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Decided on a BMus, then a Grad Diploma and thats it! No MM and No DMA

I recently made the decision to not do a full Masters degree in Music, and NOT do a DMA.
I have been doing work as an Organist Choirmaster since I was 18. I truly love it. But, I have also done work in Arts Administration.
Often, churches get my resume and feel that I am already...with NO degree..."OVER" qualified for their positions.
They think they won't be able to pay me enough. They think that I won't be interested in working with volunteer choirs. I can go on and on.
I feel like advanced degrees will make me even more overqualified for all of the part-time and 3/4 time Music Director positions that are the norm.
Most churches only have part time positions, and I don't want to spend extra money for the chance to probably get one of 5 full time church jobs that come open a year.
Repertoire is not a reason to go to Grad or DMA School. I already know how to play major works of Organ Music, like Dupre's Variations on a Noel, etc.
Are any of you battling with this decision-making process?
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on November 6, 2012 7:30am
Hi, Desiree.  I'm not quite sure what you mean by "a Grad Diploma," but I appreciate your thoughts and the philosophical questions they raise.
I'm no Ann Landers, but looking at what you've written objectively the question I would ask is fairly simple.  There's no question that grad school requires a major commitment of both time and funding (although some graduate programs at some universities or conservatories come with pretty generous financial aid).  So it also has to be a major personal commitment, based on a decision that the investment will be worthwhile in the long run.
So my question is this:  you are happy with your present situation and with part-time work, using the skills you already have.  GREAT!!!  There are lots and lots of people who would LOVE to be able to say the same.  BUT, are you satisfied with a decision to STAY in that same kind of work for the rest of your active career?  Of to put it another way, can you still see yourself satisfied in the same job in 5 years?  10 years?  20 years?
I guess what I'm suggesting is that there are any number of reasons to decide on grad school and advanced degrees.  One is to improve your present skills so as to become better at your present job.  A great many teachers take grad courses for exactly that reason, and because the additional hours move them up on the salary schedule in their existing jobs.
Another is to acquire NEW skills and knowledge, in order to qualify yourself for new and different kinds of work than what you are presently doing.  And don't kid yourself; there are jobs for which advanced degrees are an absolute necessity and a key to becoming qualified for consideration.  College teaching is one of them, but so is the certification needed for public school teaching.  And even in your present situation, moving up to become a full-time Minister of Music may very well have advanced educational requirements.
A third is simply to become a better, more prepared person and musician and to open up more possiblities for work or for fun activities that may appeal to you as either a new career or as an addition to whatever your main career may be.
For me, the decision process was pretty much a no-brainer.  For starters I come from a family of educators for whom their own education and the improvement of their skills and knowledge were ALWAYS important.  Their Masters degrees were hard-earned and the budgeting for them was pretty tricky, and my father made it halfway through a doctoral program but could not finish it because he would have had to quit his job to spend a year in residence.  And they both lived through the Depression (and in fact took their first teaching jobs out of college at the very beginning of the Depression).  And they didn't go to grad school to qulify for new jobs (although my father could have qualified for college teaching with a completed Ed.D, but moving to college would have meant a pay cut from what he was earning in the public schools!).  And to make ends meet they both taught lessons after school and had jobs as a church choir director (my father) or organist (my mother) for as long as I could remember.
My case was quite different.  My FIRST career was in show business, for almost 20 years as a full-time professional entertainer (including 4 years in the USAF Band), and it took me 12 years to complete my undergrad degree, picking up courses whenever I was in one place long enough to do so, which really makes that degree a much more important milestone.  With the drastic changes in entertainment that were taking place in the late '60s, I decided that it was time to get off the road and to move on, and my motivation was to make myself the best-educated, most capable musician I could be, not just to qualify for a particular kind of job.  I figured that the two kinds of people who needed to KNOW and UNDERSTAND the most about music were the scholars who studied it intensively and the conductors who brought it to life, so I set out to get a Masters in conducting and a Ph.D in musicology.  (And I did not, in fact, complete the Ph.D, although I finished the course work, because I got a job offer I couldn't refuse and never looked back!)
