Why Do We Grant So Many Trumpet Degrees?

Gary Larson's take on trumpet auditions
Gary Larson’s take on trumpet auditions

Each year in the U. S., there are nearly 7000 music performance degrees conferred by post-secondary institutions. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is one of the largest schools of music with about 1600 students. For any given year, they have approximately 50 trumpet majors. This means that about 3.1% of music students are trumpeters. So, I estimate that there about 217 trumpet performance major degrees given per year in the United States.

Each year, there are approximately 30 trumpet performance jobs in the U.S (orchestral and military band). Again, this is an estimation. Not all of these jobs are full-time. This means that there are nearly 200 degree-holding trumpet players who did not get a job. This backlog continues to add to a very large pool of unemployed and frustrated trumpet performers who continue, for a while, to win job openings. Some of these players will get a second or third degree, but many will wind up working in some unrelated field.

I wonder why the National Association of Schools of Music and the Department of Education can’t get together with some hard statistics and limit the number of music degrees and especially performance degrees, so that they more closely match the job market? Doesn’t that make sense?

I think part of the problem is that music schools (and trumpet teachers) are not thinking about the long-term well-being of their students. They, of course, recruit to the MAX. They do this because they want to stay in business! Obviously. But  trumpet teachers (and music schools) have a wide variation in their success. Some are really good at recruiting the best trumpet players and many of these schools are good at producing job winners. There are far more music studios which have a tough time recruiting good students. Many of these do wonders with the students they get, whereas others are doing an extreme disservice to their trumpet students.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone kept tabs on who won trumpet playing jobs in the United States with the corollary information of where they studied and with whom?

In researching for this topic, I found this tantalizing discussion thread on College Confidential about trumpet studios in the U.S. The discussion offered some insight into which studios were valued the most and which produced audition winners. I can tell you Northwestern came up a number of times. Also praised was Terry Everson’s trumpet studio at Boston University and Chris Gekker‘s studio at University of Maryland. But these were merely anecdotal observations. Also observed was the fact that great studios have a kind of magnetic attraction for young players who are already great and will be great performers no matter where they go. What is very hard to find out is which teachers actually improve their students the most. Unfortunately, this discussion thread really fell short of what we need, as a trumpet community in making important decisions about how to spend money on trumpet education.

So, what I propose is to start keeping track of trumpet jobs that have been won. I will try to find as much information about the winner as possible. I will welcome any recommendations for how I should do this.

Thanks for any input!


12 responses to “Why Do We Grant So Many Trumpet Degrees?”

  1. John Urness Avatar
    John Urness

    I’d be willing to bet that there are way more than 217 trumpet performance graduates each year, if you include graduate degrees, and jazz-commercial trumpet majors as well. Just in NYC area there are probably 25-30 trumpet graduates each year between the various music schools. And many of those 30 jobs that come open each year will be won by players who have been out of school for some time, sometimes moving up from one job to another, or others winning their first job in their 30s or beyond. How many trumpet players win an audition before they graduate or within a few months of graduation? Not too many…..

    1. Stanley Avatar

      How can I find good numbers on trumpet performance degrees conferred in the US? I think NASM has a survey done by “HEADS”. But you have to be a member. Does anyone know about the HEADS surveys? Do they include instrumental statistics like I’m looking for?

  2. More curious of a study might be to look at tuba and bass trombone students vs. the number of jobs in the field. With only two spots per military band and one spot per orchestra, the odds of a graduate on these instruments landing a job are slim to none. Yet schools continue to offer degrees to hundreds(!) of students on these instruments around the nation each year for one reason only: $money$. Where there are consumers, there will be a product, regardless of how useful this product is to the consumer.

    1. Stanley Avatar

      Thanks, Brian. I feel for you and the low brass community!

  3. Stanley,

    I think you pose an important question, one which I considered at great length before leaving a full-time playing career after 14 years for a full time teaching career at the University of Kansas ten years ago.
    I think the short answer to your question is that a music degree is about excellence, and that serves a very important purpose. Surely, a trumpet degree is certainly about excellence as much as any instrument, due to the difficulties many have to overcome. I had a room-mate who was a Euphonium major and he has become a major executive at an international tech firm. He told me (when I was thinking about accepting the KU job) that he always looks twice at music majors when hiring, because “those that have studied music have often learned about and strive for excellence when working alone and with others, and these traits are hard to find.” I knew that if I took the job, in no way would all of my future students become professional trumpet players, and that bothered me, but I also knew some would and the others would also learn something very important in life.

    Your question is one I immediately faced being one of 106 trumpet “majors” at the Univ. of North Texas as a Fr. in 1981. In the first auditions, I was probably ranked number 107, as I remember literally being laughed at by the two grad students listening to my audition. Over the next years, I often doubted my ability to continue in music, while being exposed to more and more new exciting musical things and teachers. Besides the amazing jazz world there, I heard a symphony orchestra “live” for the first time at the age of 21, and 29 years later, have performed in many professional symphony orchestras on three continents. I honestly cannot fathom sometimes the amount of life opportunities music has afforded me, considering such a start. No one, including myself or my teachers, could have predicted what would be possible in my lifetime as a musician at that time. I was told as a sophomore by one music professor that you “never should have chosen trumpet” and I have a friend today that recently told me he was told to “change majors” after Freshman year at another school, and he has been a Principal Trumpet of a major symphony orchestra now for more than 30 years.

