Landing An Academic Teaching Position!

By: Katherine Kelton

If you are nearing the end of your graduate studies—or thinking about putting all of your years of education, training, and professional singing experience to good use in a new way—the path to landing that first college job can seem quite nebulous. With patience, organization, resourcefulness, and creativity, however, your job search can be an exciting adventure and an opportunity for growth in many areas.

Singers and teachers have often asked me for advice about how to “break in” to college teaching. The process can seem quite puzzling at the outset. In addition to the most basic questions of where and how to begin a job search, many people wonder if they are “marketable” in academia, and what steps they can take to become more so.

With a few pointers, you can figure out the process quickly. Before long, you will experience great glee when you go to the post office each week to mail another stack of large padded envelopes filled with application materials. During my first job search, I called the process my “expensive hobby.” Researching and applying for jobs became such an engaging routine that it almost came as a shock when the process moved on to the next stage—I began to receive responses to the applications!

Several institutions of higher learning have excellent career planning and placement services designed specifically for music graduates—but some of the country’s best and largest graduate programs lack adequate resources for assisting music graduates in academic job searches, leaving students to their own devices to find their own paths. Let’s address a few frequently asked questions to give you some guidance in the academic job-hunting process.

Where do I find job vacancy notices?

The Chronicle of Higher Education and the College Music Society’s monthly Music Vacancy List are the two best resources for musicians searching for job vacancies in academia. The “Chronicle” is available by yearly subscription for $82.50 (for 49 issues). Job listings, updated almost daily, are accessible online to both subscribers and non-subscribers at The “Chronicle” is also available at your local library.

Members of the College Music Society receive its monthly Music Vacancy List both online ( and by mail for a yearly subscription cost of $20. (Yearly membership dues to the College Music Society are $30 for full-time students and $60 for regular members.) It is well worth consulting both of these publications on a regular basis. Although they often contain duplicate job listings, some job announcements appear in only one of the two publications.

Colleges and universities also receive mailings about job openings. Music school or department secretaries usually keep files of these fliers. Job openings are announced throughout the year, but most appear in the fall semester, with October through mid-December being the height of the “season.”

[Editor’s note: Also see CS’ Teaching Position listings each month in the Opportunities Section.]

Organize yourself: Keep a file of job announcements. Notate what action you have taken for each position: what you have sent to which school and when, e-mail correspondence, telephone calls, etc. Include in your file any mail you have received from the schools pertaining to your application. Your job search is tax-deductible, so save all receipts for materials, postage, and telephone calls.

What education, background, and experience do I need to be marketable as a voice teacher in academia?

Most colleges and universities now require that applicants hold a “terminal degree,” a Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.), a Doctor of Music (D.M.), or “equivalent professional experience.” (“Equivalent professional experience” frequently translates as “10 years experience, singing in Europe.”) It is still possible to land an academic position with only a master’s degree, but such cases are becoming increasingly rare.

With the rising costs of education, and the increasing competition among schools to recruit the best singers for their programs, universities are increasingly hoping to hire “big names.” If your name is well-known thanks to a long-established international reputation as a singer and/or teacher, a school may be eager to hire you without advanced degrees, as your presence on the music faculty would draw excellent students to the school.

Competition in the job market is increasingly stiff, due to the large number of applicants with a terminal degree in addition to extensive professional performing experience. Many institutions require people recently hired without a doctorate to complete that degree within a specified amount of time.

Many universities grant doctorates in music, yet these degree programs vary in their academic quality. To be “marketable” in academia today, your D.M.A. or D.M. must be from a highly regarded, competitive, and academically demanding university. When you are selecting a university doctoral program, keep in mind that a degree from a university with a smaller, less-prestigious doctoral program often is not competitive against degrees from some of the more “high-powered” doctoral programs.

Your marketability increases greatly if before, after, or while pursuing your graduate studies, you have added the following to your resume:

• Extensive operatic or other performing experience.

• Teaching experience as a graduate teaching assistant and/or a record of several years of other successful private voice teaching.

