Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Viewer Mail: O Canada


Here's an email that came in a while ago. I'm just getting to it now, and for that, I apologize.


Hi George, I am graduating Eastman with a doctorate in spring of 2014 (assuming I pass the comps exams) and thinking about living in Canada. My wife has family in Toronto. What do you think of the job market there for someone like me, I mean for teaching music? Any comments or advice for me regarding Canada versus America etc.?

First of all, it depends on what kind of teaching you are looking to do. I suppose nowadays, the golden prize is considered to be a tenure-track university teaching position. These sort of things, especially in jazz, are few and far between. I still receive the College Music Society job listings, and lately, I have seen not one opening, not even at Shady Creek Bible College in Duluth, Minnesota. (I'll bet they have a great jazz program, though....)

Furthermore, when one of these jobs becomes available, it is highly super competitive. I competed and was in the finals for a job a few years ago which was not only tenure track, but actually CAME with tenure and a six figure salary. ( tenure, by the way, essentially means a job for life. If you have tenure at a university, the only way they can get rid of you is if you burn down the school, or are in jail , or if they eliminate your position or program. The latter has actually been happening recently, which is pretty scary. Also, keep in mind that the trend across the nation is to end the notion of tenure altogether. So you might be seeing even fewer tenure track jobs and more positions such as Lecturer or more adjunct positions.) The competition was fierce; I was in the running against Geri Allen, Louis Hayes, and Matt Wilson. Clearly, they wanted a name that would draw students. I don't even know why I would be even close in name recognition. However, for some strange reason, none of us won the job; they ended up going with the legendary Joe Chambers.

Yes, even jazz legends are looking for these kinds of jobs. I've recently written recommendations for legendary players who used to write recommendations for ME! This is the new hustle. Having a tenure track job at a university is what getting signed to a major label was 15 years ago. Except that you get health insurance with the university job. And you won't get dropped due to lack of sales!

So not only is it always highly competitive, it's also highly political. There might be someone in mind long before they even begin the process of looking. That doesn't mean it's hopeless; just because someone has the perceived inside track doesn't mean that you might not come in and change the committee's mind. I suppose anything is possible. However, you'd have to be pretty naive to think that there isn't more than "we want whomever is the most qualified" lying underneath the surface.

I was in the finals for another job, thinking I had a decent chance. I told a friend about it, and he shook his head; "No that job is slated for Jimmy Keys." I was surprised. " How do you know that? Isn't this an open search?" My friend explained. " No, Jimmy Keys has been at that university for 10 years as an adjunct. They want to create a full time position for him. Jimmy Keys wrote the job description HIMSELF!" I went through the process anyway, and tried my best during my audition. Alas, I didn't change anybody's mind.

The committee might be looking for things that aren't actually in the job description. They can't really tell you this, but it's true. They might be looking for somebody famous. They might be looking for someone of color. They might be looking for somebody they can go out drinking with! Of course, they can't list that in the ad. They might say, "someone with an international reputation." They can't say, "must be willing to spend Saturday nights drinking at Sal's Tavern with other faculty members..." (Of course, you might find that out when you arrive...)

They can insist on a Doctorate, or at the extreme least, a Master's degree. (There are rarely instances where you don't need a degree at all, or even just a Bachelor's.) I applied for a position in the Southwest early on in my search for a teaching job. I thought that, in this case, my professional experience would override my lack of a Master's. Turns out, I was wrong. If it's advertised as "Master's required" or "Doctorate required", then they can be sued if they don't maintain this as the minimum criteria. Of course, they could say, "Doctorate preferred," OR they could say "Doctorate or equivalent professional experience preferred." So it's good that you are nearly finished your Doctorate. (Good luck with that; I eventually went to Queen's College to get my Master's in Jazz Studies. I don't know if I have the energy, or the money, to complete a real Doctorate.)

Although yes, I did win a job at the University of Manitoba, I would have to say that it is even tougher to break into the Canadian system. I benefited from the the fact that the director of the jazz program at the U of Manitoba was an American named Steve Kirby, who was open towards getting American musicians into the program. This is not to say that they could advertise "must be American" or something. On the contrary, the trick seems to be that if a non-Canadian is in the running for any of these jobs, you must present special justification as to why the candidate is uniquely more qualified than the Canadians who applied. This was the case when I won the job, and I know it was the case in later searches( because I was on the committees). Canada is very protectionist in certain areas. Protectionism sucks if you are on the other end, however, when you consider how easy it is for Americans to do gigs in Canada, while any foreign musicians coming into the U.S. have to file months in advance, fill out lots of paperwork, and deal with huge hassles.

Canada is a beautiful country. Typically, folks think of Canadians as super cheerful and friendly. But you would be surprised; I applied for another job in Canada in 2008 and was, in my view, not treated well during the process. Many of their questions were not about music and they didn't seem to have any idea or interest in my accomplishments or the fact that I had played with many major names in jazz. I knew right away that even if I won the job I would be unhappy working with these sort of people. After having me fly across the continent (at my own expense), they didn't even want to hear me play the piano! So you never know.

 I was in the finals about 10 times in 8 years before landing a job. (By the way, I beat out 100 other applicants for my job here at Portland State University. I consider myself extremely lucky!) The moral of the story is it's not easy.I think you might want to at the very least look for adjunct work. You might actually be able to make some money without the pressure of being full time faculty. And if you can become a Canada resident, then health care is free, which is why many of us are looking for full time gigs anyway. Anyway, good luck with the Doctorate and good luck with the search!




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