I have always felt that with my many abilities and terrific recommendation letters, a full-time job was just around the corner but in spite of being shortlisted for a number of academic positions, I have come up empty-handed." –Overqualified and Underemployed
-–Letter to the "Ask Edna" blog on MusicalAmerica.com, May 5, 2011
I suspect that the above letter writer's pseudonym is only half accurate.
Why? Because during my 30 years in academe, I've found that few applicants for faculty positions merit the label "overqualified." Quite the opposite.
Sure, applicants typically come with advanced degrees and flattering recommendations. But degrees and kudos represent only two items in a complex qualification package.
Here are pointers to help musicians compete for full-time positions as studio faculty in colleges, conservatories and universities.
Successful applicants demonstrate excellence in all of the things that faculty do. So, aside from earning degrees, aspiring educators need to amass track records in the following key areas:
Artistry. First and foremost, applicants must show that they're inspired performers and recording artists with reputations for excellence and success in the music profession.
Teaching. Applicants need to prove that they’re effective teachers whose students consistently achieve. Rising musicians can grow their credibility as educators through private teaching, adjunct positions at colleges, pedagogical training, and working as faculty members at summer music schools.
Recruiting. Colleges depend on studio faculty to recruit and retain burgeoning classes of students. Would-be faculty need to show that they are ace recruiters and have comprehensive plans to recruit at the colleges they apply to.
Leadership. Studio faculty function as leaders and role models. Applicants should demonstrate their leadership and artistic vision through such means as founding ensembles, commissioning new music, organizing tours, heading up innovative projects, and so forth.
Technology. Applicants who are fluent with technology and well-versed in Web culture are best suited to prepare students to succeed in today’s music scene. Therefore, aspiring educators would be wise to develop their Web presence and tech skills.
Collegiality and service. Music faculty members work closely together and often form bonds with their communities. Applicants should gather experience with institutional governance, collaborative projects, and community engagement, building reputations for reliability and collegiality.
Research/publication. Although studio faculty largely perform and teach, they also publish recordings, arrangements, and methods, research topics of interest, write articles, and impact their field. Successful applicants do so too.
Forge a professional network
Participate in festivals and conferences. Musicians who perform and connect positively with diverse colleagues multiply their knowledge and gather allies who can speak to their abilities and character.
Collaborate. Collaborative projects stretch our skills and, in the process, expand our networks.
Grow your online community. Via websites, blogs, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more, musicians can extend their reputations and broaden their networks.
Submit polished materials
Address all listed duties and qualifications. Search committees often employ spreadsheets that itemize each duty and qualification described in a position announcement; they then rank each application according to the listed criteria. When applicants don’t address every duty and qualification it lowers their ranking and diminishes their impact.
Take care that your cover letter and CV show how you meet a job’s qualifications and how you have acquired expertise carrying out the duties specified in the position announcement. Also indicate any additional skills you’d bring to an institution.
Be clear and concise. Your application materials should indicate your achievements, vision, and abilities, but without being cluttered or overlong. To that end, keep your cover letter to 1-2 pages of crisp prose, and distill your C.V. Readers shouldn’t have to wade through verbose text or dozens of pages to learn about you (e.g., refrain from listing hundreds of performances).
Guidelines for crafting materials can be found at Inside Higher Ed as well as on job sites.
Obtain pre-submission critiques. Before you apply, be sure that experienced mentors review your materials and website.
If you’re still earning your degree, establish relationships with faculty mentors as well as staff members in your institution’s career services office and periodically ask them to critique your C.V. and a mock cover letter. In that way, you can upgrade your materials and qualifications over time.
Update your website. Make certain that search committee members can hear recent tracks, view videos, and understand your artistic mission and background by visiting your site. Your site design should also convey that you’re a with-it, new-century professional.
* * *
Lastly, aspiring faculty should be realistic about the job market. Full-time teaching positions are scarce and applicants abound, so it seems sensible to me for young musicians to view academic positions as among many possible career options that they might pursue.
Gerald Klickstein (@klickstein) is professor of music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and author of The Musician’s Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness (Oxford University Press). A veteran performer, educator, and career coach, he publishes weekly articles for rising musicians on The Musician’s Way blog.
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