Getting A Performance Degree Has Really Taught Me How To Judge Other People


Someone once asked me: “John, what is the value of a performance degree, really?” That is a fair question, of course; why put in all the hours of practice just for a piece of paper that may or may not be useful for your career? A performance degree must have something more to offer the aspiring student, right? Something beneficial in a more holistic way, like the edification of your soul or something like that.

Well I can say with absolute certainty that it does offer something much better than a piece of paper or a job, or even the edification of your soul: it offers personal improvement. And the best thing about personal improvement is that it means you become better than other people. What else could it mean?

Every stage of your degree has been designed with exactly that in mind: making you better than other people. Or perhaps just making you believe you are better than other people. Or, at the very least, finding out how good you really are and making you feel insecure about it. In any case, the one thing that truly matters is how good you are, and I don’t mean how good you are at a task or a skill, I mean your entire value as a person.

How can one degree teach you all that? It is a marvel. You see, a performance degree takes the complex art of being a well-rounded human being and dispenses with most of the really difficult, day to day stuff, replacing it all with just one metric: your ability to perform a specific range of highly refined tasks on rare occasions. This is why you must work hard to improve at those tasks so that you can learn how to be better, and by that I mean be better than others, especially Sally.

It might seem like it would get a bit tiresome having to be better than others all the time, but you will get used to it. In any case, you can can relieve some of the pressure by simply judging other people. After all, what is better than listening to music? Mercilessly criticising those performing it, of course. People like Sally, for example.

Once you have your performance degree, you will become a true master at this. It’s only fair that if you have worked at something for a few years you should be able to lord that over other people; it’s only condescending if you aren’t right.

Who cares about other people anyway? The main reason I got into music was because it opened up the door into the world of my imagination, and that is one place where other people never appear.

So yes, someone did ask me about the value of a performance degree, but I don’t think they liked my answer. I think they were mainly worried about whether or not their degree would lead to a good job with a stable income. But who needs money when you have a well-honed capacity for minimising or disregarding the value of other people? That’s the main benefit of having money anyway, so why not cut out the middle man and get a performance degree instead?

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2 Responses

  1. eloisehellyer says:

    I gave this a “like” (see above) but I don’t like it, I LOVE it. I won’t go into my hundred reasons why, but suffice it to say that I, as a teacher, discourage even my most talented students from going into intensive instrumental training in university or conservatory (the ones who really cannot visualise themselves doing anything else will do it anyway) – the above essay is one reason and one of the others is that the intense study of music does not really allow you to form “Plan B” which all of us need – unless it’s teaching and not all musicians are good teachers, as many of us have learned the hard way. Never mind. Most of my students who have set themselves on course to become professional musicians don’t listen to me anyway, neglect other studies and most of them wind up out of work or frantically retraining for something else. If they have the humility to do so…….

  2. Rachel Segal says:

    SOMEone sounds bitter…. Look, a performance degree is as flawed as an ed degree. Going into music shouldn’t mean choosing your path at age 9 and pursuing it to the exclusion of all else, and especially not to the exclusion of learning about pedagogy, methods, classroom management, economics, self-promotion, basic recording techniques, arranging, conducting, the basics of nonprofit management, resume writing, stage comportment, learning how to be a contractor, give outreach performances….. you get my drift. I agree that the whole system needs to be overhauled to give young musicians a better chance at a wider range of skills which will not only lead to more choices, but which will lead to more CHOICE, which is different. However, you could have said that. Why just publish a rampage about how stupid a performance degree is? That doesn’t help anyone and in fact only fuels the flames of those who would happily slash funding for their music department with a machete. Please try and be more responsible. This is a perilous time for the arts.

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