Monday, November 19, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Surviving the Gap Year - Aliese E. Hoesel

This week's blog post is by Simpson College Music Alumna Aliese Hoesel. Ms. Hoesel graduated from Simpson College in 2011 with a Bachelor’s in Music Education. She is currently working towards her Masters in Music, Vocal Performance degree at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she studies with Ms. Rachel Inselman. At UMD, Aliese is a member of the opera outreach program, Voyageurs where she instructs middle school students on the processes of singing, acting, and stage production and tours with the other Voyageurs members, presenting 40-minute educational musicals to elementary students.

Surviving the Gap Year
By Aliese E. Hoesel

“My future.” When I began my undergraduate career at Simpson College these two words held excitement and a promise of adventure. However, the closer I came to my graduation the heavier these words weighed upon me. Ominous, foreboding, they no longer held joyful connotations, but rather created for me an immense sense of pressure to make something of myself so that my professors and colleagues could feel pride in having played a key role in my artistic and personal formation. Despite the utterly amazing and beyond thorough education I received at Simpson, I was –and still am—keenly aware of how much I had yet to learn. (The trouble with Perfectionism is that it hinders one’s ability to accurately recognize one’s level of preparedness and competence). With the belief that I had so much knowledge yet to absorb, I did not feel ready to enter the teaching field, despite a particularly wonderful professor’s adamancy that I should “take a Valium” and trust myself. In addition, I did not feel prepared to enter graduate school either, as my voice was undergoing yet another growth period. So, that left me with a third option, take a year off. 

While I felt like a failure for moving back home after graduation and temping in a completely non-music related field, after a few months I started recognizing there were benefits to this “gap year.” It was the first time in four years that I got over 5 hours of sleep every night, and I even spent quality time with my family during holidays instead of confining myself to my room to finish research papers and projects. But, the greatest benefit of the gap year was being able to re-evaluate my future goals and determining what I needed from my career.

As an administrative assistant in the Maintenance department of a large corporation, working largely with individuals who did not relate to the world in an artistic way as I did, I learned how much music needed to be in my future. I learned just how important it was to my sanity that I be surrounded by art, collaborating with fellow musicians and actors. In addition, while it was wonderful to have a consistent paycheck to slowly tackle those student loans, the job I was doing did little to feed my soul. Yes, it was nice to leave my work at the office, but after a while, I recognized how much I missed having a career that consumed me. There is a certain intoxicating frenzy that overcomes a person when she is engulfed in her life’s passion, and I desperately required that in my life. I longed a career where I spent the day singing, deciphering poetry, enhancing my dramatic interpretation, researching history. Honestly, I even missed music theory! This perhaps prompted me to do the most important thing of my career, build my own musical environment and apply to graduate school. 

As an institution, Simpson already has a superb musical environment created for its students; we do not have to search for it there. But, outside of the ARMC, as professionals, we must build it on our own. That is the key to having a successful career, having the initiative to create musical opportunities for oneself. Below are five things I did to prepare myself for graduate school and create my own artistic environment.

Take Lessons and Practice Everyday
Continue taking lessons. A teacher will keep the technique in shape and keep you learning literature that is appropriate for your instrument. If a teacher doesn’t live close enough to you, at least try to do monthly coachings. At the very least, record your daily practices so that you can go back later to evaluate your skills. Going even further, challenge yourself to present a recital during your gap year. That way you have a tangible end goal that teaches you the necessary skills in reserving a hall, arranging for an accompanist, and advertising, in addition to preparing music and writing program notes.

Start a Private Studio
I truly standby the belief that one doesn’t fully understand her craft until she has taught it to someone else. Record these too so you can later evaluate and modify your instruction. Teaching allows you to learn literature really well, understand the development of one’s instrument, and improve accompanying skills. In addition, it’s a nice way to make some extra money, not to mention, shows graduate schools that you have not just been sitting around for a year staring at walls.

Continue to Read
The gap year is a perfect time to read all those history books you were assigned in Medieval/Renaissance or 19th/20th History, but never actually had time to read. (The Rest is Noise is actually a really interesting and incredibly informative book). Read books on pedagogy for your instrument, biographies of great singers, conductors, instrumentalists, composers, librettists, etc. Do not let the knowledge you spent four years and thousands of dollars on go to waste! Not only will it help you in preparing for entrance examinations, but will make you that must more impactful in your field. Knowledge is power, truly.

Attend Conferences and Workshops
Go to the music education workshops at Simpson. It will keep you abreast on effective educational trends and methods for if/when you do decide to teach. Also, it is a time to see your Simpson friends and colleagues and a chance to continue networking. Plus, there are donuts and cookies.

Join a Community Choir / Get a Church Job
Joining a community choir allows one to be involved in a no-stress, musical environment. In my experience, these choirs are full of encouraging people who love music. A church job, such as a cantor or choir director is another way to be involved in a community musically, and it also pays fairly well.

Each musician is different, some need to force themselves to finish advanced degrees for fear that they will never return to school, others need a year to settle into their own independence. Surviving the gap year depends entirely on how motivated a person is to form his own musical community. If taken seriously, it can be the perfect balance of “time off” from the hectic schedule one maintained at Simpson and a great stepping stone into one’s professional career. As with all things in life, the end goal is to find a path that suites your own goals, aspirations, integrity, and creative spirit.

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