Musical Pathways

Visitors inside the Wolfson Gallery at St Cecilia's Hall
Image credit: Laurence Winram, The University of Edinburgh Stock photo.

In this post, Christopher Kane, Mark Holub, Gina Black and Nikki Moran report on the Musical Pathways project↗️, a student-led careers initiative funded by IAD Student Partnership Agreement↗️. This post belongs to the Hot topic series: Student Partnership Agreement 2023↗️.

In the past decade, responding in some respects to EDI concerns and needs, Music at Edinburgh re-examined and renewed its core programme provision↗️. Compounded by the wider pressures facing Gen Z, these curricula developments have given urgency to the need for update links between ECA/Music↗️ and the University Careers Service↗️, and also to generate new networks and resources that can better serve both students and academic staff. Musical Pathways addressed these needs through the following aims and outputs:

  • Identify the interests, concerns, and professional intentions of existing Music/ECA undergraduate cohorts;
  • Enhance local knowledge and networks that should help align these intentions with current industry demands; and
  • Develop links between Music/ECA and University Careers Service, supporting the co-creation of new resources for both students professional development, and for future curriculum enhancement.

For many arts and humanities graduates, subject specialism is quite literally an academic matter and may have little or no connection to any subsequent job title. Undergraduate study is valued for its own sake, to learn what it takes to acquire expertise, to gain important transferable skills in communication, critical insight and independent thinking, and to expand social networks and personal outlook along the way through challenging and enriching life experience. In the case of Music, though, students usually identify very strongly with their specialism and expect it to remain central to their lives. But there may be scant discussion via their academic course curricula about what a career in music might look and feel like.

And indeed, a profession in the music industry could mean a lot of different things, with many ‘ways in’ and no obvious, prescribed graduate career path.  Musical Pathways set out to address the needs of students who wanted to know more about future pathways, by enhancing The University of Edinburgh knowledge and resources in this area. Through three community-building workshops, the project generated opportunities for dialogue between current students, academic staff, University services and external professionals.

The three events are documented in the project website↗️. They brought together students, staff and external professionals and resulted in the creation of important new resources including updated, practical links to current services and freely available resources for music industry professional development. The project also created and documented rich, personal career stories as told by Music graduates at different stages of their professional lives – a video reel resource now shared through the Career Services Plus resource site (Musical Pathways Interview videos↗️).

Recent graduate, Chris Kane (BMus 2023), was a founder member of the team. He explains what the project meant for him:

“Musical Pathways was a rewarding experience for me as a final-year Music student, both in terms of my input into the early stages of the project and in what I learned by attending the various sessions.  I liaised with the core team, acting as a voice for students and highlighting the key areas of the music industry that students wanted to know more about. This helped give us plan topics for the first session, which took place in November 2022. Through this and the subsequent workshops I gained valuable insight into the music industry.

“The first workshop took place was a welcoming experience. We heard about Mark’s first-hand experiences as an established industry professional, and his personal insights on how to kick-start a performance career. Then attendees shared aspirations for their futures outside of academic study. The second session in March was planned around these student stories and insights. The workshop featured talks from representatives of Help Musicians and the Musicians Union, to highlight where students can get practical career support. Team member and University Careers Consultant, Gina Black, also gave an insightful talk about some of the many career paths that can follow a degree in music, identifying key employers and resources dedicated to creative industry recruitment. In the final event, the project wrapped up with a relaxed networking event, allowing students to enjoy an end-of-week drink while mingling with university staff and industry professionals.

“This is the first workshop of its kind that I’ve experienced at university, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Just as I was asking myself the dreaded final year question of “What’s next?”, the Musical Pathways sessions helped create a space where I could assess my career options and have open discussions about professions in the music industry.”

Beyond the material resources and the renewed student-staff-professionals network that our workshops generated, the project’s legacy will depend on the integration of this new knowledge and dialogue by School and subject area staff-student communities. In Music’s ECA context, we have identified scope to develop students’ sense of ownership of their developing professional identities. Ways in which we address this challenge may resonate with colleagues across the College, including support and validation of professional development initiatives within academic course descriptors and programme narratives. Student programme representatives who are trained, informed and engaged with professional development issues can use their voices very powerfully in learning and teaching discussion spaces, given the opportunity to do so.

Photo of auhtor: Christopher KaneChristopher Kane

Chris Kane graduated with a BMus (Hons) in Music, following an outstanding final-year recital performance in May 2023.

Photograph of the author: Mark HolubMark Holub

Mark Holub (PhD candidate ECA) is an award-winning professional musician with twenty years’ experience as a drummer, composer and bandleader (Mercury Music Prize, German Record Critics Award) and specialist workshop facilitator. His PhD examines leadership in contemporary improvised music ensembles, exploring the acquisition and expression of leadership characteristics in creative musical contexts through practice-led research.

Photograph of author: Gina BlackGina Black

Gina Black is ECA’s Career Consultant, based at the University’s Careers Service. A graduate of English and French from The University of Aberdeen, Gina holds two postgraduate qualifications including an MSc by Research in Postcolonial Literature from The University of Edinburgh. Through her own professional path, Gina has considerable and varied skills gleaned from roles in publishing and education. She draws on this breadth of knowledge and life experience in her current specialist role as careers consultant (MSc in Careers Management and Coaching).

Photograph of the author: Nikki MoranNikki Moran

Nikki Moran is Senior Lecturer and subject area Director of Education in Music, ECA. Her research examines communication in musical performance. Nikki delivers courses to all levels of undergraduate and postgraduate students at Edinburgh and globally via the long-standing Massive Open Online Course, Fundamentals of Music Theory.

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