    I firmly believe our jobs as teachers are to facilitate student dreams and passions for music if they have them, by providing them with honest information and showing them a potential path to the reality, and any choice to take that path or not must be made by the student themselves. No one knows what an individual’s passion can accomplish and we should not judge, only help facilitate the decision becoming their own. I have never met an 18 year old who fully understands the path to becoming an accomplished musician on trumpet, but I have just tried to show them what is needed and then it becomes their choice to try or not, and when to continue or stop. Many have gone on to equally unpredictable futures, earning positions in the Spanish National Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony, Latvian National Orch, Dallas Brass, Service Bands, etc, and getting to perform with groups like the NY Phil, Puerto Rico Symphony, KC Symphony, Maria Schneider Orch, etc; others have become lawyers, medical researchers, MBA’s, teachers etc…equally proud of them all, and I would venture to say all been successful in various ways, and their musical experiences have had a positive impact on their lives. I am quite sure all have learned about excellence through the trumpet and have used it. Of course, there have been frustrations, doubt, questions etc, but it is all part of the process about excellence which will serve for a lifetime. Just like me, no one could have predicted where many of these students would go, or end up, only that had they NOT been afforded an opportunity to make their own decisions, they would not be as passionate about where they end up and always question not having tried.

    In what other fields are students, on a regular basis, exposed first-hand either individually or in small groups to some of the greatest experts in the world in their field? Imagine what it would cost or require to have a private lesson or master class with Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Lebron or Bill Gates? In that respect, so many music schools have amazing people to come in to work directly with students such as our KU students have had with Vince Penzarella, Mike Sachs, Mark Inouye, Jon Lewis and Ray Riccomini in the last two years. Studying music can put you face-to-face with some of the world’s most accomplished people! Trumpet master classes, lessons etc are about excellence as much as they are about trumpet and being exposed to this is life changing. This is why it is ok to have so many music majors and it is ok to continue to do so.

    Coming out of that group of 106 at North Texas in 1981 was a trumpet ensemble of about 24 that performed at the ITG in Albuquerqu in 1985. We all “knew” only a couple of us would likely become professional musicians some day—but looking at a photo of that group shows at least 21 of those there that have gone on today to make a living in music. We never could have believed that would happen! Today, more than ever, information is easy to come by, and although there are consistently the “famous schools” there are wonderful musicians that can come from all over that are provided with information from excellent teachers that will have the opportunity to go down the various paths they choose and find success. Many may end up at the “famous schools” but perhaps never would have gotten there if they were not afforded a start at a “WEST CENTRAL State Univ somewhere because someone starts to decide to make decisions limiting opportunities based upon job prospects. Sure, there are too many grads for the jobs, there always have been, but there is always room people whom have learned about excellence and music provides a very unique opportunity to do so.

    In closing, I remember having a similar discussion with a young trumpet player fresh out of college in La Coruña, Spain in the early 90’s who was pondering his future in music…no one knew where he would end up either but he has done quite well…
    Regards, Steve Leisring, Univ of Kansas

    1. Stanley Avatar

      Steve, I am in awe of your inspiring story. Somewhere in your reply is enough inspiration to keep all of us at it with renewed spirit. Thanks so much.

  4. Glendon Gross Avatar
    Glendon Gross

    I think your argument is based on the mistaken notion that degreed trumpet players can only get jobs that already exist, and cannot create a job where none existed before. I heard a talk by Rashawn Ross at the ITG convention in 2011 in Minneapolis in which he suggested that trumpet players find a band that has no horns and suggest that they would sound better with horns, in other words, create your own job. That is what Rashawn Ross did, and that is also what I have done in my jazz trumpet career. While this approach has not led to a hugely lucrative career, it has allowed me to make a living doing what I love to do. Additionally, the idea that you must have a degree in order to get the job is wrong. Many non-degreed players play better than those with degrees. So I think your idea that the number of degrees should be tied to the job market is based on the belief that limiting trumpet degrees would improve the job market for degreed trumpeters, which I do not believe it would do. Fewer degrees would not increase the regard that people have for a trumpet degree because trumpeters would still be judged on how well they can play, rather than whether or not they have a degree.

    1. Stanley Avatar

      Thanks for the comment–that’s exactly the kind of response I was hoping to get. Of course you can create your own gigs! Of course you can get a gig without a trumpet degree!! (If you go to college you COULD study something else while you practice–just a thought).

  5. As a former trumpet player I share you pain. This scenario occurs in other majors, such as Journalism, broadcast news and PR. Many of the instructors haven’t been in the business for 20 years and therefore do not keep up with the the tech or trends. Love your blog, content and layout. Keep up the great work. Geo.

  6. Michael Avatar

    I have enjoyed comments n this web site. .As someone who toured for about 8
    years with various commercial dance bands,; its supply and demand.
    Everyone knows when the bands started ending the Big Band Era. And the ones left have all passed on. To get a Symphony Job is very difficult. and often int he major Orchestras they have an idea who they would like to have join. even with the audition. I also taught grammar school as a band director and some highschool subbing. I think the Educators,NEED TO BE HONEST with trumpet students.No matter how good you play thjere are thousands of trumpet players, but teh work is ot in music any more.And the teachers, although they dont want to suppress someones dream, they need to be honest.Its not a very good life style, for the most part, and maybe if yo are married. your other half will support you. but please dont take this personally. There are very few jobs, and not many in the Orchestras. Music has really become a hobby for most, and perhaps a realistic career with stability ie: Pharmacy,at lest the gig would pay well, with benefits, and be consistant. Sad to say I wish there were more for you and me. but the worlds priority is not brass players. !

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