My first seven jobs

Talking to some of my recent graduates, I surprised them by speaking of my early work experience. Very few professional musicians have only had music-related jobs! This meme has been going around – I highly recommend that you search for other articles about someone’s first seven jobs. The author Po Bronson also wrote a wonderful book called What Should I Do With My Life? and it’s essentially just short essays about different people doing their jobs. I love this book.

1. File clerk for Allstate Insurance. I got my first job when I was fifteen, working for the Allstate Insurance agent in my small California town – first just filing paperwork for two hours after school. I worked for that office until I was in college and eventually learned the computer system and started handling phone calls and entering payments. The office ended up hiring my brother, too. The two of us would cover the office full-time in the summers when the agent went on vacation.

What I learned: nobody calls their insurance agent when they’re happy about something.

2. Student assistant in the Oberlin alumni office. My basic office skills followed me to the Oberlin College Alumni Association, which was an office just across the square from the music conservatory. I worked a couple of hours a day doing data entry for them.

3. RA. I became a resident assistant for the Women’s and Transgender Collective for my last two years at Oberlin College. It was a great job – I really cared about the people around me. We planned feminist educational events and it was the first time I started learning about transgender issues and advocacy. This job helped me to stay connected with human beings while I was practicing the flute five hours a day.

4. Camp flute teacher. In 2003, I was hired to teach flute at Cazadero Performing Arts Camp, which is this beautiful camp near my hometown in the northern California redwood forest. I was still a student at Oberlin. Suddenly I was in charge of twenty flute players at a time, a new group arriving every two weeks, for the whole summer. I kept this job, on and off, until 2009, and I loved it. So much of my formative music teaching experience came from this place: how to deal with wide arrays of abilities, teaching individuals and groups, solving problems quickly, and somehow keeping it fun.

5. Community service coordinator. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music had an amazing program that sent students into San Francisco to provide free performances in unlikely places. Think violin duets in a soup kitchen during lunch hour. I was the student coordinator for the program. About eighty students participated each year. It was actually really fun to call up nonprofits and offer them free music visitations.

6. Assistant to the principal of a private school. Post-graduation, I still needed a stable job. I had so much office experience by this point (I’m very thankful for the campus jobs I held) that I was able to find a very good full-time job for my first year out of college. This assistant position even had health insurance and a 401K match. I answered the phone, planned meetings, managed the principal’s schedule, made travel arrangements for her, and kept track of her expense account. It probably could have been a satisfying permanent position if I had wanted it. I only stayed for about nine months, though, before leaving town for better playing opportunities.

7. Full-time flutist. Yes, here we are! Playing and teaching the flute have supported me since that last job. I’ve been very lucky to get to do what I do, but it was also a conscious risk to take. I worried about money a lot. Gigs came and went. I took a lot of auditions and most resulted in rejection. There were great performances and horrible ones. Overall, I’m happy where I am, while being thankful for my past job experiences.

All-West: A Judge's Perspective

Since many of you participated in taking a big audition this past Saturday, I think we should consider the occasion of All-West Tennessee Honor Band auditions on a few deeper levels.

I’m not sure of the exact number, but I definitely listened to more than 120 high school flute players on Saturday. I was the scales/sight-reading judge. How on earth did so many come through the door? Everything went very quickly. I probably heard each of you for two minutes. All judges were instructed to judge the students like a solo and ensemble competition - not necessarily comparing you to each other, but instead judging against an inherent standard for how the excerpts should be best performed. I scored each of you out of 50 points on a Scantron form. A SCANTRON FORM. If you’ve never considered how messed up that is, you’re not thinking like an artist. It’s dystopian.

How can you judge a person’s rhythm on a scale from 1-50 points? It is such a bizarre thing. It felt like turning music into a sporting competition. It felt like judging gymnastics or figure skating, except with fewer standards. Does taking a faster tempo earn a higher start value? If you play a three-octave scale, but play it poorly, will you get more points than a person who played a two-octave scale evenly and with beautiful sound? It’s like gaming the system: choose the triple axel, because even if you fall, you will get more points than if you landed a double. I can’t judge music like that. I gave more points to the person who played the two-octave scale really well.

Turning music into something quantifiable, something that we can count, is the equivalent to turning it into a sport. Or worse. It’s turning art into a commodity. And even though it’s great that so many schools and young musicians participated on Saturday, I believe that this practice of mass auditions is ultimately detrimental to real music-making and to the survival of the art.

