Should I Teach or Perform?

Perform-teachMany young students are faced with this decision before they graduate from a college or university and the decision can sometimes be difficult.

I have had the pleasure to play on both sides of the music stand and will try to give you the pros and cons of both areas in music as best I can.

Some advantages for teaching music in an educational setting-

• If you love working with young people, you will have a very satisfying career.
• Summer vacations time can be spent in rejuvenating yourself, writing or other creative activities.
• Insurance benefits and many retirement programs are very beneficial.
• Daily challenges are always present.
• Daily activities are constantly changing as the season progresses.

Some of the disadvantages of teaching music in an educational setting-

• Income is listed at the lower end of the wage scale.
• With the continuances of educational cutbacks, music is most often at the top of the cutback list.
• You will be expected to spend more hours at work than your salary reflects.
• Music is most often referred to as an extracurricular subject and your position is not as respected at an equal level with the more traditional classroom subjects.
• As with all classroom teaching, there will always be some students who will disappoint you or be a constant irritant.

Some advantages of performing professionally-

• Incomes for the very gifted performers are substantial.
• Being a professional performer can be very exciting and self-fulfilling.
• In most situations you are in control of your performances.
• A skilled performer will always be respected and appreciated.
• Sometimes travel is required of you and seeing other parts of the world can be exciting.

Some disadvantages of performing professionally-

• Even though your income may be extremely high, the government will expect a disproportionate amount of tax for what they offer you in return for you hard work.
• You are one car accident away from being out of work for the rest of your life.
• Trends in music vary and so do the jobs in your area.
• Performing professionally is extremely competitive.
• Performers usually do not have a substantial retirement program.

Each profession has advantages as well as disadvantages as do other careers but there are ways to lessen the disadvantages and still enjoy some of the benefits of both areas. As I mentioned earlier, I have been fortunate enough to be in that position throughout my life and for that I am very grateful.

While teaching thirty years at the University of Northern Iowa, I had the great fortune to work with many gifted students; some have continued into the professional performance field and have done well. Other students have graduated and became gifted teachers who, in turn, have influences hundreds, if not thousands of young musicians across the country. At the same time I was teaching at our university, I continued a very active career as a performing musician. I was involved with a fine symphony orchestra, a wonderful faculty brass quintet and a very impressive faculty jazz quintet. Many weekends I fronted my own dance combo as well as performing with other ensembles in the area. Traveling shows and entertainers visited our town regularly and I was also able to perform with many of them. If you check my bio on this site, you may be impressed with the opportunities I had to perform while still teaching full time. If I were to assign a percentage of daily responsibilities for my teaching position and my performance activities it would be 80% teaching and 20% performing.

If, on the other hand, the responsibilities were reversed, i.e. I were sustaining a performance generated income as many major symphony performers do, there still would be enough time for teaching either at a college/ university as an adjunct professor. In this case the major area of activity would be approximately 80% of my time and 20% set aside for teaching.

It is my opinion that total involvement in one area (performance or teaching) would be at times risky and in some cases frustrating. So, if you are thinking of a total teaching career or a total performance career, I would suggest evaluating the advantages of doing both at the percentage which favors your greatest interest.

You may also find this helpful- Music Schools

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

2 thoughts on “Should I Teach or Perform?

  1. d miller

    What school would you say would give some one the best chance to get a orchestral job

    • Bruce Chidester

      Thank you for visiting our site and your question is a very interesting one. Very few students think this far in advance as to which school to attend. In order to give you my advice on this issue, I will have to make some calls and search for current instructors around the country.

      This may take a couple days so please check back in a couple days and I will get back to you.
      I am very impressed that you have asked this question and I will do my very best to help you.

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