Refuting the “Orchestra Job or Nothing” Mentality

Orchestra_lgMany of you may have heard of–a fantastic site launched earlier this year with the intention of assisting prospective music majors in finding a school and degree program that best suits their individual interests. Its founder, Bill Zuckerman, has done a wonderful job covering the musical school scene from multiple angles, providing posts and commentary on topics ranging from the college application process to career prospects. In the latter area, he has recently published a painstakingly-researched post entitled, “What Can You Do With a Music Degree? 70+ Careers and Salaries Revealed.” Wow! 70+?? So much for living in a box, eh? Zuckerman has done his homework, too–over the course of five long pages, he lists a job description and median salary for each of those 70 + potential job positions, which include everything from “Chamber Musician” to “Music Curator” to “Social Media Strategist.” Yes, some of these positions might require additional training or even a non-music concentration or degree, Zuckerman acknowledges, but it is evident that “the myth of ‘you can only teach or play in an orchestra with your music degree’ is exactly that – a myth!”

Reading that last sentence, I found myself nodding in agreement, because in spite of all of today’s buzz about entrepreneurship and innovation, there still exists this “orchestra job or nothing” mentality within some of our most venerated musical institutions. I well remember my first orchestral excerpt class in college, during which the professor spent a good five minutes making everyone feel increasingly uncomfortable as he asserted with absolute seriousness that this would be the most important class we took at the conservatory, because securing an orchestra job would be our best chance at stable employment. He then distributed a binder full of excerpts that was slightly larger than Encyclopedia Brittanica, told us to practice Beethoven 5 for the next class, and walked out. Needless to say, nobody left the classroom feeling very encouraged.

Now, to be clear, I had great respect for this teacher, who was a successful orchestral musician, and certainly didn’t disagree with his attitude towards the class, as it is of course very difficult to succeed in the contemporary orchestra scene. But I greatly disagree with the idea that the orchestra job, or maybe teaching, is one’s only hope for success–and this article by Zuckerman pretty much destroys the notion entirely. What’s more, I am living proof of its validity. Since I graduated from Eastman, I have been quite busy serving variously as a blogger/writer, cello teacher, chamber musician, chamber coach, and improvisation instructor–all for a salary. Additionally, I’ve started a website, which has been become an important part of my musical life even though it doesn’t presently generate income. Would I love to play in a great orchestra? Of course! But right now, these are the things I wish to pursue, and my studies at NEC and Eastman have prepared me well for all of them.

So, I highly advise you to check out Zuckerman’s list. It is a great example of the myriad opportunities available to an aspiring musician cognizant of the realities of the modern field, and I am personally very encouraged to see more and more musicians demonstrating an astute awareness of the potential inherent in those realities.

About the author

Zachary Preucil
Zachary Preucil

Zachary Preucil enjoys a varied career as cellist, educator, and writer. Currently, he serves on the faculties of the Music Institute of Chicago and the Music for Youth Suzuki program in Arlington Heights, IL, in addition to maintaining a private studio in the Chicago area and coaching chamber music for the Schaumburg Youth Orchestra. Previously, he served on the faculty of the Kanack School of Music in Rochester, NY, and as a teaching assistant at the Eastman School of Music.

Zachary received his M.M. in Cello Performance and Literature and an Arts Leadership Certificate from the Eastman School of Music, where he was inducted into the Beta Pi chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda. He received his B.M. in Cello Performance with Academic Honors from the New England Conservatory of Music in May 2012. Zachary's primary teachers have included David Ying, Yeesun Kim, and his father, Walter Preucil; additionally, he has studied chamber music with members of the Borromeo and Ying Quartets. He has also studied at several summer music festivals and institutes, including the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine, the Castleman Quartet Program in New York and the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. In recent summers, he has performed with the Midsummer's Music Festival in Wisconsin and the Caroga Lake Music Festival in New York. In June 2014, Zachary made his solo debut with the Schaumburg Youth Orchestra in Chicago's Orchestra Hall.

As a writer, Zachary has served as a co-editor of "The Penguin", New England Conservatory's student-run newspaper, and has blogged for Polyphonic On Campus since 2012. Recently, his work has also been featured on the Chicago Cello Society blog, the Huffington Post Arts blog, and the blog of the CREDO Music Festival. Along with flutist Elizabeth Erenberg, he is a co-founder of, a multifaceted website dedicated to promoting the latest positive and innovative trends in the music world.