it’s a rich man’s world

so in my post money, money, money, money, i talked about the financial disparity between musicians of my generation and that of those before us. but there was another part of it that had been on my mind that caused me just as much grief. just how much of a part does money play in getting a good education, or the right one?

here are my experiences and takes on money and higher education:
after the folderol of auditioning for Master’s programs, i sat and waited for the eventual rejections and acceptances. at the end of the day i had three acceptances, one from the Hartt School (University of Hartford), one from Peabody and one from Northwestern. to my parents, the choice was easy: i was to go to Peabody, regardless of the fact that Peabody gave me no money. for me, who has always been focused on finance, it was not so simple. Hartt offered to pay 90% of my tuition (it would have been 100% had i been accepted into their 20/20 program, something i’m still a little bitter about), a bassoon teaching assistantship and a stipend right there on the spot. sounds pretty good, no? that’s a hard set of numbers to turn down, especially considering the huge difference in tuition between Hartt and Peabody (several thousands of dollars). but i knew, deep down, that Hartt wasn’t the school for me. that helped in making the decision but you better believe i agonized over that amount of money.

three years later, i can’t imagine what my life would have been like had i not gone to Peabody and i’m glad that i don’t have to think about it…at all. in the midst of this Ph.D. nonsense, one of my professors told me that “i shouldn’t pick a school based on the money”. had this statement been made when i was finishing my Bachelor’s degree then, yeah, sure but let’s face it. i would be foolish to not think about money at this state in my life. luckily for me, the program into which i’ve been accepted is right for me and the money just happens to be a VERY happy bonus.

so at what point do we take money into consideration? every student does as the price of higher education steadily rises. i’d like to look at it as an acknowledgement of one’s abilities but not to take it personally when a school doesn’t offer you money. when i entered Peabody in 2007, i came in with another Master’s bassoonist student as well as one GPD and one DMA. that’s a lot of graduate bassoonists. and Peabody made it up to me…eventually. and though i was shocked when i recently received my “you’re leaving Peabody, here’s the ridiculous amount of money that you owe” letter, i’ve come to terms with it.

it’s tough to think about families who have to face these decisions where money is the only thing on which they have to go. the world of academia leaves very little option for many. my parents made it clear that they would do everything possible to support me in my education because it mattered that much but not everyone is so lucky. and let’s be clear, the last eight years have been a real struggle for me but i was able to make it through. no one should have to make a less than satisfactory decision because they don’t have the money to go where they would like. we need to educate our students to the world of scholarships, fellowships and responsible lending/borrowing. but sometimes, i just wish America would just man up and make all public institutions free.

a girl can dream, can’t she?

2 thoughts on “it’s a rich man’s world

  1. Christina says:

    You are SO speaking my language here!!! I believe that, due to my less-than-privileged upbringing, I simply didn’t (and still don’t) have the same opportunities at competing for a musical career than my richer counterparts (and I’m a way better flutist than some of them).

    In the past few years, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t have picked the school I went to JUST because of money. At the time I was entering, Fresno State offered me a “full ride” scholarship, stipends, and student loans. I had scholarships that I had won as a HS senior, so I wasn’t worried for a while. A couple years into my Bachelor’s at Fresno State, though, my financial situation changed dramatically. The scholarship money I had saved was running out, my “full ride” scholarship was shrinking as tuition climbed and my scholarship failed to ascend with the tuition hikes, and my school only allowed me to take a certain maximum in student loans (can you guess that it wasn’t nearly enough to live on?).

    Up until this point, everyone I knew said things like, “Don’t work during your Bachelor’s degree; you won’t have enough time to study and you’ll just burn yourself out;” “Just take out student loans to cover your living expenses until you graduate, then you’ll find a job and pay them off a lot quicker than the time it would take you to graduate while trying to work…”

    At the time, I didn’t realize that the assholes saying this to me were all older than 40 years old (meaning, they didn’t grow up in the shitty economy I am forced to survive in, and the cost of living wasn’t nearly as high back then as it is now). So, I avoided working for as long as possible, and school was managable, and even pleasant.

    Then came the day that I HAD to take a job, or I couldn’t afford to go to school or live in my apartment (which was nothing special). I got a part-time job, which I honestly believe contributed to the extension of my graduation date by about two years. Trying to go to school and immerse yourself in something like music while simultaneously having to worry about paying bills and tuition is not at all conducive to “getting the right education.” Whether or not that’s even possible at Fresno State is a whole other argument, but the fact that I had to split my time between homework/practice/part-time job made getting an education (let alone a good night’s sleep, for starters) nearly impossible.

    Having to work in the evenings after classes also deprived me of the critical career networking that comes with gigging within the community. I couldn’t take gigs for nearly my entire Bachelor’s career because I did not own a car to get around town until my second-to-last year (and Fresno’s public transportation is not reliable, even though it’s gotten better in the past couple since I’ve been out of school).

    Owning a car takes money, and I have never had money. I had a lower middle-class upbringing, so I didn’t have huge birthday parties or sweet 16 cars or even decent musical instruments while I was growing up. A lot of my friends at school shopped at popular chain stores in the mall; my clothes came from Wal-Mart and Target, and not very often. The fact that my family didn’t have much money prevented me from attending summer music camps (about which, I have to admit, I am still a teeny bit bitter).

    Regardless of my financial station in life, I excelled at music. I won solo competitions, the top chairs in my County honor music ensembles, and I performed in top scholarship ensembles in college. I currently study with a world-renowned flutist, Tracy Harris. I hope I don’t sound full of myself, but my talent speaks for itself.

    So, I am painfully aware of the exponential relationship between music opportunity/education and money. My flute teacher offers me a “scholarship” to her studio because she feels my talent shouldn’t be hindered by money. I wish everyone thought that way… it certainly makes attempting a professional career as a flutist (and, I had to pick a common competitive instrument, to boot) all the more difficult. I often ruminate over what would be possible if I could afford plane tickets to take auditions; if I could afford registration fees to week-long masterclasses on the coast or in the mountains or in another country; if I could buy all the sheet music I needed at any one time; if I could grow my musical recording collection (digital and hard copies); if I could afford to update my copy of Finale; if I could afford to send my flute to the shop to get fixed, or if I could afford the end-all instrument of my professional career. I hear success stories all the time, but those people came from families with money. And, if they didn’t, they had to fight really hard to make it. I feel like I’m fighting every day–I fight to feed myself, so I go to a job I don’t love. I fight to make music and have my talent recognized, so I’m stuck in a cultural dead zone until I can afford to leave. If the only avenue of escape for me is through a Master’s degree at a school far, far away, then most days I feel like giving up hope all together, because I don’t see myself winning the lottery in the future, and everything just gets more and more expensive.

    I may never have the professional career I want or could have, just because I don’t have the capital to invest RIGHT NOW.

    I used to wonder if any other musicians felt this way… I am glad that I’m not alone…

  2. Rose says:

    I got accepted for composition at Peabody, Carnegie Mellon and Lawrence University when applying my senior year of high school. Peabody was clearly the best program, but as usual, gave me the least amount of money – Lawrence gave me a substantial scholarship and seemed to really want me to go there, Carnegie gave me half-tuition. I knew I really wanted to go to Peabody though. Not even just because of the program; location-wise, Baltimore was the place I preferred. I knew I wanted a large city, which ruled out Lawrence, and I’ve always preferred Baltimore to Pittsburgh (largely just because Baltimore is so much closer to other larger cities). I also wanted to get out of the Midwest – and despite the fact that Pittsburgh is in PA, it’s culturally a very Midwestern, Rust Belt city.

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