The years I spent in music school were some of the most challenging, rewarding, and inspiring years of my career so far.
My technique was in the best shape it's ever been, I knew all the rules of augmented sixth chords (I need to brush up on these!), and I felt very connected to the music world and my network of music peers.
In the months following graduation, I realized the crucial need to stay connected to music as I developed my professional career as a church musician, teacher, and arts administrator.
In music school, we're automatically connected; outside of school, we have to work at it. But, the rewards are great.
By staying connected, you'll continue developing your musicianship throughout your career, have access to more opportunities, grow and change with society, and be better prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century music world.
Here are a few ways to stay connected - to music, music-making, and the music world, in general - as a music professional:
Go to concerts.
There's nothing like live music. As musicians, we come alive when we hear music and being part of a concert experience - no matter the venue - is a powerful, enriching experience. So, get out and go to some concerts!
Listen to music.
Remember in music school when we had those listening tests? Yes, the tests themselves were a little stressful, but the preparation - the careful listening leading up to the test, that's part of what made us into the musicians we are today.
Spend some time actively listening to music - classical, jazz, pop, whatever. Get rid of distractions, plug in a pair of headphones, and listen. Then, listen again. What do you hear? What do you notice?
Compare a few recordings, play the melody by ear on your instrument, or try to figure out the underlying harmony.
Spend time with other musicians.
Grab coffee. Go for a walk. Go out after a concert. Meet for lunch. Be social.
Stay connected with the people in your network.
So much of the music business is word of mouth: The more time you spend with musicians, the more likely you'll hear about new opportunities, get more connected to the music scene in your town, meet new people, and get recommended for gigs and other things that come up.
Read arts-related news and blogs.
The arts world is changing. Rapidly. Stay up-to-date on the latest happenings - in your corner of the field and beyond - by checking news sites and blogs such as Arts Journal, 21st Century Musician, and I Care If You Listen.
I know, I know. Another thing from Music History.
But really, studying a piece of music is such good practice for continuing to develop your musicianship outside of school. This might include audiating the melody, bass line, or inner harmonies - that is, hearing the music in your head with no sound present. Or, it might mean doing a basic harmonic analysis. Study cadences, common chord progressions, rhythmic and melodic patterns.
Choose something short or focus on a small section at a time. Start with Bach (chorales, inventions, preludes/fugues), Mozart (piano music, string quartets), or even your hymnal.
Play your instrument.
Depending on what your freelance music career looks like, you might spend a good amount of your day playing your instrument, or not play as much as you'd like anymore.
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, I challenge you to take a few minutes this week to play your instrument for you. Don't practice your music for Sunday or that upcoming recital or your next gig. Don't prepare for your next student's lesson. Don't practice excerpts for that audition next month.
Spend this time getting back into your routine - playing scales and warm-up patterns, listening, sight-reading, playing something by ear, or getting an old favorite back under your fingers. Play your instrument just to play.
Remember why you started.
How do you stay connected as a music professional? Any tips to share with those just starting out?