Editor’s Note: What makes a classically trained performer go the academic route? Baritone W.A. “Andy” Stuckey talks about the challenges involved in taking his talent back to school for a doctoral degree, a primer for talented singers considering the same path.
Welcome back to Operatoonity, Andy. When did you decide to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts?
Well, the initial process was more of an exploration that led to a decision. For many reasons, I was not feeling that the career was providing enough satisfaction to continue full-time. I love singing and performing but I was starting to become conflicted about not contributing more financially to my family and was feeling some internal pressure to pursue other avenues of employment. As I really started to distill my strengths and my passions I realized that while I may not have achieved the level of success that I wished for myself, I have accumulated a bank of knowledge and experience that is singular and perhaps somewhat valuable.
This realization uncovered a need to start to pass the knowledge on to a new generation by moving into a teaching career. Up until this point I had not maintained a vocal studio and had been focused on raising my children and fostering my solo career.
What made you pursue academia, and how did you choose your graduate school. In other words, why a DMA?
Because I had not maintained a vocal studio I did not feel comfortable jumping into the academic world directly. Although I have my Master of Music degree, I had been solely focused on my solo career and felt that in order to make the transition to teaching effectively, I needed to re-immerse myself into the academic world and the DMA, or Doctor of Musical Arts, was the avenue that seemed best for me to do so. Also, from doing research, a DMA is almost a requirement in the current job environment due to the competitive nature of Voice Faculty positions.
Rutgers University offered me a nice scholarship and that was really the determining factor. I knew that I was not willing to put the financial health of my family at stake in order to complete this degree so the scholarship to Rutgers was a real and somewhat unexpected blessing.
How much more do you have to do to obtain your terminal degree?
I am on schedule for a 3 year degree completion and have completed 1.5 years officially. However there are many obstacles and challenges that await me. Because it is a terminal degree the standards are rigorous and demanding. There are a series of written and oral comprehensive exams that are not at all a “sure thing”. In fact, it is not unusual for the DMA to take much longer to complete. Let’s hope this won’t happen in my case!
Do you hope to combine teaching and performance someday?
Absolutely. I will always be a performer and the realization that the two are not mutually exclusive was an important facet to this pursuit. That being said, it is a VERY tenuous balance and I would have serious problems leaving young students for too long. Continuity is so important when helping a young student build their technique. I will be a better teacher if I continue to perform though.
Are you teaching as well as studying?
As part of the degree, there is a small pedagogical requirement that involves real teaching. Surprisingly, I haven’t been able to start teaching much because of the demanding nature of the academic classes and my already hectic regular
schedule. It’s a busy time.
What kind of classically trained singer might enjoy the route you’ve taken?
A DMA isn’t for everybody. It’s a rigorous pursuit. In spite of appearances, (HA!) I tend to be rather bookish and enjoy learning so it suits me well.
Any challenges? Regrets? Unexpected opportunities or bennies as a result?
I am challenged every day by singing. Some days it’s a great reward and some days the burden becomes stifling. I keep experiencing amazement at the talent of the great singers around me and that I hear on recordings. I have a very deeply held feeling that music and art are immensely important to our culture and a testament to the fulfilled potential of our beautifully imperfect humanity. It’s a humbling privilege to be able to bear a small banner for it.
No, not too many regrets thankfully and there have been many benefits from returning to the academic milieu.
The most surprising discovery has been the wonderful relationships that have developed with my voice teacher, academic faculty members, and my fellow students.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
This may sound strange, but a key concept that led me down this road was when my “Why?” turned into “Why not?”. If you’re considering a change of almost any sort, as you carefully weigh the options ask yourself “Why not?”. It makes a difference! Why not?!?
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If you’d like to talk further with Andy about his career choices, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wastuckey or friend him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/wastuckey. You can read more about Andy at this Operatoonity profile.