Rethinking music degrees in higher education and bringing them into the 21st century is a pretty tall order, but Dr. Derek Ganong is up for the challenge. As the Director of Jazz and Assistant Professor of Trumpet at Boise State University in Idaho, Ganong acknowledges that “it’s always hard to innovate within music education due to the tradition-bound nature of the discipline. However, because Boise State University is a truly innovative place, this thinking is bleeding into our music department. We are in the midst of an experiment to see how music in higher education will tolerate innovation on a grand scheme.”
Part of this experiment is Ganong’s development of a music production certificate that is slated to begin in the fall of 2023. “It took three years to get a majority vote on this certificate program in my department,” he explains. “After that, it was swiftly approved by the higher administrative layers and is currently in the implementation stage — the place where the majority of plans that fail will fail. It’s my task to, in addition to my normal workload, create these courses, find spaces, create schedules, get funding for technology, and market the certificate. I have a few partners within the college, but the onus is on me to make this actually happen in fall 2023.”
Ganong says that despite the robust and thriving nature of the music industry, music education as a whole has yet to universally adopt the agility necessary to truly prepare students for sustainable careers post-graduation. He addresses this by still focusing on the performing aspect, but he also incorporates career education and open discussion/mentoring of students in music industry skills.
This means a lot of independent study courses, outside workshops, bringing in guest speakers and artists, personal investment in equipment, constant contact with industry folks, and time spent on personal development. All this work has paid off. Some of Ganong’s students’ successes include:
“My students thrive on this ala-carte system,” Ganong says proudly.