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Surveying the college job market

Surveying the college job market

Teaching piano or working as a staff accompanist at a college, conservatory, or university is a desirable career for many pianists. Holding a full-time position in academia can have many rewards: teaching piano, chamber music, piano pedagogy, and piano literature to promising young musicians; performing solo recitals and chamber music with colleagues; having access to good studio and concert instruments; receiving institutional support for research; teaching in an institution-sponsored study abroad program; and having summers off in which to practice, do research, and regroup. Securing a college teaching position, always a challenge, has become quite a daunting undertaking in very recent years. This brief article presents some statistics and historical perspective on employment for pianists in American academia.

U.S. College Piano Positions

In 1974-75, the school year in which I entered the college piano job market, I recall that about seventy-five collegiate piano positions in the United States were advertised. During the 1998-99 to 2003-04 school years I gathered the following data, mostly from College Music Society postings. These figures include both continuing and temporary/visiting college piano positions.

The total number of positions advertised fluctuated from a high of 63 (1998-99) to a low of 41 (1999-2000). (See Figures 1 & 2.)


The numbers above do not reveal any consistent trends. The most striking changes are the increase in collaborative openings from 2001-02 to 2003-04, the decrease in total openings from 1998-99 to 1999-2000, and the rebound in total openings from 2001-02 to 2002-03.

How does today's academic job market compare? In 2010-2011, forty-seven full time college piano positions were advertised. Thirty-one were continuing positions, twenty-nine of which were filled before the opening of the 2011-2012 school year. Twenty-two of these positions were tenure-track openings, nine were not. Sixteen non-continuing full-time positions were also posted. Twelve of these non-continuing positions were for one year, four were for two years. (The majority of my statistics were gathered from College Music Society vacancy notices.)

The numbers that follow show the relative demand for the various principal and secondary teaching areas listed in the thirty-one full time vacancies (see Figures 3 & 4).


A total of sixteen areas of expertise were requested as either a primary or secondary teaching area. Only one position required a single skill, applied studio teaching. A total of forty-eight secondary teaching areas were attached to the remaining thirty positions, 1.6 secondary teaching area requirements per vacancy. Clearly, the current job market favors people with multiple teaching competencies.

Previous employment history

I surveyed the institutions that filled their advertised positions to find out the employment backgrounds of the successful candidates. All but one of the institutions responded to my inquiry (see Figure 5).


Perhaps the most striking point of information found in Figures 5 and 6 is that only three full time students secured continuing positions, all as staff accompanists. Moving directly from graduate school into a continuing position, a common career path in the past, appears to be very difficult in today's job market.

Competition for 2011-2012 positions

The 2011-2012 job market appears to be an improvement over last year. As of April 2, 2012, thirty-nine continuing and seven non-continuing positions had been advertised. I received information on the number of applications submitted for several of these positions (see Figure 6).


Trends in DMA programs

Currently, fifty-five American institutions offer the DMA in piano-related fields: solo performance, collaborative performance, and piano pedagogy. Presenting a comprehensive historical study of academic piano employment trends is beyond the scope of this article. I would like, however, to mention indicators of possible trends in faculty hiring and student enrollment over the last three decades. I have gathered statistics about the number of full-time tenure-track piano positions at eight Big Ten universities, all of which offer the DMA degree. They are Michigan State University; Ohio State University; Northwestern University; and the Universities of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (see Figure 7).


Since 1977, these institutions have reduced total tenure-track piano-related jobs by 30%. Applied studio positions have dropped 35% and pedagogy positions 31%. 

In contrast to this, the number of DMA piano students studying in the United States has increased considerably. I have gathered information about DMA piano enrollment and DMA graduates in the United States over the last twenty-four years. This data comes from reports provided by the National Association of Music.1 A precise comparison among the six following examples is not possible because the number of institutions that reported data annually requested by the National Association of School of Music varied from year to year (see Figures 8-10). 

Two trends are quite noticeable. Total piano DMA enrollment has risen over 141%, and the number of female DMA piano students has more than tripled.

While it is hard to predict with certainty what the future holds, the rise of DMA student enrollment will only increase competition for future job openings. Pianists interested in entering the academic job market will need to demonstrate facility in a variety of skills and teaching areas to succeed.

Note: Data on DMA enrollment collected from Higher Educations Arts Data Services Data Summaries 1987-2010.© National Associations of Schools of Music. Used with permission.

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