Without writing actual comments (which, if I were to have written comments for all 120 of you, it would have taken more like 3 days instead of one), the exercise is worse than meaningless. For example, a flutist in the 11-12 grade group sight-read the excerpt very well with one exception: she played it in Bb major instead of Bb minor. The rhythms were correct, the articulations were all there, the tone and expression were very nice. But what that flutist is going to see on their score sheet is this: almost perfect scales, almost perfect rhythm, almost perfect musicality -- and then a relatively low score for accuracy. She or he probably thought they played it perfectly. What the heck was wrong with that judge, to score someone like that? Their teacher is going to wonder if a mistake was made. There could be an indignant protest about the unfairness of the score. And if I had been able to write a comment, not only would this score be taken more seriously, but we wouldn’t lose a valuable teaching moment. That student would never miss another key signature again. Instead, they’re left wondering.

I have so many other examples that are similar to this, but none so clear. The process on Saturday made us all (students, teachers, judges) cogs in a horrible wheel. Many flutists who participated in the audition actually couldn’t read music that well, or were never taught the correct fingerings, but they were trying to play these difficult excerpts anyway. Some would say there is value in trying, but I disagree. I wish we could take these students and use the same time spent on learning a difficult piece in E major and instead work on the proper fingering for middle D. I wish that there was a mechanism for music educators in schools to just take things slow for those that need to go slow, but there isn’t. The sight-reading excerpts that I judged were appropriate for probably 10% of the students who auditioned. For a huge number of students, the sight-reading was too hard. For another, smaller number, it was way too easy. Why do we try this one-size-fits-all way of teaching music? Saturday’s All-West audition was an exact mirror of our capitalist system: reward those who would probably succeed anyway, and leave others so far behind that there is no hope of catching up. And the simple reasons we do it this way is regional historical tradition and lack of money.

Learning to play an instrument is really personal. It’s a different experience for every person. I wish more than anything that every school music program had a teacher specialist for each instrument. It’s unreasonable to expect band directors to know everything and to do everything. I wish there was a flute specialist in every middle and high school, if only to point out over and over that you play middle D with your first finger raised. But we don’t have this luxury: it would cost too much money. It’s on every student and their family whether they can afford private flute lessons or a working instrument. It’s on every student and their family to ensure that there is a quiet place to practice every day, that won’t bother the neighbors, or the family member who works nights and sleeps in the day. Do you see my point? This is why music education has become the provenance of the privileged. And at no time is it more obvious than at music competitions.

So, how did I judge? I couldn’t see the students, and they could see me, so I didn’t see a lot of things: terrible hand position, weird embouchures, detrimental posture. I also didn’t see all the tears, but I definitely heard crying. How did I judge?

Before you all came in, I decided on a few things, and I was consistent throughout the day:

  1. Scales were mostly judged on right notes vs. wrong ones. If you played your scale correctly in one octave, you got an automatic “good” rating. Two octaves were automatically “excellent.” If the chromatic scale was three octaves, and all the other scales were at least two octaves, and they were played with beautiful sound, that was “superior.” Some impish folks thought they could get away with playing a G major scale when they were supposed to play Gb. They were marked down heavily. You can’t pull one over on someone with perfect relative pitch.

  2. For sight-reading, extra points were awarded those who could stay in the same tempo the entire time. This was very rare. I suggest practicing this for better scores next year.

  3. I did not consider tone quality unless the flutist was scoring very high into the upper “excellent” or lower “superior” categories. If the tone was beautiful and pleasing to me, I awarded extra points, but only in the cases where the sight-reading rhythm and accuracy were already quite good.

 

Going forward, how do I wish this could be changed?

I wish All-West used real repertoire (Bach, Mozart, etc.) and chose it with consultation from a consortium of college and high school private teachers for each instrument. All-West tried this briefly one year by requiring the third movement of the Bach Partita. This was a totally inappropriate choice that I believe a consortium of knowledgeable flute teachers would have shot down immediately. But I don’t think we should give up on this; I think it should be tried again.

I wish All-West actually did take two days to judge, so that comments could be relayed back to the students. I believe this would actually make the entire process more educational.

Band directors should be discouraged from forcing students to audition. Students who are very far behind in development should not be forced to learn and perform music that is beyond them.

Before the auditions, every instrument should be inspected and fixed. (I can hear every band director reading this just laughing, but seriously! How can these students do well if their instruments don’t work?!)

