Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Music Professors

I ran across an interesting chart this morning. It lists the average faculty salaries by discipline and shows what the "opportunity cost" is of teaching instead of working in the private sector. Universities have to pay professors in business and management over $100,000 annual salary to compete with the money they could make working in the business world. Way, way, way down at the bottom of the list are Music and Fine Arts. Now why is that? Here is that chart:

Business and Management$104,141
Computer Science$88,704
Health and Medical Administration Services$79,292
Natural Resources and Conservation$78,711
Political Science$76,349
Area, Ethnic, Cultural, Gender and Group Studies$75,919
Foreign Languages$69,549
English Language$67,542
Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Services$64,736
Social Work$62,728
Communication and Media Studies$59,244
Theater Arts$58,332
Fine and Studio Art$56,526

Yes, some musicians like Jay Z or Justin Bieber make fabulous amounts of money, but a music theory professor at a college can't exactly quit his job and start working as a pop star. People in the upper levels of business and management seem to have a lot of mobility, though. Economist Larry Summers, for example, has been President of Harvard University, Secretary of the Treasury of the US, Chief Economist of the World Bank and is now being considered as the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve. But what is his actual expertise? What does he do?

I can't think of any examples of composers or theory professors or musicologists moving around like that. Some might gravitate towards administration in the university and some move from one university to another, but usually professors stick to the same university and merely aspire to getting tenure or, if they have tenure, to moving up from assistant to full professor. Not too many want the job of Chair of the department or Dean of a major division of the university. Composers like Philip Glass just do one thing their entire lives.

I'm not quite sure what the lesson to be learned here is, but it is pretty clear that Western societies do not value expertise in music very highly. That's a bit of a puzzlement to me as I personally view expertise in music as a very high value. Higher, on average, than the value highly-paid economists seem to bring to the table. At the end of an economist's career, what does he have to show for it? Is the US or world economy any better? Does the US have less or more debt? Is the unemployment rate better or worse?

But a composer at least has left a body of work that hopefully does have lasting value and will give deep enjoyment to following generations. Isn't that worth more than screwing around with the economy?

Obviously I am profoundly biased and have no understanding of Higher Economics!

Now here's some expertise that you can marvel at. Bach, Cantata 66:


Rickard Dahl said...

Good idea. I'm (since today) in the progress of listening to all of the Bach cantatas. No. 8 at the moment. Some of these cantatas have parts which remind me of Bach's passions.

Rickard Dahl said...


Bryan Townsend said...

The Bach cantatas are probably the greatest body of truly great music that is not widely known. A few movements are very well known, but mostly not. Great project! I haven't listened to them all myself. But I have read all the Platonic dialogues...

Here is a post I wrote on the Bach cantatas a while back:


Rickard Dahl said...

By the way, in the Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 4th movement you said in the comments that Bach "tended to write for voices as if they were instruments". What do you mean by that?

Also, it's pretty crazy that Bach managed to compose one cantata per week and for so many weeks.

Bryan Townsend said...

If you look at the scores to some Bach vocal works, they don't look very different from his writing for solo violin or cello: long running lines of sixteenth notes with not many places to breathe! This is not typically how you write for voice.

Oh yes, for YEARS Bach the equivalent of a Beatles album every week. Hundreds of cantatas.

Bryan Townsend said...

That should be "Bach wrote the equivalent of a Beatles album every week."