You did it! You survived the juries, competitions, high-stakes performances, strenuous practice hours, and maybe even comprehensive exams of music school.
You have finely tuned skills that give you confidence on stage and behind the audition screen, and all the tools you’ll need to prepare for auditions. Surely an excellent job is just around the corner.
Or is it?
Music school affords us the incredibly luxury of concentrating all our energy on our craft. We can spend as much time as we’d like in practice and performance, and opportunities are readily available to put our skills to good use. What isn’t so apparent in music school is how drastically your life balance will shift after graduation.
The Transition from Music School
Suddenly, you will need to find a secure way to pay the bills. Often, this means a part-time job that is not in music. It may mean a very active private teaching studio, or a job with a non-profit that keeps you working in your field.
You may work at a coffee shop like Starbucks to gain health insurance. Regardless of whether your income comes from music or not, your new life outside of music school will likely require that most of your day is not spent in practice — unless of course you are fortunate enough to find employment playing right away!
We need to give purposeful attention to how we spend our time after any major transition. The balance of our schedule will change drastically after finishing music school and is no longer determined by the structure of coursework.
The need to work and make money cannot be avoided, but we can carefully choose what we do in whatever free time we have left. We must be vigilant in both how we spend our time and what we demand of ourselves.
In an ideal world, we would immediately schedule time for as much practice and musical work as possible.
But, the reality may be you are burnt out and need a rest after completing your degree. In this case, add something to your schedule that allows you a way to have “fun” playing your instrument or pursuing your art.
The last thing you want is to make performing or practicing feel like more unwanted work on top of the demands of your new post-grad life.
The other thing that becomes immediately apparent is that plentiful opportunities to perform don’t magically and regularly materialize anymore. Now, you must take ownership and create these circumstances!
It requires more effort to get your art out there. But at the same time, you are in the driver’s seat now. No more are your repertoire choices decided by your teacher or school orchestra.
That violin and harmonica duo you’ve always wanted to have? Now is the time!
It Happens to All of Us
When I finished graduate school, I was exhausted and burnt out. I was better at my instrument than I ever had been, but I was also tired of it. Playing felt like work, and I felt an obligation to take every audition I could.
None of this lead to an atmosphere of creativity and joy, and I know you could hear my exhaustion and frustration in my playing.
I love teaching so I poured my energy into that, giving the eight-hour practice days a rest. I learned a tremendous amount about myself, my musical priorities and my instrument through my students.
Eventually the time felt right and I signed up for a two-week intensive masterclass with a teacher I admired greatly. I scheduled duo recitals with a dear friend. I began to love playing again.
Your Instinct Always Knows Best
Listening to my gut allowed me to hone other musical and nonmusical skills and come back to my flute fully when I was ready.
Life is full of change and these adjustments are never permanent. About three years later, I felt my balance was off again and I took a big geographical leap to create more opportunities for myself as a performer while still allowing time for teaching.
Having been through this process, I know there are some important things that can help graduates fresh out of music school to make the most of their calling and highly refined skills:
How to Prepare for Your Career Journey
1. Gain outside perspective. Solicit the advice of your peers and mentors. What did they do after graduation? What do they feel are your greatest strengths? There may be a way to capitalize on your abilities that you hadn’t thought of!
2. Be open minded. You probably won’t walk off the podium with your diploma directly to an orchestra chair. If you do, fantastic! But if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a capable performer or musician.
Most of us have to fill in the gaps with different types of employment. These experiences toughen us. They enrich us as people and mean that we have more to offer through our creative outlet. Be open to ALL the possibilities that come your way!
3. Follow your instincts. Do you want to teach? Not interested in traditional orchestral jobs? Is there an unusual project you want to pursue? There is no time like the present!
So often while we are in school we follow a prescribed path. It gives us the skills we need, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow in the exact footsteps of those before us. Deep down, only you know where your passion really lies.
4. Stay connected. Resist the urge to hibernate and disconnect when your career doesn’t materialize immediately. Social media can make it look like our peers are way ahead of us, but remember that those Facebook posts are only a small part of the story.
If you stay connected online and in person, join a local music club or association, or keep playing your instrument somewhere, you’ll be up to date. Even more importantly you’ll be on other musician’s radars!
If you don’t keep your name and talents out there someone may not think to contact you for a project you would be perfect for!
5. Do one thing each day to advance your career. This could be big or small. Some days, that thing might just be practicing or sending one important email.
Having small, attainable goals is important. During my lowest time following graduation, committing to achieving one step forward each day kept my career moving and my morale lifted. Mix smaller goals with larger ones and before you know it, you will have covered more ground than you thought was possible.
Our greatest asset and our greatest challenge are the same in our lives as artists: everyone’s career will look different. And that’s as it should be.
Remember to be you, because we need your music, your advocacy, your ideas. By keeping our focus on what we personally have to offer, we avoid comparison and stop it before it can steal away a joyful, musical life.
How Are You Maintaining Momentum?
Are you a recent music school graduate? How do you plan on moving your career forward?
Did you graduate in the last few years? What helped keep your spirits up, even when times got tough?
Leave a comment below.
Morgann Davis is an energetic performer and educator who enjoys building her life as a flutist off the beaten path. Placing a strong emphasis on teaching, Morgann has diligently worked to build Davis Flute Studio, an active studio where she can help her students become passionate, creative music lovers and makers for life.
She finds great joy in working with students from beginners to adults through private lessons, clinics, masterclasses and adjunct teaching. Fortunate to share the stage with many wonderful musicians, Morgann performs regularly with a variety of ensembles throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania.
She loves to write, contributing regularly to Powell Flutes educational resources on their “Teach Flute” blog, and enjoys promoting entrepreneurship in music as a member of the National Flute Association’s Career and Artistic Development committee. Most importantly, Morgann views her work through music as an opportunity to bring the arts into focus and to help others appreciate the importance of music and the influence it can have in everyday life. More information can be found at www.morgannelycedavis.com and joyfulflutist.tumblr.com.