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Avior Byron will present a paper 'Huberman as Beethoven' in the 2010 Israel Musicology Conference.   

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Avior Byron

My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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How to become a freelance musicologist

Being a freelance musicologist: if Mozart did it - also we can!

I have discussed the problem of having a music or academic career. Since I made a decision of living in Israel, my academic opportunities have dramatically diminished. The situation where a country gradually kills its academic music life is true not only for Israel but also for other countries such as Germany. However, I have spent a large amount of my life experiencing and studying music and I do not intend to end my carrier at this point. In this post I will discuss how I plan to challenge my situation and embark, at least temporarily, on a freelance musicologist path.

I was lucky to do a PhD in Royal Holloway, University of London with John Rink. This university has lots of funding and I cannot imagine a better supervisor than John Rink. The result was many funded research trips to the Arnold Schoenberg Archive in Vienna. I conducted several trips to conferences. I spent lots of time in the British Library (and other smaller libraries such as the Senate House in London), which is the biggest library in Europe. The work with Rink was extensive and extremely helpful. Moreover, from the four years that I did my PhD, two if them were devoted completely to studying and in the rest I worked only part time. This, as well as hard work on my part, gave me the opportunity to write a piece of work that several parts of it were published in important music journals such as Music Theory Online. It is also the reason why I received a contract with Oxford University Press, to write a book on Schoenberg’s writings on performance.

My PhD work served as a spring board for future research. Apart of the book on Schoenberg’s performance writings, where I will serve as an editor, I plan to write another book on Schoenberg and performance, which will be based on my PhD and research that I did thereafter. I have written an article on Op. 33a and performance during a two months Postdoctoral research trip to Berlin. I just returned from Manchester where I gave a paper on Schoenberg’s and Adorno’s performance aesthetics. I will be an Edison fellow during August 2009 and I will stay in the British Library working on Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 and performance. I have also conducted an interview with Schoenberg’s children that might enter (at least part of it) the book. All these events serve as deadlines for doing research while I actually work during 80% of my time in a family business as a general manager of a translation company and language school.

It is not easy to bounce between the two careers. Yet also music academics usually need to juggle between a teaching post and a research post. Only in France (as far as I know) there is separation between those who do research and those who do teaching. One needs much discipline, long term planning and faith in oneself.


The natural this would be that the family business would gradually take over my time. However, this business is also a source of money that helps me embark on research trips and attend conferences (giving a successful conference paper is not a simple task). For example, in order to give a conference paper in Manchester I had to pay much money for traveling to London and for accommodation (the conference kindly paid for train traveling and waved to conference registration fee). I am glad that I could do this trip since it forced me to write something that will probably turn out to be another chapter in my book on Schoenberg and performance. I also attended the CHARM conference in Egham a few days before the conference in Manchester. The CHARM conference was about recordings and performance and was extremely interesting (it was also wonderful to return to my university after two years!). During my student life or during the period that I worked at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, I could never afford to do such expensive trips on my expense.

In healthy music departments, such as Royal Holloway, if one does not publish, one finds him of herself without a job. Working as a freelance musicologist needs much discipline. One must make sure that there is funding as well as deadlines in order to keep on writing. One of the things that can help is long-term planning.  

Long term planning

Publishing a book is a big project. This is true especially if one has a double career. Although I am not 100% clear about the structure of my book, I do have at this point much material for this project. It is clear to me that my first priority should be to finish editing the book for Oxford University Press, and only then finish the second book on Schoenberg and performance. The point that I am trying to make is that such long term project are very helpful in keeping one going as a freelance musicologist.

Faith in oneself

I was luck to be raised in a family where I was always told that I was talented and received much encouragement in every path that I have chosen. Moreover, John Rink and other people in RHUL gave me similar support during and after my studies there. Without firm belief in my abilities and talent I would not be able to do this research. A freelance musicologist must have belief in the importance of what he of she have to say and write. It is perhaps good advice to stay close to people who believe in you and distance yourself from those who do not.

Plan you time carefully

One cannot do everything (at least not in a professional level). If you believe in your abilities as a musicologist and trust that what you have to say will be interesting and important to other people, invest your time in this. Do not let other things interfere in your work. This might sound strange from someone who has two careers. My solution is to have certain periods (weeks and sometimes months) where I do only musicological research. I can do this because I have a translation company of my own. Other creative solutions can be found.

Open a website and a blog

The internet is a great place to meet people. This is important for at least three reasons: (1) Publishing opportunities – meeting the right people and letting them know about your work can help your find publishing opportunities in the future. You may be approached to write a book (this is how I received my book contract from Oxford University Press), or a book chapter; (2) Receive feedback on your work – I developed my best ideas from interacting and receiving comments from people; (3) it is fun to meet interesting  people and see what they think about your work or blog post (feel free to comment in the form below).

A music website and a musicological blog help to foster an identity which is somewhat fragile outside the official academic context.

Find a community

Since I became a freelance musicologist I was interested to see whether it is at all possible and other people do it. I found that there are people who do it. The conductor and violinist Antony Beaumont does not live from doing musicology. Yet he writes great books on Zemlinsky, Busoni and letters by Mahler.  


Being a free lance musicologist is not simple (yet also academic life is not a bed of roses). If one has a good background, contacts, discipline, ability for long-term planning as well as faith in oneself, than it is indeed possible. Only time will tell whether I will be able to continue my plans in being a freelance musicologist.  My first goal is to finish the two aforementioned books of Schoenberg.



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