Does The World Still Need Classically Trained Musicians?

Is there room in our multi-media, digitally driven world for classically trained musicians? Aren’t symphony orchestras folding and opera companies declaring bankruptcy? Is there even a reason to pursue a college degree in music? The answer to all three questions is an emphatic YES! Hmmm. Yes to all three?  You might be asking that if orchestras and opera companies are in distress, why in the world do we need more classically trained musicians.  The truth is that we don’t need more musicians solely trained to fill slots in orchestras and opera companies. We need university conservatories and music departments to train and prepare a whole new breed of musicians who have the skills, tools and mindset to reimagine, revitalize, and redefine the role of classical musicianship in the 21st century. We need musicians who can create their own musical opportunities, even if those opportunities have never existed before.

The Lawrence Conservatory of Music is leading the way in redefining 21st century musical training.  Here is a short checklist of what today’s successful musician needs:

  1. Chops! It doesn’t matter what century it is, a truly successful musician has to reach a high level of musical mastery. There is no magic pill. This requires expert instruction from world class professors, thousands of hours of thoughtful practice, ample opportunities to hone one’s skills in a variety of ensembles both large and small, and a deep and thorough study of music theory and history.  Lawrence has been doing this since 1874 and it still makes up the heart of a 21st century musician’s training.
  2.  Brains! Today’s musicians need to create their own opportunities. Playing your instrument well isn’t enough. A musician today needs to have intellectual horsepower and flexibility of mind.    Musicians need to be adaptable, collaborative, creative problem-solvers. In sort, they need to be liberally educated.  With a conservatory embedded in one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, the Lawrence Conservatory is a leader in this area. New courses in musical entrepreneurship give Lawrence students additional opportunities to put creative thought into action.
  3. Creativity! Today’s successful musician can’t just be a reader of notes—no matter how expertly they can do this.  More and more musical opportunities rely on a musician’s ability to improvise, arrange, or compose music.  The growing need for musicians to tap into their own creative powers is exciting. At Lawrence we have vastly increased the ability for our students to become musical creators through new courses like Intro to Non-Jazz Improvisation, and new approaches to existing courses like adding improvisation as a core part of the Introduction to Music Education class.
  4. Versatility! Musical boundaries are blurring. It used to be easy to know what a classically trained musician would play: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, or Stravinsky. Today, a string quartet might also be playing jazz, heavy metal, bluegrass, funk, hip hop, or world music. Conversely rock bands might be featuring cello or violin.  A musician needs to be stylistically flexible. From our world-class Jazz and Improvisational Music Department to five world music ensembles, there are ample opportunities for students to expand their musical palette. Martha McDonnell, who in the two years since she graduated from Lawrence has played in both Sting’s Last Ship and Steve Martin’s Bright Star on Broadway, credits her professional success to her ability to play both classical violin and fiddle, plus the opportunities she had to explore both styles while a student at Lawrence.

The world of classical music is changing, but it isn’t disappearing.  Today there is a desperate need for musical thought-leaders who will forge the future of classical music.  There are so many opportunities out there for world-changing musicians. We just need to give them the training and tools they need to change the musical world!