Sunday, March 10, 2013

Faculty post - Putting Your Education into Practice

Putting Your Education into Practice

By Steven Kennedy

As students majoring in music, you are preparing to follow one of two primary career paths within music – performing or teaching.  As such, it is important to get as much real-world experience in these areas as you can while you are still in college and are able to learn from the mistakes you will make, and to learn from the situations you may encounter.  Getting this experience involves searching out performance and teaching opportunities within the area.  Simpson is uniquely located in a small to mid-sized metropolitan area (Des Moines) that allows for many great opportunities for musicians that smaller, and even larger cities, often do not afford so easily.  In this post, I would like to share some advice and general thoughts on taking advantage of these opportunities while you are a student at Simpson.

Performance Opportunities

Churches, coffee shops, restaurants, and other venues are always looking for musicians to perform.  Though getting paid to perform should be any musician’s primary objective, as students, just getting the chance to perform in front of people can be a greater benefit (though certainly seek out as many paying gigs as you can!).  Many churches (particularly mainline denominations) are always looking for young and talented students to perform for offertories, communion, and other special music needs they may have.  Churches are usually friendly environments, too.  Congregants have no idea that you messed up the first few measures of the Schubert song you sang; they are just appreciative to have you perform for them.  Performances like this can boost your confidence significantly. 

Coffee shops and restaurants are great places to perform, particularly if you have a hard time playing in front of an audience that is completely focused on you.  These gigs are more easy-going because you are often relegated to the background.  This is okay though, because it allows you to relax, causes you to focus more (due to the constant noise of a restaurant), and it is a good opportunity to play pieces that you have not performed yet.  Each week, convocation gives you an opportunity to perform for your peers and professors, and it is something you participate in regularly.  However, it can be an extremely intense situation to be in, especially if it is your first performance of a piece.  Your nerves are high, and only performing a piece or two does not allow you to settle in the way you might during an hour-long performance.  Background music gigs are a great stepping stone to performing in convocation, then eventually in your recital.  The noise at most background gigs also forces you to focus on the music, both mentally and aurally.  If you can play through a piece by Bach with a waiter dropping his tray ten feet from you while also overhearing an awkward conversation at the table next to you, then surely you can play through someone’s cell phone going off during your recital.

Also, the more you perform, the more you learn what equipment you will need to bring with you to future gigs.  There have been a few times where those who have hired me choose to set me up in a spot where there is no electrical outlet for my amplifier.  Now, I always have extension cords and a power strip with me when I go to a gig.  It is better to figure things like this out now while you are students, than in a few years when you are getting paid several hundred dollars to make someone’s wedding extra special. 

Teaching Opportunities

There are a number of teaching studios and music stores within central Iowa that offer lessons and are always looking for great teachers.  Additionally, advertising yourself to local schools as an independent instructor can yield great results.  Teaching gives you the chance to put into practice the concepts you are learning from your applied instructors and in your methods classes, and can even generate decent money for yourself.  When I was a student at Simpson, most of my income came from giving lessons, and I was able to live relatively comfortably from what I made.  Further, teaching bolsters your resume, so when the time comes to get a full-time job employers see that you not only have a great education, but also real experience. 

In closing, remember that your education and experience cannot come exclusively from Simpson.  You have to get out into the world and experience how things will be once you graduate.  The more prepared you are as a performer and/or as a teacher when you leave Simpson, the greater is the chance of you being successful in your career (an obvious point, but not every student takes the necessary steps to ensure this).  It is better to do the preparation now while you can still learn and recover from mistakes, than when you are getting paid to be the expert and your reputation is at stake.  

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