Finally, I wish that there was a way to fund private lessons for students. This is starting to happen in certain ways with the Memphis Music Initiative, but I wish we could give scholarships to students for private lessons. I was a recipient of a private lesson scholarship for one year in high school and it made a huge difference for me and my family. 

I haven’t even commented yet about the extent to which this audition system suppresses creativity in young people. But I plead to you, reader who has made it to the end of this post: question this. Cultivate creativity in your practice and in your teaching. Don’t allow yourself to practice the same page of music every day for three months. Improvise, make up songs, and encourage your friends to do the same. Don’t let All-West be the definition of music education in our region.

 

Why failure is as important as success

Why failure is as important as success

Resilience and inherent intelligence are, to me, the greatest indicators of future success for a classical musician. Success is relative, though - it could mean a “real job” like in an orchestra or higher education, it could mean teaching music privately or in schools, it could mean a combination of many things to pay the bills. Success is always going to mean different things to different people, at different times of their lives.

Announcing a competitive masterclass for high school flutists

Competitive Masterclass for High School Flutists

Perform for Prof. Elise Blatchford, Asst. Professor of Flute at the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music.

Saturday, December 3rd at 2:30 pm at the University of Memphis choral room. Open to the public.

Guidelines:

  • A maximum of five students will be selected to perform. Each student may perform one piece, nothing longer than 15 minutes. All-West audition music is allowed. Works for flute and piano or unaccompanied flute are allowed.
  • To apply, students must submit an application, a video recording of what they intend to play at the class, and be a member of the Greater Memphis Flute Club ($15/year).
  • Piano accompaniment is not required on the video but may be used in the class.
  • Videos must be uploaded to Youtube and the link included with the application.
  • Applications must be submitted via email to e.blatchford@memphis.edu by midnight on November 11th, 2016.

For any questions, please contact Prof. Blatchford: e.blatchford@memphis.edu.

What is tenure, anyway?

There are a lot of different kinds of tenure, but at a large state university tenure means that the university has invested in a professor’s career and is making an effort to retain them for the life of their work. It means a considerable pay raise and protection from being fired for mistakes and disagreements. Tenure is actually a vital mechanism to protect independent thought within our higher learning institutions: tenured faculty have the power to raise their voice if they disagree with the direction of the school, methods of research, or treatment of students. Tenure helps to ensure that pure research may be done without as much outside pressure to conform.

Full-time professors are expected to contribute to the university in three ways: teaching, research, and service. Teaching is evaluated by graduation rates (this is easier to see in instrumental studios, when you often have the same student for four years), faculty observation, and student course evaluations.

For music performance faculty (sometimes called “applied faculty”), our research can include publishing articles about flute pedagogy, flute history, reviewing CDs in flute journals, and writing books. The vast majority of our research is actually creative activity: performing concerts, recording CDs, collaborating with other artists.

Finally, professors contribute to their university through service, and this essentially means committee work and administrative organization so that the department can run smoothly. We decide on curriculum changes, the course catalogue, guest artists, and a lot of other issues.

All of this must be painstakingly documented.

So, as you can see, there is a lot more going on under the surface of your applied teacher’s day-to-day. As I have written in another article about different levels of professorships, a tenure-track professor is hired at the rank of assistant professor. Once tenured, they are elevated to the rank of associate professor. After some years, they may elect to seek a rank of full professor.

WTSBOA All West Junior High flute music

Three short musical selections are the focus of the All West Tennessee's Junior High honor band flute audition. 

For the first section, articulation clarity is key. In measure 3, note that the slur continues from the two sixteenth notes into the next eighth note. Make sure to slur where it's written and to articulate where it's written. Adjudicators and judges really do notice these things.

This melody poses a few problems for breathing. Take really good breaths whenever you have a rest (only twice) and the rest of the time try to take breaths that are as quick as possible and don't disturb the rhythmic pulse.

Support the arpeggio in measure 8 with a lot of air! Play the lower notes with more sound so that the high G doesn't stick out.

The slow middle section is there to check your ability to subdivide. Keep a running 16th or 8th note pulse in your head at all times. Practice with a metronome - that goes for all of these, but especially this one. 

The final section is in Ab major. Don't neglect to play Db every time. Make every eighth note the same length (I've chosen in my interpretation to make everything short and bouncy). 

Good luck with your preparation! If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I will respond.

