Why I’m Taking a Break From Academia to Open Musicologie Lewis Center

Justin T. SwainMusic Education6 Comments

Musicologie Sign on School Building
About the Author

Justin T. Swain

Justin is a teacher and performer with a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and a Master of Arts in Vocal Pedagogy. He is the Community Manager of Musicologie Lewis Center and Director of Musicologie U.

Graphic by katemangostar

About the Author

Justin T. Swain

Justin is a teacher and performer with a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and a Master of Arts in Vocal Pedagogy. He is the Community Manager of Musicologie Lewis Center and Director of Musicologie U.

After completing a Bachelor’s degree in music and enrolling as a graduate student at Ohio State to pursue a dual-Masters program in vocal performance and pedagogy, I faced a question every college-trained musician faces: What’s going to happen after I finish graduate school? Apply for a doctoral program? Complete an Artist Diploma? Enter the audition circuit for performances and do the starving artist thing until I land a breakout role?

Luckily for me, I was referred to Musicologie by several colleagues who taught in Grandview at the time. After having looked into teaching at several other studios in the area, I was hesitant to apply, but after receiving encouragement from friends on the teaching staff, I was given an opportunity to create a studio of budding singers and pianists. Now, nearly three years later, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

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Higher Education is Changing

Across the country, conservatories and music schools alike are graduating far more musicians than there are professional performance opportunities or college faculty positions. Over are the days of pursuing a performance career overseas and returning stateside to apply for tenure-track college faculty positions. Low pay, rising cost of living, and the sheer number of people fighting for the same few positions make it an unrealistic, fleeting dream for the vast majority of graduating musicians. Further, many universities are eliminating tenured positions in favor of low-paying adjunct faculty positions in a misplaced attempt to save money.

The current model for collegiate musicians pursuing teaching careers in the academy is antiquated and unrealistic.

That’s a bold statement, I know. But nearly 40 years ago, the famous piano pedagogue James Bastien made a similar remark in his textbook:

“College teaching is limited to those who have advanced training, advanced degrees, and some experience in the field. It is a position to which many young pianists aspire, but one which is becoming more and more crowded with talented, well-qualified applicants. Music schools are turning out well-training piano performers, and the demand for employment is not as great as the supply.”

– James Bastien “How to Teach Piano Successfully”

The Rise of the Adjunct

I can think of at least five personal friends who are actively seeking tenure-track positions nation-wide at the moment. Many have been invited for live interviews or auditions and despite having a doctorate and one or more graduate degrees/certificates, have been unsuccessful in finding anything beyond adjunct positions. And these are highly trained, incredibly successful musicians with expansive performance careers.

This cost-cutting switch to adjunct positions is happening even at my alma mater, the OSU School of Music. After my former voice professor retired and relocated to Rice University, his tenured position was reduced to an adjunct position. It is a reflection of the current dreadful state of university teaching in America that highly qualified professors must live contract-to-contract, year-to-year, as adjuncts. Hopefully one day the academic job market won’t be as volatile, but I don’t see the current trend changing any time soon. Right now, the outlook is pretty bleak, and that’s a harsh reality for many to face.

Another Way Forward

I’ve been fortunate in many regards: I’ve had plenty of performance work post-graduate school, I’ve been offered a handful of low-tier adjunct faculty teaching positions, and I’ve even had work advising students. But after I started teaching private lessons at Musicologie, I was met with the rewarding experience of working with students of all ages hands-on and helping their goals in music become a reality. Even better yet, I am fortunate enough to have created financial security for myself through teaching and management work at Musicologie.

Now, I have been afforded the incredible opportunity to provide a similar rewarding path for other teachers through the opening of Musicologie’s fourth location in beautiful and thriving Lewis Center, Ohio.

Why Open a Private Studio?

So, why open a new studio now? Why encourage others to create music even if one path towards a successful career in music doesn’t look very bright?

Because the world needs more musicians!

Music lessons are proven to teach patience, discipline, and empathy. Music is a universal language that unifies us as human beings, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location. Not only that, but for many, especially for adults, music is therapeutic and can bring hours upon hours of recreational enjoyment, whether in the privacy of one’s own home, or out on the stage for others. Music study and performance helps to build a sense of identity and confidence for all ages, and I’ve had the great joy of watching my students grow into more fully realized versions of themselves through their study of music.

I want to share my enthusiasm and passion for making music with others, and I want to foster an environment where others can do the same. The world needs more music and music-makers now more than ever. Music has had a profound impact on my life and it’s an incredible privilege that I now have the opportunity to have the same impact on others. I cannot wait to create and foster an environment for music to be made in Lewis Center and continue enriching the lives of students through both my own teaching, and by providing a professional environment for other great teachers to do the same.

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