School vs Real Life

It has been about two years since I was officially enrolled in a class. Since I was in school, I have worked as a freelancing performer and a teacher, as well as a contractor for ensembles and gigs. Here are some things I have learned in school and outside of school so far.

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  1. Punctuality
  2. Saying Yes/ No
  3. Reading
  4. Teachers
  5. Confidence
  6. Dress Code
  7. Take Nothing Personally
  8. Never Badmouth Anyone
  9. Refresh
  10. Know Yourself to Market Yourself

1. Punctuality

This is in fact one of the most important things for your first impression both in school and at professional gigs. By punctuality, I mean not only showing up on time, but early enough that you let everyone in your group know that you will be warmed up and ready to start playing at the previously announced rehearsal time and location. Punctuality also means replying to messages properly and within reasonable time frame. If you get caught in traffic, then send a text message or an e-mail to your peers that you will be late. Everyone is busy and it is not cool if you simply ghost last minute.

2. Saying Yes/ No

Speaking of replying, if someone offers you a gig, your initial impulse should be, “Yes.” The reason is twofold: 1. If you say yes, you might get the gig 2. If you say yes, you are going to be remembered for now as a person that says yes to gigs. Contractors usually have a decent list of people according to instruments, and replying to job offer promptly and being remembered as a yes-person is very important.

I am happy with the choices I made in school in this department. I said yes to as many things as possible (for things inside and outside of school), and over time I learned my limits and strengths in terms of the amount of workload I can handle, and the type of people and music I seem to most naturally gel with. Sure it is not easy to juggle many things at once, but how else would you learn to juggle many things at once? Never be afraid of making mistakes. Once you take on a challenge, focus on the music and stratetgize how you can deliver the best performance of it.

3. “Reading”

I would tell every young student entering music school to learn as much chamber music as possible, in addition to their more fundamental exercises and repertoire. During my master’s degree, my very practical clarinet teacher told me something along the lines of “resist the temptations to learn all the concertos you will never play again in the real world; learn the things you will actually get asked to play.” Learn all the major sonatas, piano trios, string quartets, orchestral excerpts, etc. Do what gets you love but at the same time also do what gets you ahead.

4. Teachers

I believe that until a certain point one needs a teacher they go to every week or at least every other week. Classical music in any form does not become second nature to an artist overnight, rather it takes years until one masters the fundamentals of their craft and is able to produce what is professionally a work of art. At the same time, it is important to be able to form your own musical opinions. I have been blessed in my life to have many teachers in my life, and that has helped me have close insight in different schools of clarinet playing and music-making.

Especially after the school years, most people go through periods without having a teacher. This is not a bad thing, as it forces one to form their own musical and practice method ideas, as well as objective view of their playing which helps them keep honest in practice sessions and in performances.

5. .Confidence

Being confident is a professional etiquette. Of course there is a line between being confident and arrogant, but it is very important to be confident. Confidence comes from having strong fundamentals through daily practice, having pre-formed musical ideas from having score-studied the music away from one’s instrument before rehearsal, and can be displayed by being assertive musically when appropriate. Every musical situation is different in hierarchy and you want to act accordingly. It might not be easy to figure out one’s place in a group in just two hours, but a healthy amount of confidence from a member in a group can help the group be democratic and musically rewarding/ stimulating.

6. Dress Code

Dress code is not a novelty, it is showing respect to your peers. In addition to being appropriately-dressed, if one is dress tastefully without being too flashy, this can subconsciously tell (and will tell) the others what kind of a musician you are. For instance, if one shows up to rehearsal in a gym outfit covered in sweat, it can tell the others that the rehearsal is not that person’s top priority. However if the person is tastefully dressed it can tell the others that they take the rehearsal seriously.

7. Take Nothing Personally

There are definitely times when I am not treated fairly by a conductor, or a personnel manager, or a section partner, etc. This is ok- nobody is perfect and nobody is always treated perfectly. It is mature of a person to be able to analyze the situation objectively, learn what they can from it, and move on. Never be defensive in speech. Never hold a grudge.

8. Never Badmouth Anyone

Never badmouth anyone. It is the law. Do not succumb to your emotions in petty matters.

9. Refresh

This is something teachers do not discuss with their students enough. It is so important for one to be aware of their physical and mental limitations, and take appropriate precautions and rests. It is not mentally healthy for a person to take orchestra auditions all the time in which they prepare for weeks (hours per day) and not get any immediate rewards. Everyone has different coping mechanisms and different levels of tolerance. Take breaks, take a walk, talk to friends, watch a TV show, do what you have to do. You know best what you should do to get your wind back. Always be able to look at the big picture of things.

10. Know Yourself to Market Yourself

One should know, that not every instrument is equal. Most people in developed countries will probably touch a piano in their lifetime but most people will die before touching a clarinet or being able to tell it apart from an oboe or a flute. Most of my freelance musician friends who make most of their income from teaching teach piano or violin. If you choose euphonium as your main instrument, you cannot blame the rest of the world for you not being able to find enough playing or teaching gigs on the euphonium only. Teach yourself other instruments not necessarily with the intention of reaching world-class level. Or double-major. Do a minor. Don’t give up on other dreams or dismiss them. No matter what instrument you choose, be aware of the gigs that are available to you, be aware of all of your strengths (including the non-music ones) and the other jobs you will have to eventually take in order to keep music. Sooner you find out and take action, the better. That is not selling out or giving; that is life.

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