Time for a schools of music takeover?

I received the following email from an undergrad piano major at a big name university. I wish his situation was a rare one, but unfortunately I think that many music schools have major issues like the ones he describes or other ones. Students frustration comes from the fact that the schools seem to ignore those known issues instead of tackling them on.

I've been fascinated lately with the show "Tabatha's salon takeover," where famous hair stylist Tabatha goes into failing hair salons and reshapes everything about them, particularly how people think of their job. After reading the following email, I really wish there was a "Schools of music takeover." Here is his email.

"Mr. Y (the names are changed for anonymity) is the head of the department. He's the biggest piece of *** in the world. I had him for two semesters... it was the biggest waste of time ever. He doesn't care about his undergraduate students at all, and would frequently double-book lesson times. I'd show up and there would be another person there waiting to have their lesson also... he'd always pick the other student, because it was always a grad student (I was his only undergrad). He'd also miss lessons quite frequently, in fact I think he short changed me at least four or five lessons in one of the semesters that I had with him. When he'd miss my lesson he'd usually suggest that I come to his house on the weekend and have my lesson there. He's completely unhelpful, won't use up the entire hour (maybe forty minutes tops) and the only way that he knows how to make any sort of suggestion is to play the entire piece for whoever the student is. He's horribly unreliable by email, he answers his phone/texts in the middle of lessons, he's ALWAYS out of town, and he's rude. Finally, as the head of the department he is virtually useless. He knows next to nothing about degree requirements, teachers, classes- he relies on his assistant to do all of this sort of work for him.

"I felt terrified by him and it was always clear 
he didn't think that I belonged in his studio"

Then there's Mr. W.  Also another one that doesn't like undergraduate students. However he is better than Mr. Y in that he is reliable via email, and gives each student their required amount of lessons. He is extremely old fashioned and one sided when it comes to his teaching/his relationship with music. He always picks his student's literature for them, and won't allow them to move on to the next piece until the others have been mastered completely. He's a stickler when it comes to fingerings... He'll spend an entire lesson fixing your fingerings on one or two pages. He's very opinionated, plus he demands that things be precisely his way. Some people really truly love him, and feel that he's one of the best teachers out there. I personally felt terrified by him and it was always clear that he didn't think that I belonged in his studio... when I told him that I was leaving, he was absolutely relieved and said something snarky like "I really think that's a good decision". I wasn't quite prepared to study with someone as incredibly strict and formal as he is. With him, if you do the work that he demands (and he demands a LOT) and perform exactly the way he wants you to, you'll be fine and he'll love you. But I needed someone more inspiring and less intimidating. Also, the guy is getting really old. I think he's at least eighty.

"My current teacher is fantastic but incoming 
students would never end up studying with her."

Mrs. M is the only teacher at school that I haven't studied with. Like Mr. W, she's getting really old... All of her students love her, but I'm not convinced that she is very demanding. To me she really seems to be way too sweet... and will sometimes spend entire lessons shooting the breeze with her students. I hear that she used to be fiery, and quite inspiring. Perhaps old age has subdued her and made her... well... a happy old lady? She's also a big wineo- I've smelled booze on her on many occasions.

And then there's Mrs. Z. She's my current teacher and QUITE fantastic. She's pragmatic, non judgmental, reliable, open minded, funny, and inspiring. BUT incoming students would most likely NEVER end up studying with her. I had to fight my way with tooth and nail to get into her studio. The thing is, she's a part time teacher, which means that the full time studios have to fill up before students are placed in her studio. The piano teachers here are notorious for picking as few students as possible- their calendars will never fill up to the point where that will happen.

Another thing to take into perspective: there were five piano majors in my class when I was a freshman. I'm currently the only one left of those five. The other four either left the school completely or they changed majors. The ridiculous turn-over rate should speak volumes without my personal opinion."

Picture from http://thebrokennote.com/aboutus.aspx


  1. Used to have a similiar problem at Microsoft. Then they instituted the review of managers by subordinates. The the Darth Vaders of our world disappeared within a year. Wonder if that would work in a school setting. Sounds to me like this school isn't worth the time. This is especially tragic because of the expense that is usually involved both in time and money.

  2. Hi Gandalfe! Students get to write teacher's evaluations after each semesters, but it's tough for student musicians to be remain anonymous on them because a teacher has on average 12 students, and like in this student's case, he was the only undergrad so the teacher would have found out who wrote what. In many cases too, students will write the truth, but nothing gets done, even after many students speak of the same problems. I don't know why that is. Maybe its because neither the music school director nor the dean want to take on the responsibility to make the hard calls, or if it's the university's procedure that makes it hard to follow through with tough calls.


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