how to make the most of grad school

This is my first year out of school, having completed my masters degree in music (oh my!), and it’s definitely nice to be out of school (no classes to break up practice time! No bank-breaking tuition to be paid!). As graduation approached this past May, I often found myself reflecting back on the lightning-quick two years I spent as a masters student. It’s been incredibly rewarding, and since I know many people who will be starting grad school soon (or have started their first year already!), I wanted to write down some of the simple but essential advice, given to me by older/wiser friends, that has really helped me to shape my grad school years!

1. Take fewer academic classes.

Hold up–hear me out before writing me off as an under-achiever. I love learning, and a good class is invaluable, but if you’re a performance major, grad school is all about focusing on the refinement of your craft. Academic classes can be wonderful and eye-opening and enlightening, but they’re also time-consuming, especially when you take into account the time needed for homework and class readings. In my undergrad, I was very much focused on the number of credits I was taking, but this becomes less important in grad school. A great guideline is to take no more than 2 academic classes per quarter/semester (although your ability to do this may depend on which school/program you’re in). “Academic” classes would be specifically any class with readings/homework–I wouldn’t include classes such as accompanying or continuo in this category. Also, on a practical level, much of the knowledge you would acquire in an academic class could be gained through self-study. So prioritize your time for practicing and making music with other people! Which brings me to my next point:

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5 things to take out of your bio right now

You wish you looked as good as Shostakovich while writing your bio.

Let’s continue the business theme started by last week’s post (“artist or entrepreneur? why not both?“). There are several things that are important for a musician to have whenever they apply for a school, competition, festival, or music-related job, and those are: the résumé, the repertoire list, the bio, and the headshot. Chances are, you’ve already written a bio (if not, look up some of your favorite musicians and see what their bios look like! They often list schools attended, primary teachers, any honors/awards accrued, distinctions in competitions and festivals, and ensembles played in). But many people (myself included) often neglect to update and streamline their bios–and there are always ways to do that! Check out Dale Trumbore’s very helpful guide 5 Things to Take Out of Your Bio Right Now.

Additional reading:

artist or entrepreneur? (why not both?)

You wish you looked as good as Scriabin while writing your grant proposals.

One thing I love about young musicians today is how creative and bold they are. It can be easy to settle into the conventional groove of teaching (which–don’t get me wrong–is an art in itself and one of the most worthwhile careers out there!), which is why it’s inspiring to see my peers also find ways to perform and bring music to life in innovative ways, mostly through starting their own groups and creating opportunities for themselves, instead of waiting for opportunity to come knocking.

Being in charge of your own musical group sounds like an ideal situation–you get to work with people you like; you have control over what repertoire you play; you can experiment with tradition and innovation. But the one thing that gets in the way? Money (or rather, lack thereof)–and how you report that money when tax season rolls around. With great power comes great responsibility, and there’s a lot of paperwork involved in being in charge of your own career/your group’s career. Thankfully, there are some resources out there to help shed some light on a subject that is murky and unfamiliar for many musicians.

Are there any resources you would add to the list?

more caricatures

Some adorable drawings of musicians through the eyes of their contemporaries (see the first part here):

Singer Johann Michael Vogl (left) and Schubert (right), depicted by Schubert’s friend Franz von Schober. The German caption reads: “Michael Vogl and Franz Schubert go out for battle and victory.”

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