• A record of outstanding scholarship, including published articles and/or presentation of papers or lecture recitals at national or international conferences.

• Success in national and international competitions.

• Grants for international study (Fulbright, Rotary, DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service], etc.).

• Associated skills, such as keyboard skills, experience as a public school music educator, certification in Alexander Technique, etc.

• Evidence of ability to teach courses other than applied voice.

• Activity in professional societies, such as the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the American Choral Directors Association.

To get the most “bang for the buck,” schools often look for teachers who are willing and able to teach a variety of subjects. Many positions still include the traditional course loads for voice teachers (applied voice, class voice, diction, pedagogy, song literature, and opera literature), but an increasing trend (especially in smaller schools) calls for additional duties, such as directing choirs, and teaching music theory, music history, music education, and core curriculum classes. Many voice positions include directing the school’s opera workshop and/or musical theatre program.

Teaching, scholarship, and service

A university career is three-pronged—encompassing teaching, scholarship, and service—and universities expect and require continued activity in and commitment to all three. In applied music, “scholarship” includes both performing and publishing. Universities want to hire teachers who are “tenurable,” meaning that successful candidates already show evidence of extensive, successful activity in all three of these areas, as well as the potential for continued success. Voice teachers in academia are expected to continue to expand their horizons in all of these areas throughout their careers. It is a very demanding lifestyle!

What is a tenure-track job?

A tenure-track job may lead to tenure after a specified number of years of teaching (usually six). “Tenure” is a sort of job security, generally meaning that the teacher may continue to teach in the college or university indefinitely, without fear of job loss. Tenure-track jobs usually carry all benefits, including basic health and life insurance as well as employer contributions to a
pension plan.

What do the different job titles or ranks mean?

The usual ranks are (from lowest to highest): instructor, lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. The assistant professor level is usually the “entry-level” position for candidates with doctorates or extensive singing careers. Instructor and lecturer positions are generally year-to-year, adjunct appointments, without benefits. These positions are usually part-time. In some cases these positions are held by exceptionally qualified teachers who cannot or do not want to relocate to take a job at a higher rank. Most often, though, teachers with less extensive academic backgrounds than those required for a tenure-track job hold these jobs.

What about pay?

Some job announcements include the salary being offered for the position. You can get an idea of the current “going rate” from these announcements. Many people who have adjusted their mindsets to the cost of living on the East Coast or parts of California may scoff at academic salaries in other parts of the United States. (I have heard comments such as, “Well, I can make a lot more than that doing temp work in New York!”)

It is true that colleges and universities often underpay music professors (largely due to administrators’ opinions of the “low market value” of our field, as opposed to fields such as business or pharmacology); it is also true that the cost of living in most college communities is generally much lower than on the east or west coasts.

Before you rule out teaching as a career because the pay is too low, consider that choosing a job teaching voice in academia means you are immersing yourself in music every day. You live and breathe music—and you are paid to do that as a full-time job! You are encouraged, even expected, to continue your performing career. You can have a wonderful quality of life and afford all that you really need.

It is always possible to supplement your income by performing, adjudicating, and teaching private lessons. You will have no difficulty establishing yourself professionally. Once conductors and others in the area know of your presence, you will likely be showered with solo singing opportunities.

What if I don’t want to or can’t relocate?

It could take years for one of the limited number of tenure-track positions for your voice type to become vacant in your community or region, yet adjunct employment is more abundant now than ever. Institutions generally do not advertise these positions as widely as tenure-track jobs. It is possible to have a very satisfying and successful teaching career, teaching in an adjunct capacity at several schools in your area, spending one or two days a week at each school.

News about adjunct positions often travels by word-of-mouth, so you can keep fairly up-to-date about these jobs by networking with members of the singing and voice teaching communities in your city. Make it a point to introduce yourself to administrators in nearby music schools (the heads of the voice areas and the chairs of the music departments or schools). Tell them about your teaching interests and find out about the schools’ adjunct teaching needs. Send your resume for their files. Make follow-up calls before the beginning of each semester, reminding the administrators of your interest.

