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.

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.