I recently graduated with an MM in viola performance, and like many recent graduates, frequently ask myself what I'm doing with my life. Then, I sit down and remember why I got started in the first place. This post is for all you folks out there wondering what to do next.
See if this sounds familiar:
You practiced all through high school, went to college for music, and now you have a music performance degree, and you haven't quite taken the NY Phil by storm. If you are especially devoted to academia, you went in for round two and now have an advanced degree in music. But, once again, you don't have that orchestral job you thought you'd have and find yourself in the same spot you were two years ago before you went on the noble pursuit of advanced degrees.
You've sat through countless conversations with friends and family members asking, so what are you going to do now?
We've all been there. I've even heard music education majors being asked what their degrees are good for. My thought: Have you ever heard of band, orchestra, chorus, and general music in public and private schools across the country? So, they don't exist in every school system, but they do exist. I promise, and a lot of people love their job in the school system.
Well, back to that degree issue. Music degrees are good for a lot of things!
First off, the discipline it takes to get through a music degree is astounding. Music students take more classes, usually offered at 0.5 or 1 hour credits, that take up more time than most liberal arts students could even have nightmares about. For instance, most orchestra classes in college count for one credit. ONE. Orchestra rehearsals range anywhere from two to three hours each, and meet at least twice a week. This does not include the time spent outside of the class to learn the music. That's dedication, an attribute any employer would be honored to have in an employee. When I graduated from my undergrad and briefly considered becoming a lawyer, which I decided not to do, I was told by admission recruiters that law schools like music majors: they work long hours,dedicate themselves, and work hard. Strong work ethic: important for law school, important for music teachers and performers, important for life.
So, back to the question: Now what? Here are ten suggestions, and ten things I say to myself and to my students:
1. Teach! Teaching private lessons is an extremely rewarding way to use your expertly honed skills. Sharing what you have learned not only enhances another person's life, but also enhances your own. Think back to those teachers who helped make you into the musician you are today. You didn't get that scholarship on your own. Someone encouraged you and passed along musical knowledge. You can do the same for someone else!
2. Take auditions, big and small. You have to start somewhere! We can't all play in the NY Phil. Taking auditions is a skill, just like practicing. (Oh, and keep practicing....receiving your diploma should not keep you from dusting off your instrument and spending some quality time with it.) The more you take auditions, the more confident you become in that process, and it is a process. Remember that everyone at the audition is nervous. Almost everyone considered not taking the audition because they didn't feel prepared. Just do it. You have to practice taking auditions. Very few people walk into their first audition with a major orchestra and win it. Get an orchestral rep coach. Let someone help you through the process.
3. Play chamber music! Gather your friends and colleagues for a good old fashioned sight-reading party.
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4. Get creative. Make your own opportunities. Play whenever and wherever you can. What about that coffee shop down the street? Wouldn't they love to hear you fiddle away? Maybe play some Bach? Well, maybe don't start with the Bach, but throw it in. Maybe you could embrace new music! The classics are great, but there are a bunch of really wonderful modern composers and works out there. Play them.
5. Play weddings. Once again, we can't all play in major symphonies every week. I heard a great story about a violinist in Philly, who waited tables, played weddings, and regional gigs for over TEN years before he finally won a job in a major orchestra. It happens! Let's say he did the grad school thing, went straight through school, then started playing gigs and waiting tables in his mid twenties. That puts him in his mid 30's before he won his first big job.
6. Don't give up, and don't be afraid of being self employed. When I was in school, there were two camps: performance and education, and a lot of people ended upin the classroom. The public/private school classroom is for some people, and not for others and that is OK. You might like teaching in a classroom, you might not. Some people make great classroom teachers, some do not. This job should be chosen with great thought about your own happiness and the happiness of your students. A major problem with our educational system is a lack of passion in the classroom. This, of course isn't true of everyone, but go into the classroom because you enjoy that line of work and you enjoy teaching classrooms full of students. You may find that one on one instruction is for you, or you may not. Try it. You have to try to know.
7. Embrace opportunities when they present themselves, and be willing to travel: You never know who is listening or who you will meet. Sometimes a window opens because you stepped through a bunch of different doors. Some of the best advice I ever got about music jobs was that musicians can't be picky where they live. You go where the work is. So go!
8. Be nice to other musicians: The music world is small. You have no idea who you will run in to. Don't burn bridges. People want to work with nice, reliable people.
9. Be your own cheerleader. You may have to supplement your income until you get the gigs you want. You may end up being self employed forever. Be happy with whatever you choose to do. You get to be a musician for a living! You get to do what you love, and people pay you (maybe not the big bucks, but maybe the big bucks)!
10. Never, never, never give up.