[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Lindsay Brazell, a classically trained musician, songwriter and professional high school choral director in Charleston, South Carolina. Lindsay weighs in on the advantageous ways teachers and instructors can make an impact on the lives of students interested in pursuing arts-related careers! ]
At the beginning of each semester, I give all of my high school students a survey about themselves, their musical experiences, and their career aspirations. Often times, they are interested in careers outside of the arts but hope to continue singing in choir or playing in bands. However, when their career interests are arts-related, they fall into two categories: performing or teaching.
Of course, this is great and I’m always glad to see students pursuing a field they are interested in. But what about all of the other arts careers? Often times, they don’t even know they exist until they have chosen a college major or are about to graduate.
This is a problem.
I wonder about the students who love their music classes and possess real talent, but have no interest in performing or teaching so they pursue another career field and hope to keep music in their lives either by joining a community ensemble or simply attending local performances. What if they knew there were other careers that don’t involve performing or teaching, that still allow them to be involved in the arts but also incorporate their other interests and strengths?
In a TEDTalk titled “The Transformative Power of Classical Music,” Benjamin Zander speaks on how classical music is for everyone, not just classical music fans. When discussing how musicians perform certain passages of music, he claims that if they play with emotion and intention, the entire audience will connect. He explained, “The conductor is dependent on their power to make other people powerful.”
Whether you are a classroom teacher, private lesson studio teacher, or arts advocate, our job is to impart our knowledge of our field to our students in hopes of inspiring them to pursue their own talents. So, this is what I try to do.
First, a little about my classroom and background. I am a high school choral director, and I firmly believe that there is little to no room for popular music in the music curriculum. Please don’t stop reading, let me explain!
Why should I teach songs that my students already know? It would be a great disservice to them and to their music education. I approach my ensemble literature from an academic point of view, and I try to program a well-rounded list of literature from different time periods and styles of choral music. I value a high level of musicianship skills, so I regularly teach sight-reading techniques in addition to vocal instruction in my rehearsals.
However, teaching was not my original career path! I attended Clemson University with aspirations of being a music producer. I love the creative process of writing music and being in the recording studio, and desired to work with artists in that kind of setting. I am still a singer-songwriter when time allows, but once I got involved in the Clemson choral program, I decided to pursue that passion instead.
Since I don’t always have the time to pursue songwriting and performing during the school year, I find ways to supplement my traditional instruction with some lessons in music industry. In doing this, a world of career options are exposed to my students. They don’t have to be performers or teachers, they can be sound designers and engineers. They can be event planners. They can run and host their own open-mic nights. The opportunities are endless!
I thought I would share with you three ways you can expose today’s youth, whether that be in a classroom or private studio setting, to the music industry and music careers.
1. Performance or Production Fundraisers
Every semester, we clear our choir room of everything and transform it into a coffee shop (think Friends Central Perk!). Students audition acts during class and are selected to perform based on a rubric of preparation, creativity, and quality.
During this time, students learn how to plan and produce an event. They make fliers and posters to advertise. They create a room floor plan and delegate set-ups tasks to create a coffee shop ambiance. Also, I require that all music must be live, so this encourages students to collaborate with each other or accompany themselves. Additionally, they learn how to set up microphones (always a difficult task), how to use my soundboard and listen for balanced sound in the audience.
Later in the year when we host our school-wide talent show, students then have responsibilities in running and designing lights and managing a stage crew. If they are performing, I help them use the vocal techniques we use in class to apply it to their song. This is probably their favorite fundraiser we do every year. And the best part? All of these tasks and responsibilities are jobs in the arts field, and are often times, well-paid positions.
2. Composing/Arranging Music
Ok, so I may have told one small lie. There is one time during the school year where I teach pop music, and that is for our talent show fundraiser. Our top choral ensemble performs a pop a cappella arrangement each year that I arrange myself. This is a great teaching opportunity, showing students how I created the arrangement, how to listen for different instrumental lines, how to use music notation software, and the list goes on! We also discuss how arrangers need to obtain rights to the song they want to use, and the process of licensure and royalties.
I have even taught a mini unit on TuneCore and iTunes, sharing the recording and production process of my album. They are always amazed that anyone can be on iTunes if they so desire! This encourages students who write their own music, and often leads to discussions about independent artists and the music industry.
3. Guest Speakers
The gaps in your experiences in the arts field can always be filled by someone else! Invite guests to your classroom that work in unique fields to talk to your students about what they do and how they got there. Some speakers to seek are recording engineers, private studio owners, arts administrators, theater managers, and costume designers.
Today’s education is very focused on career readiness and job skills, but there is a deficit in arts instruction that exposes students to all of the careers in our field. In South Carolina, it is one of our music standards to teach about careers, but I think it is often bound to performing and teaching. As educators or youth mentors, we have the power to make each of our students powerful. Expose them to the opportunities they could have in the arts!
Lindsay Brazell is a choral director in Charleston, South Carolina. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching degree in Choral Music at the College of Charleston and her Bachelor of Arts in Production Studies in Performing Arts from Clemson University. She studied double bass and voice as well as choral conducting. Lindsay is also a member of The King’s Counterpoint, a professional choir based in Charleston, as well as a Staff Singer at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in historic downtown Charleston.
In addition to her classical training, Lindsay is a singer-songwriter when time allows. Her most recent album,The Room I Found, can be found on iTunes under “Lindsay Morelli.” Lindsay aspires to promote music and art excellence in any mediums as she can. She is a member of The American Choral Director’s Association, NAfME, and the Nashville Songwriters Association International. Please visit Lindsay’s website and blog, or reach out on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.