So the best advice I can give you is to do what seems to make the most sense to you right now, at this point in your life.  But don't close any doors that might allow you to change your mind in the future, either the immediate future or 10 or more years down the road, when you might have a different life than you do today and perhaps a different set of priorities.  Just "never say never"!!
All the best,
on November 6, 2012 8:12am
My son just received his Performers Certificate in piano performance, after a BM and an MM.  He also plays organ and harpsichord and studys--still--all three instruments with some of our areas best teachers.  He has had church jobs and is auditioning for better ones right now.  In our community, the BM and the MM and the Certificate do not make him *over qualified* but it's what everyone expects. I should mention he's been my accompanist since he was 10, starting out with the grade school chorus I directed and the community children's choruses.  Now he accompanies my semi-professional chamber choir and directed a portion of our program last spring. And he has directed choirs from the keyboard and consol and is comfortable doing so. He took his first steps in an organ loft--really.
You are right--repertoire is NOT a reason to go to grad school but grad school points you in the direction of what to look for in repertoire. Perhaps you will be introduced to a composer you've never heard of and help you broaden your horizens.  And it's always a good idea to have a wonderful teacher, making your technique better. We can never "know how to play..... whatever", but must always be open to becoming better and grad school helps you.
I am not sure where you live but having a grad degree doesn't make people think you won't want to work with a volunteer choir AT ALL.  At least not here in Chicago. What makes you think  churches think you're over qualified?
I am not sure what kind of Certificate you mean as well.  Just having observed the process with my son (he graduated in June), I can tell you, if you mean a Performers Certificate, most are meant to be a bridge for the performer between the MM and the PhD (or DMA). (Sonny's plan is to work for a few years and look into doctoral programs)  It is my understanding you must have a MM to apply to Certifcate programs. Do you mean something else?
on November 7, 2012 6:14am
I'm curious too about why you think churches think you are "overqualified."  Frankly, I've been overqualified for more than one church job but as there are so few even "qualified" applicants in my area they are more than happy to take me!  I just have to take whatever salary they are offering.  You know where you live and the job market there and maybe you intend to stay there.  But if you are willing to re-locate, I do believe there are jobs that come available that expect a higher level of education.  Good luck with your career!
on November 8, 2012 6:22am
Heidi - Ah, but that's the issue.  "Over-qualification" is code language for "we can't/won't pay you as much as you may think you're worth, and as you probably are worth."  It's a negotiating tactic - not honest, but typical.  The Church always claims poverty - until they build the next church building.... Then they rapidly forget that the building needs to be filled by people, many of whom (especially in Protestant denominations) consider music a sine qua non for their worship.  For too many years Catholic churches (other than cathedrals or basilicas) were content with Mrs. XXXXXX, tootling along on the organ, paid either a pittance or nothing because she was doing it for the expected "love of God."  This is a trend that's changing, but it is so painful.  So, yes, "over-qualification" IS an issue, and is used by churches as a negotiating tactic - both by clerics AND the Finance Committee!
Chantez bien!
on November 8, 2012 9:02am
Very few ‘over qualified’ accountants, doctors, vets ‘just take whatever salary they are offering.’ I hate the way the arts in general is always getting the short end of the stick. You got to beat the system because it isn’t fair. I satisfy myself enough artistically and get fair pay for what I do musically. (I would love to do more but it won’t pay.) Fortunately, I have other interests and can have a second career very much removed from music. I encourage every young musician/artist I meet to take a look at my situation and take an honest look at theirs. Make up your own mind but for goodness sake be honest with yourself, your desires and your expectations from your years ahead of you. Average worker joe-person works 40 hours a week and what you get paid for those 40 hours is your choice.
Rant over. lol
on November 8, 2012 8:49am
Yes. I just made the decision that a Masters was not for me. In addition to some of your reasons it does not make sense for me in terms of cost/benefit. All that time, energy, heart- ache and it I will never recoup it in terms of salary. A 2 year college diploma in something totally different than music has a higher chance of being recouped. Fortunately, I have interests outside of music so I can take this route. This is where I am looking right now at continuing my education.
