Warning: large ranting post ahead.
I have been marking written tests taken by prospective students who want to study music at university, and as always I am appalled, horrified and furious at the complete and utter lack of basic musical knowledge that some people have, considering they want to make a career out of it. Last night one of these written tests really took the cake for me. I have never in my life read such appalling spelling in an essay, which is part of the test in addition to the basic music questions like, "Name this note." Here's a sample - see if you can work them out:
Carmon (yes, Bizet's opera)
And so on. Gaaah!
What is wrong with the following scenario? Young Person fluffs around and leaves school after year 10. Has some casual and part-time employment in "retail and hospitality" for a few years, learns how to do web design or similar, all the while being really interested in music, particularly alternative, electronica and similar, and attempts to write pieces by playing them from an electronic keyboard into your computer, tweaking notes that sound "wrong", pressing a button and, voilá! Notation appears! "Hey! I think I'll be a composer, and apply for a composition degree at uni!"
Why, why, why would you decide to be a musician at the age of 18 (or older) and apply to a tertiary music course without even being able to read music? Correct me if I'm wrong, but do students turn up to first-year mathematics having never done mathematics in high school and being unable to read numbers? It really IS the equivalent of that.
I was at work today and I ran into a woman who I had taught in 2007 in the foundation unit, which starts with topics like key signatures, scale construction, how rhythm is organised, and so on. I asked her what she was doing now and she informed me that she was auditioning for postgraduate study. I am not sure if my gaping jaw was obvious to her but I smiled politely, wished her good luck and continued on my merry way, incredulous that this person could go from being unable to construct correct rhythmic patterns in 2007 to attempting a postgraduate qualification in music in 2009.
If you can't read a note as big as a barn, GO AWAY AND LEARN HOW AND THEN COME BACK TO A UNIVERSITY MUSIC COURSE!!! Can I emphasise that strongly enough?
I am deadly serious. No matter what line of music you are hoping to make a career in, do NOT expect to learn everything from scratch in first-year university. It is simply a waste of everyone's time, especially your own. This career is simply too competitive to succeed in if you don't know anything about it by the time you reach your late teens or early twenties. And those who think they know about music because they have all the recordings of Miles Davis, can play licks by Joe Pass, can sing a few songs from Sondheim musicals, or similar, just need a reality check. And private tutoring before they apply to a university.
However, this leads me to a much deeper philosophical issue: why are music institutions taking in students like this? Why are music institutions designing courses around what the students think they need, as opposed to what the experts in the field know they need? What are the career options for students who exit tertiary music courses being unable to play standard repertoire and get on the casual list of a professional orchestra, or make a living doing jazz gigs? What about the students who can do those things, where are the jobs for them? Why are schools producing musically illiterate students who in turn go into teaching and so the awful cycle continues?
No matter whether it's jazz or classical, I will go to my grave upholding the belief that people who want tertiary music study need to be able to read music, take basic theory and aural training, learn the fundamentals of music history, and need to be literate and able to write coherently.
Sorry if this rant started to seem a little incoherent or disconnected. It's been a long week!