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Why Major in Music in College?

Photo of university of lawrence
Photo of university of lawrence

As a college admissions advisor, I am often asked by parents about the value of an arts education.  On a recent visit to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Brian Pertl, the Dean of the Conservatory of Music.  He shared several reasons why he believed a major in music was a tremendous asset for any profession in the 21st century.  I cannot do justice to his presentation (after all, he started out by playing on his digeridu!), but in this short video I recap the primary lines of his defense of a music education.


I’m here at Lawrence University which is a liberal arts college that also has a music conservatory. I had the opportunity while I was here to go to a talk given by the Dean of the Music Conservatory here.  He’s a really interesting guy.  He went to Lawrence in the 80s and got a double degree here in trombone performance and English.  Then he went on to work for 16 years at Microsoft. 

The Reason WHY

He is a great performer of the liberal arts. But one of the things that I really was interested in is his defense of why a student should major in music; whether or not they want to be a performer. That there are some really good reasons why a student could and should major in music. Even in this day and age of high technology and the importance of science and mathematics, or even business.  So here are some of the things that he talked about, and I’ll refer to my notes.

Great Employees

The first thing he talked about is that what employer would not want to have an employee like this. Where you meet with them for one hour a week. And you give them a problem, an assignment—something to accomplish—and they go away for an entire week. And they work on their own and they puzzle it out, they find a solution to the problem. They practice whatever they need to practice in order to make sure that it’s right and then a week later, they come back to the employer and say, “Got it done; give me my next problem.”  That’s exactly what musicians do.  When they are going to their private lesson for an hour each week and they’re getting information, they are getting an assignment and they complete it.


The other thing that he talked about is music—well, industry, the workplace today requires people who can collaborate.  That’s what musicians do on a daily basis.  In every ensemble that they are ever in, they are collaborating with one another.  Even more so, they are listening to one another.  They are building those listening skills. To be attuned to what other people are saying and communicating so that they can take that information and do something with it.  So collaboration.  It’s not competition.  It’s about working together with people for a common goal and any company today needs that skill.

The other thing he talked about was that musicians are experts at overcoming failure. Because you practice things, you get something new for the very first time and you’re going to fail.  You’re not going to get it.  But you practice, you improve, you learn new techniques until you get it right.

Importance of Communication

Finally, he talked about the importance of communication. And then he talked about while he was in Microsoft, that he was working with some of the biggest brains in the world. But sometimes those big ideas that these smart people had, they weren’t communicating, that the people who had the ideas weren’t necessarily those who were able to communicate that.  And what a musician is able to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis is to perform. To take an idea, to take a message and be able to communicate it in front of an audience. Whether it’s a small audience of a few people that might be in the studio or if it’s a big, huge concert hall.  Performance is something that musicians are able to do very, very well.  They’re not afraid.  They may get jitters like everyone else but they are not afraid of communicating.

So I thought this was a fantastic defense of why anyone might consider the arts, and specifically music, as a very viable major in the 21st century.
Mark Montgomery
College Admissions Expert and Arts Advocate


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