Two years ago I moved to Hartford for my Masters in euphonium. I had just come off an exciting final year in Orlando performing all I could and preparing to more intensely learn my instrument. I auditioned at two schools and chose what I believed to be the correct choice for me and my family.
It became clear early on that the studio that there was a problem between the professor and their continued students. There was a thick air of apathy prevalent in week after week of unlearnt music, cell phones in rehearsals, and students not bringing necessary mutes for months. Throughout the fall the sugar coating melted away and I figured out why I wasn’t satisfied – the leader of the pack was giving the studio what they gave them. I was caught in the crossfire from the beginning.
I blew the whistle on the studio during the spring semester because I saw things that devalued my degree. There were a fair amount of shenanigans that I witnessed but the most major offense was plagiarism where the instructor told a student to manipulate a competition recording. I maintained a high level of expectation in rehearsals and called out my studio when necessary. I spoke out when only one euphonium player attended my recital and when my studio wasn’t attending tuba recitals. I spoke out when I asked my professor for crucial recital feedback and I was ignored. In response my professor targeted me all he could in the spring and convinced my peers I was a “two-faced egotistical asshole” that was the root of the problem for two studios. In response I delivered an eleven-page document with detailed evidence about this professor, the studio, and the music school at large to the Dean.
In one year I went from getting out of classes to perform all I could in Orlando to not touching my instrument for eight months and being fine with it. Unless you’re aiming to go for something research or theory based the Hartt School is not a school I would recommend. It is most likely a result of a weak studio but I’ve never had so many scheduled performances get canceled because a group isn’t ready. I was here to perform and the performances are being removed. The student body doesn’t care, the conductors don’t care, and after presenting everything to the Dean it was clear nothing was going to change. I kissed my $8,000 a year scholarship goodbye and re-applied to transfer to where I should have gone all along. If I had stayed I would’ve left with a degree that could have done more harm than good. I failed to change the minds of those around me but I did not fail at sticking up for myself. I may have forged the tip of the spear but it lays in the dirt until more people notice it.
Don’t get me wrong there are a fair amount of students who not only excelled at their instrument but also showed unwavering dedication to their education. These are the few I will remember. These are the few who we will turn to in the decades ahead. These are the ones I greatly miss.
Students: your instructors are not immune – they too must be kept to a standard. You must not let apathetic peers control the quality of your education. You must also be a good student. You can’t speak out and fight for your education if you’ve done no work for it.
Teachers: you must do what you’re capable of. You will have moments where it’s easier or only possible to do the minimum. I understand this will happen. You must keep this at a minimum and guide your students to follow this example.
Deans and Schools: you must listen. You can’t attend every class. You can’t attend every rehearsal or performance. You must listen to what your students and teachers are saying and find the truth for yourself. You can’t sit in the ivory towers and look only on the surface. The value of a degree from your institution with your signature on it hangs in the balance.
So, no, Hartford, you do not “have it”. What you have is a snapshot of what’s going wrong in music schools around the country. We can cry in our little discussion groups about the “death of classical music” but it starts at the bottom: we are allowing it to happen. We are training the future generation of musicians in our image – we shall reap what we sow. “Good enough” is no longer good enough.