I have financial responsibilities and dreams that unfortunately take money so music is becoming more of a side line for me. We all make decisions. You go!
on November 9, 2012 6:57am
I can pretty much echo what has been said above, but this is one of those questions that has as many varied responses as there are people. I think it's always wise to get feedback from others in the field, especially us "oldsters" who've seen the passing of more than a few suns across the sky! I'm a teacher now, so I'll tell you what I tell my young charges.....
It's always advisable to plan your life. It's human nature. Some of us are chronic planners! However, and I'm assuming that you are still fairly young, all the micro-planning in the world can't figure in some of those unforseen things that can enter in and change your life. In some younger students' (and sometimes their parents'!) zeal to micro-manage their lives they often don't allow for the unpredictable. Trust me, and using my own life as an example, things can happen, opportunities can arise, that can change your life's directions in the blink of an eye. When you are young it can be very tempting to convince yourself that you've got your life's directions plotted out nice and neat. There's something to be said for knowing early on what it is you want to do and sticking with it. However, I think there has to be room for allowing for the unexpected. Let me use my own experiences as an example.....
I pretty much knew from the get-go that music (or theatre) was going to be my field. I started out dutifully getting my undergrad degree in music education (voice), thinking that that (teaching in high school) would be what I could fall back on. (HA! Was THAT ever off the mark!!!) Just before my junior year my voice really opened up, and it was obvious that being an honest-to-God singer might not be out of the question. I basically put all my thoughts of teaching on hold (even then I knew I wanted to eventually teach) and decided to pursue further vocal studies. Vocal development can be a dodgy thing to pursue, just by the very nature of the instrument itself. Maturation is a process that often doesn't really come to fruition until one is in one's mid-to-late twenties or even early thirties. A lot also depends on the teacher, and on the emotional, psychological, physical, and intellectual make-up of the singer. Singers aren't just born, they are also made! I was incredibly lucky and blessed to be able to move on and be accepted as a student of the phenomenal pedagogue, Margaret Harshaw, at Indiana University in Bloomington. It changed my life, and showed me that at least as far as singing was concerned I might be able to live as a singer. I lingered there and took a long-ish time to complete my master's degree, mainly because I wanted to keep educating myself. In the process, I began to see that opera really wasn't going to be where I would go, even though I loved it (still do!) more than anything. My voice type and sound just weren't as suited for it. This was a hard pill to swallow, but, as the saying goes, "when God closes one door, He opens another one". I began to see my voice (and my temperment) was much better suited for other types of singing, types that were equally valid and satisfying, musically and aesthetically. Then I began to head into early music, more specifically Baroque music, and there my voice was solidly "at home". Also, choral and vocal ensemble work seemed to suit me best. Like John Howell above, I began to pursue a doctorate in voice, but really wasn't sure what I might do. Well, my answer came when a position opened up with the group Chanticleer. We were tailor-made for each other, and I joined them unhesitatingly. The doctorate remained unfinished (all course work done, only 6 recitals left to do) and off I went. I never looked back. After three years with them (again, another fantastic life-changing experience!), things just worked out for me to pursue another dream--locating in Europe. All the pieces fell into place, and I ended up in Holland, singing with one of THE premiere vocal ensembles in the world, the Netherlands Chamber Choir. There I stayed for the next 18 years, singing with this incredible group, working with the top orchestras and conductors in the world, travelling all over Europe and the world, etc......a really charmed life that I daily thank the great God above for! I could never have planned for all this. It just happened. I got opportunities and I took them. It was certainly a bit of a gamble, but it paid off big time.
