When I began my Masters study last year, one of the most interesting parts was adjusting to a new life, a new school, and a new percussion studio. None of these adjustments were particularly difficult, but more of a learning experience. When one leaves a situation he or she knows well and is thrust into the same situation in a new location with new people, one will easily notice the differences in culture, attitude, and behavior.
When I was in undergrad, it was all about school. I never skipped class, got good grades, and poured all my time into homework and practicing. I showed up to grad school with the same attitude I had always known through my first 4 years of study, and was absolutely blown away by the different culture not only in my percussion studio, but amongst all of the students at school.
Things have changed now: My colleagues and I are often missing classes and rehearsals for auditions, gigs, competitions, and other professional engagements. While I still hold a very good GPA, it’s almost as if classes are an afterthought, as long as practicing, the main reason I am here, is done sufficiently. This is not to say that people skip all of their classes and rehearsals to practice, but more that it is almost expected for students to miss school for outside engagements.
At first I was annoyed that someone would miss Percussion Ensemble for a paid gig, or surprised that someone offered to miss a lecture because we needed to have a chamber music rehearsal. One of my professors, however, addressed the situation with a poignant statement: “You are here at school to become a professional… Who am I to penalize you for taking those professional opportunities?” This made so much sense to me. By focusing only on school I was preventing myself from getting what really matters in the professional world: experience. This is when I acknowledged myself as a “student-professional,” not a “professional student.”
In a few short months I will have a Masters degree, which is both exciting and terrifying. I am currently applying for jobs and doctoral programs, hoping I can have my life figured out and a way to pay bills by the time May rolls around. While the job market is scarce and the situation scary, I feel confident because of the professional experiences I have had throughout my studies. Putting in extra work to compose, write, enter competitions, give recitals, and try to get my name out has had its own significant impact on my education, as well as my confidence as I make the transition from student-professional to just “professional.”
School is extremely important for one’s growth as a musician and should not be taken lightly. However, remember that the goal to become a professional and that your professional career begins the moment you decide to be a musician. Do not be afraid to take a professional engagement (especially ones that PAY) because of school. School is there to help you become a professional, not stop you!