Being offered an adjunct position is often merely a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or of being recommended by another teacher.

What do I need to have prepared and ready to include in an application?

Each job announcement specifies the materials required for the application. These may include a letter of application, a curriculum vitae/resume, letters of recommendation, references (names, addresses, and telephone numbers), a recording of you singing, a video of you teaching, transcripts, a philosophy of teaching statement, copies of recent recital programs, and reviews of recent performances.

Follow the directions in the job announcement. Sending unsolicited materials in your initial communication can sometimes work against you. Read the job announcements carefully. Apply only for the positions that truly interest you and for which you meet all requirements.

Letter of application: Introduce yourself to the search committee through your letter of application. This letter should speak directly about your qualifications and prior successes in carrying out the specific job responsibilities and duties described in the job announcement. Mention any special qualifications you have. Include how or where you learned of the job vacancy, as well as the reason you are interested in this particular job.

In applying for an academic job, your writing skills are very important. Your letter should be well thought-out and well written, with no grammatical or spelling errors. Because this is a formal letter, it is best to leave out personal information. Personal details may come out informally during the interview process, but including them in a letter of application can cause your application to make a weak first impression.

Résumé or curriculum vitae: Just as the resume you use for performing jobs puts your performing experience in the spotlight, the resume or curriculum vitae you use to apply for academic jobs should be set up so that your academic credentials are the first thing on the page. Information about height, weight, hair color, or age is not appropriate for inclusion on an academic resume.

Organize your resume to be consistent. If you list dates in reverse chronological order in one place, for example, continue to follow this format throughout the document. The reader should be able to follow your life, year by year, with no chronological holes or gaps. If you were not in the workforce for several years, explain this in your letter of application.

Here’s a good outline for an academic resume:

• Name, address, telephone numbers, and e-mail address.

• Education: include degrees, years, voice instructors, coaches, opera directors, title of dissertation or treatise, etc.

• Additional training.

• Work experience (full-time).

• Work experience (part-time).

• Papers published or presented at conferences; recordings.

• Honors and awards (academic and musical).

• Performing experience.

• Other pertinent experience, special skills, volunteer work, professional memberships, recent master classes attended, etc.

Philosophy of Teaching Statement: To speed up the screening of applications, many schools request a written philosophy of teaching statement. You will be happiest in a work environment where you and your colleagues share a similar philosophy of teaching. Write this statement from your heart. From your own experience, say what you really think and believe about teaching, not what you think the committee will want to hear. The committee is interested in whether your philosophy of teaching is compatible with theirs—and they look carefully at your writing style, skill,
and your ability to express yourself clearly
and succinctly.

Recording: The recording often is the most important part of your application package. Being selected for an interview depends largely on the search committee’s opinion of the quality of your singing. The recording should be of high quality, with selections taken from recent live performances (within the past three years), representing songs and arias in a variety of languages and styles. Let your recording show “where you are” as an artist and singer today.

If you do not have high-quality recordings of recent performances, an unedited studio recording is the next-best solution. It can be helpful to invest in your own recording equipment, especially if you do not have access to a good recording studio or lack the funds to make a professional recording. Many musicians have had success landing university jobs with recordings made with good microphones and mini-disc (MD), digital audiotape (DAT), or other types of digital recorders.

Your recording should look as professional
as possible. Some applicants send professionally produced and manufactured CDs, but this is neither necessary nor typical. You can use one of many software programs that can help you make your own professional-looking CD labels and inserts.

If the college or university asks you to send a videotape or DVD of your teaching, this should also be as professionally produced as you have the time and resources to manage.

Letters of Recommendation: Your letters of recommendation should be recent, written within the last three years. It is helpful to work with the Career Planning and Placement office of the university you last attended. This office will keep a file of your letters of recommendation, sending out copies at your request. It is well worth the small fee for this service.

