The Violin Channel member Phil Bateman from the United States was keen to know: “What advice should I give to all my graduating students?”
We threw Phil’s question over to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Viola Professor, Mr Dimitri Murrath:
“Every student has a distinct personality and life story. When you graduate, you may find yourself at a different point in your life from your peers. Even so, there are some common pointers that I give students who are going on to the ‘real world’ outside of music schools.
1. You may have graduated, but you are not done improving
Of course, this means to continue practicing and maintaining your playing level. But in order to avoid stagnation and keep improving, you need goals. Auditions, concerts, and competitions can provide those goals, but in the longer term, it’s helpful to have personal goals such as learning certain pieces or performing a particular set of works (say the complete Bach Cello Suites).
This also means to keep seeking feedback from other people. These can be your friends, private teachers or simply recording yourself. The microphone doesn’t lie!
In my experience, chamber music partners often give me helpful feedback. You can keep reading books about music, or if you teach, about psychology and methods of other teachers. Listening to recordings and going to concerts helps renew your creativity.
2. Try a lot of different things
You don’t really know what you are good at and what you enjoy doing at until you’ve tried it. In today’s world, you cannot expect to just take one orchestra or teaching job and be able to settle down forever. You’ll want to diversify what you are doing. Depending on your skills, your career mix may include performing in an orchestra, chamber music, recitals, concertos performances, teaching, improvisation and other styles of music.
3. Everything that you say yes to, do it to your best effort
You never know what particular gig you play will get noticed and bring other work. One small concert that I played in Boston – that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time – led to a string of fun, high-profile concerts in Europe. You never know who is going to be there, who will notice you. Every time you play, even in small events, present your best.
4. Learn to say ‘No’
This may seem contradictory to No. 2. Eventually, things will snowball; you’ll get busy and will have to learn to say no. When you get overloaded with concerts or teaching, you get worn out and start to underperform. Surprisingly quickly, people will notice you are not playing your best, and before long, your most fun projects may dry up, leaving you doing work you don’t enjoy. Together with challenging yourself to keep improving, learning which projects to accept or refuse will have the greatest impact on your professional life, and on your overall quality of life.
I hope these pointers help you with the transition from being a student to being out there in the professional world!
A graduate of the New England Conservatory and the Guildhall School of Music, Dimitri Murrath is a former major prize winner of the ARD and Tokyo International Viola Competitions | He currently serves a teaching Professorship on faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music