Expansion in music degrees broadens career paths

Students enrolled in Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music perform in many capacities including a production of "The Merry Widow."

(July 18, 2014)

When most people think about music majors they envision someone who is hoping to be a professional performer.

Though professional performance is often the goal, the musical landscape is expanding and colleges and universities are offering more options for students with a passion for music.

Beyond the instrument

While music instruction and practice are large components of most undergrad and graduate music programs, students have a whole menu of options from which to choose and engage their interests.

The offerings at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music are as long and diverse as some playlists. Musicology, the study of the history and evolution of music, is offered as a Bachelor of Music or Arts, as a Master of Music, a Master of Music in Musicology and Library Science and even a Ph. D.

These degrees often have an interdisciplinary design allowing music studies to be paired with other areas of interest, according to Ellen Schantz, director of external affairs at the Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University. "The students that come here have broad ranging interests," Schantz says.

Music theory relates to the construction of music and its composition. Music cognition looks at what's going on in the brain when you play and hear music, or how playing music impacts the immune system. This can include fascinating interdisciplinary work with the neuroscience department, Schantz says.

Students can also pair a music degree with other areas of study such as engineering or journalism. While it is a five-year program that can be intensive because the student is essentially earning two degrees at once, it suits students who have more than one area of interest.

"The folks that come here are bright enough to pull this off," Schantz says.

Students can also self-design a degree program at Northwestern. As an example, Schantz says there is not a lot of demand for students to learn how to run an opera company, so they may not have a degree program in place. But the college will work with a student to create an arts administration major. In the past, students have created degrees in music business and film scoring. Schantz says it is an involved process that requires the approval of a faculty committee and is typically for a student who is very motivated and passionate about a particular area.

Larry VanOyen, director of bands at North Central College in Naperville, says they offer a Bachelor of Arts in instrumental music, vocal music education, jazz studies and a liberal arts track that also allows a student to design a major specific to a job area of interest if a degree is not available.

Elmhurst College provides a Bachelor of Music Education as well as a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in the music business. In addition, the college offers a bachelor's degree in jazz studies.

While a good ear is key, students need to have more than just a love of music.

Like at many other music schools, students at Elmhurst College have to meet two requirements including performing in an ensemble while enrolled in the music program and taking six semesters of a particular instrument, according to Ross Kellan, chairman of the Music Department at Elmhurst College.

He says it is important for graduates to be able to understand both the creative side of music as well as the business aspects and have an appreciation for both.

In addition to being important to their growth as musicians, being part of an ensemble, Kellan says, promotes the communication and people skills necessary in any job.

"That is a life skill," he says.

Out in the world

Life skills are part of what make music majors so marketable.