In Tune Society
DMA: Doctor of Musical Atrocity

Gary GraffmanCredit: https://www.curtis.edu/

Gary Graffman
Credit: https://www.curtis.edu/

It’s undeniable that higher education has become serious business! Universities across the globe are churning out music graduates in untold numbers. Robert Freeman, former head of the Eastman School of Music, pointedly believes that “we are graduating too many, too narrowly trained musicians.” Perhaps the greatest aberration of all, according to Robert Fitzpatrick, the former Dean of the Curtis Institute and present Provost and Dean of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, “was the creation of the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA).” This educational model combines advanced studies in an applied area of specialization with graduate-level academic study. It replaced a system in which conservatories like Juilliard and Peabody provide focused training to prepare talented students for careers as professional performing musicians. Specialized colleges would educate and form teachers, and Universities would foster scholarly development. Today, conservatories offer degrees in Education, University degrees in performance and educational colleges grant PhD degrees. This mad hodgepodge is the direct outcome of the DMA system. It essentially allows students to get tenured university positions in performance and composition so that “they can teach future DMA candidates who would in turn train more students for non-existent orchestra positions and for dwindling opportunities in primary and secondary arts education.”

Florence Foster Jenkins – Queen of the Night by Mozart

In the US, where it all originated, this vicious cycle has led, “to a decline in the quality of education in general, and an abandoning of the arts and arts education in particular.” At least that’s what world-renowned pianist and former President at The Curtis Institute, Gary Graffman thinks of the situation. Paradoxically, the DMA model has become a cash cow for US universities, with whole resource departments and related industries trying to attract cash-rich students from China and elsewhere. And so the inflationary practices of handing out music degrees for cash continue unabated. Most troubling is the fact that the educational machinery is acutely aware that it is preparing hopeful, and in many cases talented students, for careers and positions that don’t actually exist. It’s just too difficult to say no to a paying consumer!

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