All West Tennessee 9-10 WTSBOA flute audition music

For All West Tennessee honor band, the flute audition music is both a little deceptive and awkward. The first selection moves at a brisk 112 beats per minute -- my opinion is that you may receive a higher score on your audition if you perform this perhaps a little slower while giving a clean, clear performance. Plan your breaths in the first selection carefully and make sure to practice doing the same thing every time. The two fermatas in measure 5 can be treated in a number of ways: in the above video, I've chosen to breathe in between them and treat the second fermata like a pickup into measure 6. I also practiced this piece so that I could take a breath after the first C in measure 5 and not breathe again until after the B in measure 6. This breath pattern solves the problem of what to do with breaths and the fermatas. It also creates a longer line.

In the second section, make a statement right away with your dynamics. You just left the first section at a forte: start the second at a mezzo-piano. Ideally, only breathe where there are rests printed. You shouldn't need anything else. Be very careful to carry over the F# accidental in measure 12. The very last note of that measure is an F#. Measure 14 and on ventures into third octave territory. You have permission to play out (marked mezzo-forte) so be sure to support well with your air and to drop the jaw to create a rounder sound. We don't want to sound strident or screechy here.

The final section, in six-eight time, is in Ab major. Do not neglect to play Db's. You have the opportunity for a great dynamic contrast at measure 27: forte to mezzo-piano. This should be pretty easy since the notes are so low. Make a great crescendo in measure 31 and end triumphantly.

WTSBOA All West Tennessee 11-12 Senior Band flute music

It's the season to begin learning music for All West Tennessee Honor Band and Orchestra. I will eventually post videos and guides for every grade set of flute audition music. The first represented here is the music for grades 11-12 Senior Band. 

It's important to note that there is a typo on the WTSBOA music printouts and on their website: this etude is by Joachim Andersen, not Anderson. I have included the misspelling in my video title to help students find a recording of the piece.

Since the Andersen selection is in C# minor, it's important to find a dark, beautiful color for all of your C#'s. This can be problematic for the flute. Keep the jaw dropped and the embouchure not too tight - work with a tuner on C# long tones to make sure you're not playing 30 cents sharp or flat. 

Andersen has given us a beautiful melody, and we should endeavor to make long phrases while maintaining rhythmic integrity. Practice with a metronome and mark in every breath you take with a pencil. If you don't need air, don't take an unnecessary breath. For example, I play the first four measures without breathing; some students may need to breathe after the first G# in measure 2. If you take a deep enough inhalation in the eighth rest of measure 13, you should be able to make it to the end of bar 16. 

Exaggerate the dynamics written in the part and always play with a beautiful sound.

One of Karg-Elert's Caprices is the other required flute piece for the WTSBOA All West Senior Band. This short piece is marked Appassionato e stretto, meaning Passionate and...what is stretto? A trip into my musical terms dictionary reveals that stretto may mean "Pressed together, narrowed; hurried." For my own performance in this video, I'm interpreting the stretto as permission to rush things a little, to include some musical rubato. While you should practice this piece first with a metronome, you should then take the next step to create a stretto feel. Vary the tempo. create a balanced and subtle way of rushing forward and then slowing down. The stretto should enhance the musical phrasing.

Be sure to begin the piece with a strong forte dynamic - if you don't start with a big sound, you will regret it when suddenly things drop down to piano in measure 22! When you arrive at this soft section at measure 22, support with your core muscles and keep your air speed very fast to achieve the high Gb's. Slow practice with emphasis on gooey intervals will pay off later.

Mark accidentals and make sure you are playing them through the measure. Don't ever hesitate to write notes in pencil in your music.

Good luck with your preparation! Leave questions in the comments and I will respond.

Majoring in music - the absolute basics

Most schools that offer a music major gear their teaching toward European classical music, unless the schools specify something different. These programs are largely based on the techniques and repertoire of the symphony orchestra, the opera, traditional solo piano, the string quartet, and other chamber music. Most music that we teach is old: a music major typically studies music that was written between 1650 and 1950.

Exceptions include the jazz major, the musical theater major, commercial music, music industry, recording technology, and other smaller divisions. The “music major” can mean a lot of things, but in general, unless specified otherwise, it means European classical music with an emphasis on orchestral instruments, piano, or bel canto singing.

The difference between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music

The Bachelor of Arts degree is a standard undergraduate degree offered at every four-year college. Some majors that are commonly studied within the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree are English, history, psychology, religion, and other humanities. There is a core of general education requirements for the BA that everyone takes, regardless of major. Many colleges and universities offer a Bachelor of Arts with an option to major in music. This degree ensures a broader education over many disciplines, including science and math, but the humanities are generally emphasized.