After 20+ years as a professional singer (i.e. working solely as a singer), I then began to have a hankering to teach once again. That desire had always been there, but it was now coming to the forefront once again. After all those years of singing (literally thousands of concerts!) I felt I now had something  to teach and pass on to an up-and-coming generation. Long story (and it is, I see. Sorry!) short.....I managed to get a teaching job over here in the US and pursue the next phase of my life. I feel it is perhaps the most important phase of them all, and it is ultimately the most satisfying. But sadly, I have run into the brick wall of dealing with academia. The first institution I was with canned the position I had and I was forced to find another post. I squarely ran up against the difficulty of finding a full-time post because of so many schools' requirement of having a completed DMus in order for full-time work. (I'm currently working part-time and still looking, so if you need a crackerjack voice teacher/choral conductor, let me know!!!) I firmly believe that a DMus as a prerequisite for teaching a performance-based medium like music (also theatre) is very very often totally superfluous. Having a slew of degrees and letters after your name is NOT a guarantor of being a better teacher of, in this case, voice. Check the CVs of most all the opera singers on the world's stages today, the CVs of most of the players in the world's symphony orchestras or ensembles. You will see very few doctorates. There's a large segment of us who have had, or are having, enviable careers as professional musicians, but who are shut out of passing on that wisdom that can only be gained from years of experience "in the trenches". I was performing during the years it would've taken to get a doctorate. I did what most musicians in their heart of hearts really want to do: I made music, and did it at a level that most with doctorates can only dream of. I do understand the necessity of doctorates for people in certain disciplines of music (musicology, theory, etc.), but when it comes to teaching potential performers, where then someone with a lot of experience can pass on much more than just some elements of technique, then a doctorate isn't going to substitute for what was learned from a lifetime of experience. *climbing down off of soap-box*
Okay, Desiree, what I mean to say by all this long-windedness is that you just never know. Had I known that the lack of a doctorate was going to be such a hinderance for me finding a decent teaching position, I might have done things slightly differently. Yep, hindsight really is 20/20, but I also wouldn't take anything for what I've been able to achieve in my life thusfar. Allow for your wants and desires to go through their inevitable metamorphoses as you get older. You just never know what will happen in your life to change your life. If anyone had told me 30 or more years ago how my life was going to go I'd have called the "twinky truck" to come fetch them and have them committed. If you're young, then be flexible. Allow for the unexpected. Allow yourself to change and reshape your dreams and aspirations as you get older. You just might be suprised where life might take you. I do apologise for this turning into a response of "John Howell Length" :-) (I do really LOVE your contributions to these threads, John!!), but I just wanted to throw my $.02 worth into the mix and let you see yet another side to consider. Many thanks for making it this far, if you do!
Take care, and keep making music!!!
Bruce Sellers
on November 9, 2012 9:27am
To make a short reply even shorter, Bruce is 100% correct.  Goals can be planned for, and should be.  Opportunities cannot, and will test whether you are a positive person who can say "why not" or someone who says "why?"
And while our stories are remarkably similar, I studied voice at I.U. not with Harshaw but with one of her students, Linda Anderson, and it was my son, not me, who toured with Chanticleer for four years.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 11, 2012 8:18am
Agreed, John . . . A goal without a plan is just a wish.  
on November 10, 2012 5:03pm
I truly hear your dilemma.  I hope that the other responders have clicked on your name to read your very impressive resume.  And congratulations on your survival and helpful mentoring!   I am teaching a similar patient who may be inspired by your story.
I can certainly see how hiring committes in churches, schools, and communities would be concerned about maintaining proper compensation for you.  [To those who doubt the "over-qualification" issue: Know that I have witnessed many here in Atlanta experience that, and I have myself.  I was told by a slightly-older mentor not to mention my Master's until just before signing the contract.]  Economy affects different communities differently.
Also, some groups - especially church choirs, I think - are affected by low self-esteem, especially if they have witnessed leading-musicians with lofty attitudes, or have experienced that themselves.  They don't always realize that many advanced musicians are still warm, humanitarians who are happy to work with them where they are.  As I became aware of this "marketing-glitch" (described well by R.R. Duquette), I added this phrase at the bottom of my offer to choirs to do vocal workshops:
"*Although she holds a Master's in Vocal Performance with several years experience as a Professional Soloist and Choral Director, Lucy's procedure is very relaxed, affirming, and singer-friendly… even if your only background is singing with the radio! J "
...But that's still no guarantee that folks are not assuming/saying to each other, "Oh, we can't afford her!"...before they even ask.
To balance the overqualification issue with the very valid points that Marie and John bring up re: what further education can do for you:  Why don't you consider taking one course at a time, checking to be sure that [at least most of ] what you choose will feed into a degree that will have some value for you in the future?  It will require minimum life-interruption as to time/money investment, and you can gradually see if you like how it feels to be "Master", or "Doctor" of the area you choose? - Just an idea... ;)
Best Wishes/please keep us posted on how all this works out!
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