Peabody Dean: Conservatories do a bad job. We train musicians as if it’s 100 years ago.

Peabody Dean: Conservatories do a bad job. We train musicians as if it’s 100 years ago.


norman lebrecht

May 13, 2015

Lisa Philip has made a fine, short documentary for the Chronicle of Higher Education, eliciting some sharp analysis from Peabody dean Fred Bronstein. You can watch it here.



  • John Borstlap says:

    Hundred years ago… that was the time when orchestras were booming, audiences increased, writing about classical music was part of everyday media, musicology quickly developed, performance standards rose considerably, conservatories accepted and delivered more and more students, and when composers like Strauss, Mahler, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Scriabine, Rimsky, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok rocked the musical boat, the time when audiences awaited premières with the greatest excitement and fist fights broke out at performances that bumped into the limits of listeners’ expectations………. the time that extra trains had to be arranged to get audiences to the Dresden opera theatre to attend the performances of Rosenkavalier…. Maybe it would not be so bad to try to keep something of that era in today’s education.

  • Anon says:

    It’s true that we live in a new age of technology, where babies grow up with iphones in hand, no one reads books on paper, etc. Maybe we should reduce the classical standard rep to 3-minute pop-music chunks of greatest hits too. Add some laser light shows and add some scantily clad dancers. Yeah, that would sell. I mean, it works for Yuja Wang, right?

  • Fred says:

    My prestigious conservatory alma mater keeps hitting me up for money. With every letter I get from the school, I think to myself, “why don’t they just shut the place down?”

    I wouldn’t object if the students were merely wasting four or more years of their lives with no reward afterwards. But when you pile on the tens of thousands of dollars of student debt that they accrue, the education becomes unconscionable.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      Every school in higher education exists only because people choose to attend. On that basis alone, you really have no business “objecting” to the time or money that anyone (including yourself) chooses to spend. A music student chooses their major just like an engineer or a physicist. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they chose the major they felt best suited for just like an engineer or a scientist. The discipline and analytical skills that musicians develop often set them up for a pretty good plan B. For example, I know more than one successful attorney with a first degree in music.

  • Neil Thompson Shade says:

    This was an interesting post. I am a faculty member at Peabody, but not as an instrumentalist, although I am an amateur violist (for which I believe all the jokes were written for).

    I established a 2 year master’s program in acoustics at the school 15 years ago. I have been an acoustician for 32 years and simultaneously a faculty member at several institutions for 27 years.

    About half of my students come from Peabody after completing their 4 year undergraduate music and 5 year tonmeister program. They have come to realize that there are few jobs in music and recording. The other half of my students enroll after completing an undergraduate engineering or physics degree. They are attracted because of the musical environment.

    The interesting thing from my perspective is the music students are more creative thinkers than the ‘technical’ students. I am absolutely convinced that getting a child to play an instrument and to continue this during development does wonders to increase neural firings in everything one does.

    I am very proud to say all of my student graduates are employed doing something in acoustics, and frankly paid very well for what they do. Sure, they might have made more money as an player in one of the major orchestras, but like kids wanting to be the next Michael Jordan, what are the chances of that happening? Many still play their instruments in local ensembles or as extras in lesser orchestras.

    Students have told me the lessons and hours of practice have provided them with a structure and work ethic necessary to succeed in life. Were that belief to be carried over to the politicos, life in the USA would be better. Now where did that viola go to…

  • william osborne says:

    The philosophy of entrepreneurship in the arts was formulated by conservatives in the 1980s as a riposte to Europe’s system of public arts funding. It is based more on political ideology than empirical evidence.

    One of the first steps of good entrepreneurship is to evaluate the potential for success in one’s market. The vast majority of business efforts in classical music are unsuccessful, even after careful analysis and strategy development. Since the philosophy of entrepreneurship has not worked, its proponents present little or no empirical data to support their approach.