This is a heavily debated issue, and one that comes up quite a bit for college music students. Many students shy away from performance degrees in favor of music education (or other majors) because they feel they need a fall back plan in case their dreams of making it as a performer aren’t realized. First let me say that I endorse the music education degree whole-heartedly, and I think it is a great track for many people. However, like music performance, it isn’t for everyone. To assume that students who aren’t making it as performance majors will somehow be successful as music educators is in my opinion faulty logic. Both degrees take an incredible amount of time, dedication, and self-discipline, albeit in slightly different areas. Our music educators should be those who truly feel it is their calling. Think about it this way – would you want a doctor treating you (or your child) who chose that career as a “backup plan?” I don’t believe this is an over dramatization – music education, and education in general, is that important. To think it is any less important is a disservice to future generations.
In addition, I believe part of the problem comes from the differing definitions of the music performance degree. At a conservatory, I think the B.M. in performance is considered more of a professional/pre-professional degree, and is well suited to students who are already fairly certain they will pursue careers as performers. However, at a liberal arts institution, music performance students still must take all of the other “core” requirements of any other undergraduate major; sciences, humanities, mathematics, etc. So in that sense, a music performance degree is similar to other majors like history, philosophy, and psychology. Undergraduate degrees in these fields don’t necessarily always lead to employment in those areas, but I don’t think that in any way lessens the “value” of those degrees. On the contrary, the discipline and work ethic required to successfully obtain a music performance degree sets those students apart in the job field. I have known performance majors who have gone on to law school, as well as careers in information technology, law enforcement, and education, to name a few. Ultimately, I think the choice has to be made by the individual student. If you are currently pursuing or thinking of pursuing a performance degree, my advice is to go for it, and give it every thing you have. Otherwise you may never realize your full potential. Be realistic and practical about your decisions, but never sell yourself short.
For other opinions on this topic, check out the following excellent posts on these blogs.