Sciences and math are emphasized in a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, although different universities offer different options. There may be an option to major in music within a Bachelor of Science degree, but every student should check their institution’s course catalogue.

The Bachelor of Music degree is specially oriented for the study of music. It is the degree that music conservatories confer on their graduates. Every Bachelor of Music (BM) program includes music theory, aural training, piano skills, music history, individual instrument lessons, ensemble experience, and various music-related electives like pedagogy, orchestral excerpt training, and advanced theory or music history seminars. General education requirements differ from school to school: always check your the institution’s degree outline or course catalogue. Some schools require very little in relation to general education (many private conservatories require virtually no math or science, for example). Some schools require almost exactly the same general education classes as a BA degree. It really depends, so ask questions.

Decide whether you want an education almost completely dedicated to music or whether you want something broader. The University of Memphis requires quite a few general education classes, including science and math, within a comprehensive and in-depth Bachelor of Music degree.

Important to know: while it’s okay to decide to major in sociology without knowing much about sociology (yet), it’s not going to work with music. Most students who major in music have already had years of musical training in high school and earlier. It’s unlikely that you will be a successful music composition major if you’ve never written music down before. Ideally, you have had private lessons in your major instrument for at least a few years. To be accepted to an elite music school, you probably will have had private lessons for many years, plus maybe an AP music theory course in high school.

Majoring in music could be appropriate for you if:

  • You’ve had private lessons on your instrument.
  • You listen to classical music sometimes.
  • You have some kind of warm-up routine and practice regularly.
  • You’re resilient and take criticism well.
  • You like performing.

You might not want to major in music if:

  • You just like playing in band/singing in choir and aren’t sure of what else to major in.
  • You love musicals, movie scores, and/or video game music but you have no real feelings about classical music.
  • It’s difficult for you to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes.
  • You’re easily discouraged.
  • You hate performing in front of people.

To many, this list seems obvious. But if you’re contemplating what you want to study in college, ask yourself tough questions about why you’re doing it.

 

More resources for students thinking about majoring in music:

http://majoringinmusic.com/music-degrees/

 

Who am I assisting?

I get asked a lot if I’m the only flute teacher at the University of Memphis, and I think it’s because of my title: Assistant Professor of Flute. I am the only flute professor at our school, so why the Assistant? It has to do with professor rank and traditional academic heiarchy.

An Assistant Professor is a full-time, tenure-track teacher who went through a rigorous hiring process and is on the tenure track. Tenure usually takes somewhere between three and seven years to attain, depending on the institution and the individual teacher’s experience.

An Associate Professor is a full-time tenured teacher. This is what my rank will be if I receive tenure.

To be a full Professor requires another round of vetting by the university. It’s a promotion that requires a lot of documentation and scholarly work to prove a professor’s progress in their particular field. Associate Professors may elect to for promotion to full Professor, but it’s not required. Typically, Associate Professors wait ten years or more before they attempt a full Professor promotion.

Visiting Professors

When someone is termed a “visiting professor” it means they are full-time teachers on a one- or two-year contract. They are temporary faculty.

Adjunct professors

Many music teachers in colleges and universities are adjunct professors. I have served as an adjunct professor in the past. These teachers are paid per credit hour to teach a particular subject. Some amazing schools employ an adjunct faculty model: my alma mater, San Francisco Conservatory, has largely adjunct professors from the San Francisco Symphony teaching individual instruments. These wonderful players are dedicated teachers but make the bulk of their income elsewhere. Many adjunct professors are either full-time in an orchestra or full-time music freelancers.

Often these teachers are not paid very well, since they are not on salary and only compensated for the number of credit hours they teach. The amount they are paid usually does not add up to a living wage. For example, my previous position as an adjunct teacher had me teaching about five students per week. If I taught the same number of students at my adjunct position as I have at the U of M, I would only earn $15,000 in one year (before taxes). I was only paid during semester months and not during summer or winter breaks. With my adjunct position, I received no benefits, no dedicated office, no parking permit, and not even access to the copy machine. This is a common situation. Hiring adjunct teachers saves the university money. It also takes advantage of teachers (particularly freelance musicans, artists, and writers) and isn’t always in the best interest of students. 

For example, an adjunct professor in an applied studio is highly motivated to keep their students. If a student quits or changes their major (maybe a good decision, especially in college when the stakes are so high), that teacher loses part of their income. A full-time tenured or tenure-track teacher is paid a salary that is unrelated to the number of students in their studio - if their studio is very small, that teacher may just be asked to cover other music classes like music theory. The full-time professor is set up to be, systematically, more brutally honest with a student about whether they should continue studying music. We have nothing to lose if a student decides to quit.

