Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Degree Streams and Me

Choosing a Music Major

Emily Diehl is at a crossroads between a degree in music performance and an honours degree.

I am in a university program that has three degree streams. This means that after my first year of classes, I will have to decide on my specialization, much like a major, which will determine my next three years of classes.

I am taking a Bachelor’s of Music degree, and my choices of specialization: a Bachelor’s of Music in Performance, in Education, or a Bachelor’s of Music Honours degree.

Which do I choose? How much of my choice should be based on personal preference, and how much of it should be based on rationale? I still have not actually made this choice, so this article will detail my thoughts on various questions relating to it.

Where am I most likely to get a career? If I stay in music, the most stable and reliable career path is a career in music education. However, careers in music education tend to be less lucrative than one might like, and besides, my personality is not very well-suited to education, and I have known that for a long time. So, while I could very well go into music education, I would rather not. I do not feel called to it, nor do I think that it would be a smart choice for long-term job satisfaction.

So my remaining options at the moment are a degree in performance, and an honours degree. A performance degree would be something I would love, but it is not always a viable option – unless you are right up at the top of your field, it is hard to make a living. Honours, on the other hand, is a very open degree stream which gives me a lot of freedom to choose electives: I could go into music psychology, music theory, musicology, music therapy… the list goes on and on. Do I want that many options? Would I perhaps feel paralyzed by so much choice?

The next logical question is, “Where am I likely to get a career I want?” The answer seems rather simple right at the moment: performance. I want to be on stage – I want to challenge people, to show people the beauty of the world, to sing, to act. But on the other hand, I want to be able to live. Honours would be an easier route to take there, simply in terms of supporting myself with a steady job.

In the end, what is this degree actually going to net me? Not much other than training. Not much street cred. If I can manage it in the next four years, doing this degree could get me exposure to the musical community, and maybe lay the foundations of a career – especially if I do performance (it’s never too early to start).

To state the question a little differently, and more personally: what am I expecting from my university career? Easy: training. Education. Practice. Shared knowledge. Mentors. There’s nothing quite like a good university for solid mentorship.

Do I need this degree to get me anywhere else? In a word, no… the degree itself isn’t quite as important as the training and learning that come along with it. It’s not the paper that counts, oddly enough.

Do I need what I’m getting from this degree to get into grad school? Absolutely – especially if I get a performance degree or an honours degree. I could go right into teaching music if I took a music education degree. Granted, it wouldn’t be very high on the totem pole, and I could go get graduate degrees in music ed., but as I’ve already established that music education isn’t high on my list of personal passions… let’s move on.

The nitty-gritty of life, unfortunately, often comes down to the money. What do I want to spend my money on? I want to spend that money on quality education. I want one-on-one time with my instructors. I want a strong student base to challenge me and support me. I want resources. I want training, and critique. I want this to be four years I will appreciate, rather than look back on and cringe at how much money it cost me. This needs to be an investment, not a squandering. What I want from it will determine largely what I get from it.

If money were no object, what would my final question be? I think it would be, “What do I want to spend my time on?” In other words, what do I want to do? I want to learn. I want to hone my talents. I want to gather knowledge from those wiser than I – and then I want to learn how to use it.

Does any of that help me to choose a degree? Nope, not really. I’m no farther than I was before.

I’m at a crossroads between a degree in music performance and an honours degree in music.

I’m still unsure as to which path to take. Do I go the route that seems safer, steadier, more even-tempered (honours) or do I go the route that takes my talent and passion at its root and nurtures it (performance)?

Well darn it all, I want to do performance, and I guess the trouble is that I don’t know if it’s a smart thing to do!

Looks like I have more nights of restless thinking ahead of me…

Emily Diehl
Author: Emily Diehl
Emily Diehl is currently attending the Brandon University School of Music as a voice major.
Post a comment
  1. Calculus Says:

    Your article hit upon one of my many pet peeves.

    The question is not “Can I get a career in …?” A career is not something you go and pick off the shelf, nor is it something that is given to you. A career is made. Thus, the form of the questions change. “Can I make a career of X?” and “Do I want to make a career of X?” are two examples. Anyone who talks of “getting a career” is talking BS (realized or not).

  2. Emily Diehl Says:


    That’s a really good point. Thank you very much for pointing it out – I had honestly never thought of the implications/connotations of the phrasing of that question, but your criticisms make perfect sense.

    I would argue that phrasing the questions as “Can I *make* a career …?” are, in fact, potentially easier to answer, as well. There’s far more personal involvement.

    I’d also like to point out, however, that it can’t be all personal determination, no matter how much you try – there is a certain amount of ‘availability’ in at least some industries, I would think, depending on the skillset needed, your aptitude, and things like that. It does still come back to “Can I make a career of X?”, though.

    Thanks for the insightful comment!

    Emily Diehl

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