My friend is counseling his daughter who wants to pursue a career as a classical musician to double major. My daughter also is a music major and we have discussed this with her quite often. She is a freshman oboist in Chicago. You basically have to be a superstar in classical music, or close to it, to earn a good living and not be hugely dependent on income from teaching. If you love teaching, then its not so bad, but the competition for the larger orchestras is very intense. Plus, several symphony orchestras are cutting back, so the strained economics are more true now than ever. My daughter is on a double major track and it will be a year-by-year assessment process to determine what she does after graduation. Continue on with the oboe in a masters program, if the signs are reasonably positive that she can make it long term, or look for work (and probably a masters too) in her other field. Likely to be accounting or economics.

Laurel Kenner writes:

Studying music confers a multitude of qualities useful in business: discipline, an appreciation for timing, devotion to perfection, the ability to comprehend different voices, a readiness to "hear" change, competence in meeting deadlines, comfort in communicating with an audience. (And music can bring great personal joy.)

Not so long ago, classical musicians were mere servants in the households of the nobility or employees of the church. Even professional musicians today usually experience significant downward mobility from their parents' lifestyle. The pressure to be mobile — to accept jobs far and wide –makes it very difficult for them to maintain stable marriages and establish families. I recommend "Mozart in the Jungle" as a cautionary tale. The oboist in the story ended up becoming a journalist and wrote extensively about the economics of classic music today, as well as the pitfalls of the musician's personal life.)

I applaud the double major as a way to avoid starting at the bottom in an alternate career. But those kids are going to have to work twice as hard as anybody else.

Yishen Kuik writes: 

Certain doubles can be pulled off quite easily - many classes can be applied to several majors. Statistics, for example, is a common requirement for many fields. Skilful negotiation can obtain cross credit approval for a class not yet listed as such.

The most unusual double/triple majors however will be the left brain right brain ones, which tend to have very little overlap. I have yet to meet someone else with my combination : math, economics, history of art.

I have noticed also that just as many Asians of my generation who went to good schools started their careers in the West to obtain better opportunities and experience, post the 1997 recession in Asia, I bump into many young Europeans and Americans starting fresh from school out here in Asia.

These economic migrants as it were have little to lose, no family to hold them back and can be found in all parts of China and Asia in junior jobs. I would not be surprised if in ten years, these intrepid job seekers return to Europe and the US as the next important community of business people who can move seamlessly between Wichita and Wuhan.






Speak your mind

2 Comments so far

  1. John Chesnut on April 2, 2012 2:00 pm

    Some people might recommend music and math as a double major, but I would expect that opinion to be hotly contested. I know people who think that music and math are closely related subjects, because they are both concerned with relationships. But I know other people who think the two things are completely antithetical.

    I seem to be one of the rare people whose left and right brains play well together. I was a math and music major at the University of Chicago.

    I cannot comment on the performance scene. I was interested in musical composition, which – during the High Modern Era, especially – had even fewer career opportunities.

    I never wrote mathematical music. For me, the tone row – which was about the only thing that was being taught in my day – was a guaranteed formula for writer’s block. I never wrote a lot of music and I make no claims to have ever become a mature composer, but I did think I combined a beginner’s knack for writing expressive music with a knack for editing the music I wrote.

    I have found that my study of the stock market has helped me in analyzing music. From my personal experience, I cannot say that the reverse is also true, although one always has hopes.

    I have recently uploaded my latest thoughts on the subject to Scribd. I have tried to write the paper in a reader-friendly style, and it assumes that the reader knows more music theory than mathematics. Here is the link:


    The title of the paper is “What is a Distinctive Musical Idea? Taking the Measure of the Cantabile.” It is an excerpt from a work in progress, The Shape of Meaning in Music: Analysis, Math, and Meaning.

    I hope you will find it interesting and thought-provoking.
    John Chesnut

  2. steve on April 3, 2012 1:08 pm

    Ars Gratia Artis To be an artist is to create things that only a few can even imagine. To study and train in the musical field is a privelege of the highest order. Something that will follow the entirety of one’s life.

    One only has the luxury of being young once. I never had the luxury of having musical talent to pursue an instrument seriously. I have the highest regard for those who do.

    I believe strongly (as many do) that education in and of itself is never wasted. I believe that one gets a education in that which they need to do and then that which they want to do. Being overeducated is a canard. Being overly specialized can be a liability.



Resources & Links