 

Some questions you might want to ask if you are looking at music schools and comparing faculty:

If faculty is tenured and full-time, do they still practice? Are they actively performing?

If faculty is adjunct, do they have a prestigious career? Will they be willing (or able) to give you a lot of attention as a student?

Could you trust your college music teacher to be brutally honest with you?

 

There are pros and cons with every teacher, but be sure you understand well enough the differences between types of professorships in academia. A full-time professor is more likely to give you extra time, hold office hours, come to your concerts in the evenings and weekends – an adjunct teacher might do these things, but more commonly they will not have time nor incentive. 

Five Ways to Save Money as a Musician

1.     Find the cheapest possible housing that will allow you to practice and use public transportation.

Housing is going to be the single largest expense in your budget. Be willing to live somewhere kind of terrible. My partner and I have rented from hoarders (we had to clean out the entire apartment on our move-in day), we have sublet furnished old ladies’ houses while they’re in Florida, and we have lived in an unfinished basement for free (short-term). Be open. Be willing to have roommates. Be ready for inconvenience. Have renter’s insurance.

2.     Get rid of your car.

This won’t work if you live in Iowa or rural New Hampshire, but it would work for more of us than we’re willing to admit. Sell your car. Put that money in a savings account. Enjoy the freedom from insurance, parking tickets, maintenance, and gas. Carpool with other musicians and always contribute money to the driver. You’re going to get to know a lot more people, and they’re going to get to know you. I think my partner built an entire freelancing career based on carpool-referred gigs alone.

3.     Cook

Rice and beans. Soups that last a week. If you’re not sure how to cook, ask a friend to teach you a few things. You’ll eat healthier and save more money if you cook, especially if you pack your own lunches and bring your own snacks on long days. If you have room in your bag for a travel coffee mug, make your own coffee to take with you.

Your income level may qualify you for food stamps, so look into it. I used food stamps in 2009 and 2010 and now that I have a good job I’ve paid that back in taxes several times over.

4.     Eliminate as many recurring bills as possible.

Pay for your phone, utillities, student loans, and health insurance and maybe one professional association per year. Do you need internet? Can you pay your neighbor under the table and share a router password? Do you qualify for a free state health plan? Do your really need that monthly transit pass? Maybe you don’t actually ride transit enough and would save more if you bought a couple of day or week passes for when you are busy.

Automatic bill pay combined with a fluctuating income is a recipe for a bank overdraft. Simply put your bills in your iCal and remember to pay them on time like an adult. You might not be able to pay them all on the same day.

5.     Save

Squeeze every dollar you can into an online savings account that is separate from your checking account. Send a little money into the savings account even if you need to transfer it back the very same month. Because obviously things happen. Root canals. Instrument problems. Emergencies. I love using Ally Bank as my savings account, and I also use Qapital to round up all my expenses to send to savings.

 

There are so many ways to live well on a tiny budget. Musicians should not be under any delusion that we won't have to be careful. Do you have tips? Write them in the comments.

Saying yes

When I was a student at Oberlin, a common refrain of advice from visiting artists and professors alike was, “Always say yes, and see where it takes you.” I took that advice to heart for a long time, and in some ways I still follow that advice. Saying yes led to opportunities like competing at the Fischoff Competition, traveling to China and Latin America, teaching students in Spanish, performing in Carnegie Hall, and meeting a lot of interesting composers. Saying yes also led to some pretty dismal gigs, some questionable videos that are permanently on the internet, and at least one embarassing appearance on public access TV with a didgeridoo.

My take on this now, with a little more experience, is that always saying yes is the wrong advice. “Always say yes” could just be you flailing around with too many collaborations. Have a vision for your career and try to do things that fit with that vision. Or, at the very least, know what you DON’T want, and stay away from anything that seems like that. But ultimately, be flexible. No one really knows what musicians’ lives will be like in twenty years. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re good at until we’re doing it. Sometimes our talents come together in strange ways that we wouldn’t have been able to plan (example: the classical violinist who is also an aerialist and now works for Cirque de Soleil).

What I tell my students now is to say yes to anything traditional that pays, like orchestral work. Be very choosy with projects that don’t pay at all: ask yourself whether it will make you a better musician. And for those paying non-traditional musical projects, follow your inner esthetic.