to dma or not to dma? (#4)

Source: PHD Comics

To DMA or not to DMA? In response to my own uncertainties about the future after I finish up my master’s, I wanted to start a series where I ask my older, wiser, cooler friends about their experiences with and opinions on the DMA. And then publish these responses in hopes that they will help others asking the same question. To read previous installments, click here!

This installment comes courtesy of Dan, the boyfriend of one of my good friends! I thought he would be a great interview candidate because he’s wrapping up his dissertation, and he comes from the perspective of an orchestral player (because in case you haven’t noticed, the previous interviews have all been a little piano-heavy)…

Dan Zimardi, bassoon, fourth-year doctoral candidate:

What do you like about being in a DMA program? 

There are several benefits of having a DMA but there are even more that you get from the few years of the program:

  1. Weekly lessons with faculty who care less about trying to guide and shape you as a player and more about trying to be a colleague and share ideas about the music. You are no longer “beneath” them as in undergraduate and even Master’s studies. They are interested in your approach to things they might be unsure of as players as well. Of course they are still your teacher and have a lot of really great musical insight.
  2. Experience teaching courses and coaching college level musicians. This is essential to a DMA program. If you are enrolled in a DMA program that does not allow for teaching, you are wasting your time.
  3. Performance experience: most programs require a recital every year of very demanding rep and usually over an hour in length of music, often accompanied by a lecture. This training prepares you for all aspects of performing in the future.
  4. Learning how to write. Everything you thought you knew about writing suddenly becomes only the basis for a great deal of expansion in this realm. Here I am almost 4 years later, still writing my dissertation. It is not something that just gets slapped together, it is just as difficult to put together as a PhD dissertation, but from a performer’s perspective.

What don’t you like about being in a DMA program?

Somewhere around the halfway point you begin to wonder if you are ever going to not be a student. Even if you are gigging, working, and teaching, your full time student status gets in the way of a lot. If you land a big job, be prepared to sacrifice your DMA or take a lot longer finishing it.

Would you recommend a gap year between the master’s degree and DMA?

Everyone has different timing in life. Lots of DMA students are already married and have careers looking for advancement. Some go straight into it from the MM. If you are interested in a DMA to enhance your performing and teaching skills while marketing yourself for bigger and better careers, I think it is important to start right away. If you are unsure a DMA is for you, take a year off to teach, travel, and gig. Eventually you will be either drawn back to the DMA prospect or you will abandon the idea altogether both for good reasons.

What advice would you give to someone considering a DMA?

Try not to make the mistake of thinking a DMA is simply more music school training. It is an academic degree designed to produce candidates for college teaching and research. It doesn’t make you any more prepared for winning auditions or orchestral jobs than if you just practiced your instrument for three years and took lessons from a great teacher. If that is what you are interested in, there are several VERY good artist diploma programs at the leading music schools. Be prepared to write and defend your ideas about music. If you get bored reading musicology articles, this is not the step to take. Thankfully a DMA combines three areas rather equally: 33% Practice/Performance 33% Writing 33% Teaching

Not only is Dan wrapping up his doctoral degree, but he also has several big orchestra managing jobs under his belt! (Earning money as a grad student? What?!) And he also has a fantastic girlfriend who helped set up this interview (I go to school with her and she’s undeniably awesome). Thanks so much for the thoughtful and helpful responses, Dan!

What are your thoughts on the DMA? Are there any other questions you would like to see answered?

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