Mist Thorkelsdottir

Mist Thorkelsdottir, composer and Rector at the Academy of Music and Drama, Gothenburg University, looks to the future and thinks about supporting the development of a global musician. Please add your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

A global musician

Why do students, especially in the materialistic society of today, decide to study music when it is time to choose a profession?

I dare to wager that most, if not all, do so because they have been touched.  They would not go through rigorous admission procedures and take on financial obligations had they not at some point in their lives experienced something deep, something beautiful and meaningful, experienced something that changed them.  They come to us with the curiosity of the one who looks for questions as much as seeking answers, and with the honesty of the one who truly believes in the power of music.  They want to become professional musicians.

As leaders and teachers in higher music education, we talk a lot about the kind of profession for which we are educating our students.  In the past 15 years, ”the changing music profession” has been the buzzword.  Are we giving our students enough tricks of the trade, a big enough backpack (another buzzword) to be able to find a way to be self supporting after graduation? What in fact is a profession?  By definition (Oxford English Dictionary): ”Profession is a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification”.

Looking at this definition in relation to music, essentially there are only a very few establishments that fall under the umbrella of employing professional musicians:  the symphony orchestras, opera companies and some smaller professional chamber/vocal ensembles.  These professional institutions are in essence neither changing very much nor fast.  They are however, slowly disappearing in some parts of the world, which indeed changes things.  We feel a bit of urgency to try to shift the focus from being oriented towards the profession (according to the above definition) as being the ultimate goal for our students to giving them a more open, global education.

In other words, the career path of the students we are educating today is completely open-ended, leads through diverse transitions and crossroads, and each individual pathway is different.  How can we help our students become independent professional musicians with the relevant capacities for this new and evolving professional context?  The emerging professional musician today must be entrepreneurial, have business and management skills and most importantly courage to seek and connect to new audiences, both locally and globally.  This requires a global perspective, a social and ethical conscientiousness, knowledge and respect for traditions as well as different genres, skills in reaching out and collaborating with musicians from different corners of the world with an understanding of how the different cultures and religions can connect through music, support and enhance the quality of life.  Knowledge in formulating and realizing projects, developing a network through collaborating in those projects, and leadership skills are all now essential elements within formal music education.  Our challenge is to enable these new skills to develop in an already traditionally full curriculum, dare to change and perhaps even replace courses and modules that have until now been considered irreplaceable in a traditional music education. Most importantly, we must ensure that our students maintain a deep sense of curiosity that will fuel their creativity and give them the power to touch lives.

Mist Thorkelsdottir’s “professional” studies were in composition (with Morton Feldman and Lucas Foss). After several years of being an active composer both in Iceland and abroad, she launched into the world of academia when asked to establish the Department of Music at the Iceland Academy of the Arts in 2001(first HEI in music in Iceland) and was later hired to run it. The summer of 2014 brought a new challenge, when she was offered to head up the Academy of Music and Drama, University of Gothenburg. Thus, the journey continues.



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