(Article for the CMEA Journal – Winter edition)

In 1947, a committee of representatives from MENC, the American Federation of Musicians and the American Association of School Administrators created an agreement known as The Music Code of Ethics to assist in defining the jurisdictions of music educators and professional musicians. At some point in our professional careers as musicians and educators we have all become aware of this document and its guidelines, and most of us would not knowingly violate the fundamentals of the Code. (The Music Code of Ethics may be found on the MENC website,, the Denver Musicians’ Association,, or at the Pikes Peak Musicians’ Association,

In recent years it has become apparent that students are increasingly being engaged to perform in non-educational settings. This practice not only deprives professional musicians of securing work that should rightfully belong to them, but it does a disservice to the students (who perhaps may be future professionals) by teaching them that their performance has little or no value. At the American Federation of Musicians Convention this past June I learned that these incidences are occurring not only in Colorado but on a national level and, as a result, AFM Convention Delegates passed a resolution condemning these practices and urging delegates to address the issue in their local jurisdictions.

In Colorado Springs, for example, we continue to receive reports of students performing at weddings, receptions, at local hotels and for other public events for little or no remuneration or in exchange for tuition credits or donations to the organization that promoted them. A private teacher was shocked when a cello student brought music for a “gig” to a lesson for help. The music was for a hotel Christmas show that the student had been “hired” to play. The Denver Musicians’ Association has reported that elsewhere in the state a youth symphony engaged a string quartet to perform for four hours as background music for a social event for that organization. As in competitive sports events, a young musician does not have the training, development and physical or mental stamina to perform for such a period of time. Minimum wage and child labor laws have existed for many years, but they would seem not to apply to these situations. Some would say that these students are gaining experience, but they are clearly being exploited when they are used in performances that are not events designed to promote and encourage their musical growth and development. If a student has achieved the level of expertise required to perform in a professional capacity, he or she can receive assistance and protection from these abuses by becoming a Student Member of the AFM, thereby having the opportunity to earn fair payment for his or her work.

A renewed effort is needed to raise awareness among parents, students, educators and musicians, as well as with the public at large, of the different roles that students and professionals play in promoting music as a vital part of our communities and to encourage recognition of the differences between education and entertainment. In educating our students we should strive to instill in them a respect for a profession that they may one day be part of.

—Diane Merrill, President Pikes Peak Musicians’ Association, Local #154 American Federation of Musicians (former professional violinist and private teacher of violin)


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