Transcripts: Have official and unofficial copies of all of your transcripts on hand, ready to send upon request. To save money, send photocopies of your transcripts, unless official copies are specifically requested.

The job announcement is for a bass-baritone, and I am a soprano. Should I apply anyway?

You never know unless you ask! Stories abound of cases in which a tenor, bass, or soprano has been hired for a position that was advertised as “mezzo-soprano preferred.” In many other instances, however, schools are interested in hiring only one specific voice type, so they discard applications received from singers of other voice types. Before you go to the trouble and expense of sending application materials, call or e-mail the chair of the search committee to find out if the committee will welcome and consider applications from voice types other than the one preferred.

I’ve sent off my application materials. What happens next?

It is possible that the only communication you receive (months later) will be a letter saying that the position has been filled—but this is certainly the exception! In most cases, you will receive a letter from the institution within a few weeks, acknowledging receipt of your materials and letting you know that your application file is complete.

After the committee reviews your initial materials, you may be asked to submit a recording (if the initial application didn’t request one). If the committee is as impressed with your recording as it is with your other materials, you may make it to a “short list.” Committee members will call your references. You may also receive a call from the school to set up a time for a telephone interview, often a conference call with all the members of the search committee present on the other end of the line.

Following the telephone interview, the committee deliberates and decides upon the final candidates to invite to campus. The number of final candidates varies, depending on the school’s budget for the search. Generally, between two and four candidates visit for live interviews. The school usually assumes responsibility for all costs associated with these interviews.

Interviews often happen in March and April. You will need to have a short program ready to sing (20-30 minutes of music). You may have the good fortune of interviewing at a school where an accomplished accompanist is on the staff, but often this is not the case. Select music that shows you off yet can be “worked out” in a half-hour rehearsal with an accompanist of moderate skill.

You will be asked to teach several students in one or two master-class situations. Voice teachers often accompany students during their lessons, so some schools may expect you to play the piano or accompany for your demonstration teaching. Be prepared to sight-read accompaniments of unfamiliar vocal literature! You may also be asked to teach a class in a related area (diction, opera workshop, etc.).

During the course of the interview, you will meet with administrators as well as with someone who will explain the school’s benefit package. You will probably have opportunities to have question-and-answer sessions with groups of faculty members and with students. Expect the interview to be a jam-packed, day-and-a-half adventure.

Depending on the number of candidates being interviewed for a position, it could take two to three weeks for you to learn if you have been offered the job. This can seem like an eternity. Patience is of the essence!

If the committee offers you the job, the offer will either include a salary figure, or you will have the opportunity to negotiate your salary. (Your prior research should already have given you a good idea of the “going rate.”) It is best not to demand a salary greatly higher than this “going rate,” or you may talk yourself out of a job!

With an attitude of openness and adventure, the process of researching job openings, then organizing and preparing your materials can put your resourcefulness and creativity to good use. Likewise, experiencing the rigors of interviewing can be a wonderful learning process and an opportunity for tremendous personal growth. Good luck and have fun!

Music Articles & Information.
About the Author:

Article Source:  Author Katherine Kelton, mezzo-soprano, is an associate professor of music at Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., where she teaches applied voice, class voice, diction, song literature, and honors courses to undergraduate and graduate students. She also maintains an active and varied singing career, appearing frequently as a soloist and recitalist singing an eclectic range of music throughout the United States. Her critically acclaimed CD, Amy Beach: 36 Songs, was issued in 2004 on the Naxos label. Dr. Kelton’s interest in German language, literature, and culture has led to receiving several grants for study in Germany, as well as the opportunity, in 2003, to teach at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hannover. She received a doctor of musical arts and a master of music in applied voice from The University of Texas at Austin. She also holds a B.M. in applied voice and a B. S. in education, both summa cum laude, from The University of Alabama, and did additional graduate study in applied voice at Florida State University. Dr. Kelton currently serves as the president of the Indiana Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and as faculty advisor to the Kappa Chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon.


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