A Note to Me: D.C.

What I Would Tell My Younger Self…

As a university professor, I often tell my studio stories from my student days in order to make a point about something, usually practicing!  I have been thinking about this topic quite a bit this summer, as the new performing/academic year is fast approaching.  This is certainly not a complete list, but I hope it will be helpful.

So what would I tell my younger self?  How do I count the ways…

Returning to the practice comment above, I know I wasted a lot of practice time when I was an undergraduate.  I don’t think I really knew what “practicing” meant, in terms of planning my time, being a detective when something didn’t work so I could solve an issue, and the value of being in what I now call “performance mode”.  I also would tell my younger self to be mindful of how my body feels while practicing; I know I could have avoided certain tension issues that have long plagued me if I just paid attention!

I would certainly have taken a few more risks, particularly with meeting people and maintaining those contacts.  I was quite shy in those days, and while my students now find that hard to believe, I was content to go about my work and have my small circle of friends.  Those networks that we build over time can be very rewarding for our personal and musical growth. That also includes your non-musical network, and attending another arts performance, such as going to a gallery opening, a theatre production, or a modern dance event are great ways to expand that network.  It also means talking with people.  Even in this era of Facebook and texting and Twitter, as human beings we still need that connection with others.   You just never know where a chance conversation with someone might lead.  So meet someone new at one of the events listed above, have your personal “elevator speech” ready.  You’ll need several of those for different situations.  Often an opportunity comes out of a chance meeting that leads to meeting someone else who can help you with a project, be a mentor, be a friend.

I know I would have asked a lot more questions of my teachers about other ways I could have a successful musical life.  For me, as a student, it was all about getting an orchestra job, but that process wore me out. I loved chamber music, and was fortunate to have a long career with the Da Vinci Quartet, but I didn’t consider that a career option as an undergraduate.  And teaching-I didn’t think that I had the patience to be a studio teacher, but I found myself in an orchestra job that had “establishing a private studio” in the job description.  I discovered that with a lot of reading and work, that I loved it.  Now I have a career that involves all of those things-performing and teaching.

This brings me to another topic, those extra musical skills that we now need.  I had a lot of on the job training when I joined the quartet (we were a non-profit).  Certain “duties” felt great right away, and others, like booking concerts, were a challenge for me.  Remember the shyness I mentioned earlier? By taking on the work and the phone calls to get concerts, I grew a great deal as a person, and discovered that I liked talking with people, which eventually meant that I was comfortable talking to an audience or a class.  That is something I tell my studio-it’s more than your practicing and performing that make you a successful musician.  Analyze your strengths as a musician; many of those can be applied to life outside of school.  This can include your organizational, writing, speaking skills.   Also look at those areas of your playing that need improvement (spiccato for me!), and learn about other aspects of the music business.  Some skills may come to you quite quickly, others may be a stretch.  Take a risk, stretch your knowledge.  Even if you fail, you will have learned something.

I am taking a grant writing workshop in August, that’s my big stretch for the summer.  I have written small grants before, and have assisted on others, but there is more I need to learn about the process.  It will be helpful for me, possibly my department, and certainly for my students, particularly in the class I teach for the LEAP Institute for the Arts at Colorado State University.

One final thought for this brief post-look a little farther down the road than just this coming year.  Very few musical careers are a straight line, so know that there could be some zigging and zagging.   Find a mentor-it could be a teacher or a colleague, but someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing your goals, asking questions, ideas for a new musical endeavor, anything at all.

What would you tell your younger self?   

About the author

Margaret Miller
Margaret Miller

Margaret Miller is Assistant Professor of Viola and Coordinator of the Graduate Quartet Program at Colorado State University. She is also a core faculty of the LEAP Institute of the Arts at CSU. Prior to joining the faculty in 2004, Ms. Miller was violist of the Da Vinci Quartet for 18 years. Ms. Miller is an active soloist, chamber musician and clinician, and wants to help young musicians have a successful career.

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